The site of the planned community in the lower Galilee. Photo by Jini
The government must develop the Negev and the Galilee for all its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike.
December 02, 2013
Living in Israel are the members of two peoples, Jewish and Arab, majority and minority. All are citizens who must be treated equally. This basic truth, the cornerstone of any democratic regime, is being undermined yet again.
The World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, part of the executive branch of the government, is formulating a plan to “Judaize the Galilee” and create a “demographic balance” vis-à-vis the Arab population. Zafrir Rinat reported yesterday in Haaretz that the goal is to attract 100,000 new Jewish residents to the Galilee, with the objective, in the agency’s words, of “giving expression to Israeli sovereignty through settlement activity.”
This program must be scrapped immediately. Israeli sovereignty over the Galilee is not being questioned in any way. Whether most of the residents are Jews or Arabs, every resident of the Galilee is a citizen of the state and must be treated as such. A state that encourages members of one people to settle in any region, while at the same time imposing harsh restrictions on the growth of the other, is acting in a racist manner. There is no other way to describe such behavior.
Since 1948, Israel has blocked the establishment of new Arab communities in the Galilee, even though the older communities are bursting at the seams for lack of land reserves, while it has expropriated huge tracts of Arab land. It has developed industrial zones almost exclusively in the Jewish communities. Now it is calling for the “Judaization” of the region. This is a state acting unjustly toward its citizens.
“Since the ‘tower and stockade’ period, nothing has changed,” wrote Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on his Facebook page Saturday night, during the demonstrations against the Prawer plan for the Negev that is expected to force tens of thousands of Bedouin out of the unrecognized villages where they live. “We are fighting for the national lands of the Jewish people,” he argued.
Whether the Prawer initiative will benefit the Bedouin, as the government claims, or harm them, as its opponents argue, the foreign minister’s remarks are intolerable. Since the days of the tower and stockade, the expulsion of Arabs from their villages and the expropriation of land in the Negev and the Galilee, a state was established. The state’s sovereignty over its lands needs no “reinforcement.” What is in desperate need of reinforcement, however, is the egalitarian, non-racist, nondiscriminatory character of the state.
The government must develop the Negev and the Galilee for all its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike. Anything else could further exacerbate the alienation already felt by Israeli Arabs citizens and escalate their protests.
Sakhnin, Arab town in the Lower Galilee. “Let them strengthen what exists, why do we need new towns?”
Group plans to settle 100,000 Jews in central Galilee by establishing new towns, expanding existing.
By Zafrir Rinat, Ha’aretz
December 01, 2013
The World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, which is defined by the government as one of its executive arms, is formulating a plan to settle more Jews in the Galilee to achieve a demographic balance with the Arab population. This would be accomplished by establishing new towns and expanding existing ones beyond the limits set in the national master plan for development.
In recent weeks, the Settlement Division has contacted a number of planning firms to suggest that they bid on a tender to prepare a development policy document for absorbing 100,000 new residents in the central Galilee, in the area surrounding the Beit Netofa Valley. The division is already advancing government-sponsored plans to erect a number of new communities in the Negev.
The goal of the plan is stated clearly in the letters: To further expand and develop the mitzpim (hilltop settlement) plan of the 1980s, with the goal of “giving expression to Israeli sovereignty through settlement activity.”
The letter notes that the mitzpim plan created a strong network of communities but did not succeed in changing the demographic balance in the area. “The current reality in the rural region of the central Galilee is a lack of settlement options that will attract a stable Jewish population and create a meaningful demographic balance,” the letter states. “Sustaining the area and preserving our hold on it requires the continued development of a rural-settlement array alongside urban development and the continued realization of the objectives of the mitzpim plan as a plan to improve settlement continuity and enhance the demographic balance.”
To attract tens of thousands of new residents and achieve a demographic balance, the Settlement Division claims that several major steps are necessary, including the establishment of four new communities that already have preliminary government approval. Two of these communities, to be called Shibolet and Ramat Arbel, have yet to be approved by the relevant planning bodies. Two other communities, Haruv and Yissachar, were originally slated to be built north of Kiryat Tivon in the western Galilee. Now the WZO is proposing that they be moved to new sites east of the Movil junction, to a site in the central Galilee.
The Settlement Division letter criticizes the current planning policy, which is based on National Master Plan 35 (the plan for national development). This plan stresses the expansion of existing communities, discourages the establishment of new communities and limits the capacity of rural communities to 500 homes each.
According to the letter, the division believes that within existing communities and adjacent to them, new neighborhoods should be built of 700-1,000 units each. The division also proposes abandoning the policy of dense construction in urban areas like Carmiel and Upper Nazareth, and to instead allow the construction of single-family homes until the outer edges of city limits.
“This is a continuation of the demographic war in the 1980s that was conducted against the Arab population,” said MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash), who lives in the Galilee and is a planning expert. “The previous plan undermined older cities like Carmiel, Tiberias and Afula by drawing strong populations to the single-family homes in the new communities. But the area has enough communities. What is needed to help both the Jews and the Arabs is more jobs, infrastructure improvements and a reduction in the education and employment gaps between the center and the periphery. This [proposed] process is not a planning process, but part of the struggle over the land.”
The Settlement Division proposal could have far-reaching implications for the open areas of the Galilee. “Establishing new communities involves more than just the residential structures themselves, but also accompanying infrastructures like roads, electricity, sewerage and water pipes,” noted Itamar Ben David, head of planning for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. “This will ruin the landscape, reduce the amount of open space and lead to the destruction of natural habitats. This is especially true when we’re talking about single-family homes that are built in an outrageous waste of precious land.
“Unfortunately we are seeing, over and over, and during the past year or two even more often, the Israeli government, through the Settlement Division and the Construction and Housing Ministry, working vigorously to advance initiatives like this,” Ben David continued. “These initiatives contravene the national planning policy led by the Interior Ministry, and come instead of working toward a serious and thorough solution to the real problem, which is the housing shortage.”
The Settlement Division spokesman said in response: “In accordance with cabinet decisions, the Settlement Division is fully authorized to propose and advance regional and local plans and suggest them to the decision makers. The work of the division focuses on settlement development in the area in question, and is based on a feasibility study that will be presented, in the end, to the decision makers.
“As part of the Lev Hagalil [Heart of the Galilee] plan, we are examining, inter alia, the feasibility of establishing a number of communities about which there are government decisions that have yet to be implemented,” the statement continued. “National Master Plan 35 does not preclude the existence of plans of different types that it has defined, and everything is being done in accordance with the various stages of evaluation that are the guiding principles of the proposed plans.
“It is worth noting that at this time the Settlement Division, in accordance with a government decision, is working on planning a Druze settlement in the Galilee.”
The chairman of the Lower Galilee Regional Council, which has jurisdiction where Shibolet and Ramat Arbel will be located, said the move implements a cabinet resolution that “unfortunately” has yet to be put into practice.
“We have to establish new communities and broaden existing ones,” said Moti Dotan, the council chairman. “For instance, that’s what we’re doing in Mitzpeh Netofa and Beit Rimon, near Shibolet, which will be built between them. I would like to note that the government and the planning authorities have restricted us with National Master Plan 35 in terms of the number of housing units in existing communities, and we have not succeeded in getting past those planning restrictions, so we support the construction of new communities.”
He said Shibolet would be located on Mount Turan and would help people with special needs integrate into mainstream society.
“Settlement and Zionism are not dirty words, even though not many people use them.”
Salah Suleiman, who heads the neighboring Arab regional council of Bueina-Nudijat, said the government should spend the money on improving existing communities – including the nearby Arab ones – rather than on building new ones.
“While they’re investing in new communities, it would be appropriate to strengthen the nearby Arab ones. Our situation is very bad, terrible,” he said. “I’m not opposed to development, but let it be development for everyone.”
Suleiman also wondered aloud at the point of the document laying out the plan for building the new towns, which said doing so “gives expression to Israeli sovereignty via settlement activity.”
“Are we objecting to the sovereignty of the state and its laws?” he asked. “As long as they don’t take our land, we don’t take an oppositional stance.”
Suleiman also said he does not understand the logic behind building new towns rather than expanding existing ones.
“Building new communities requires a huge investment,” he said. “It’s a waste of public funds. They should give a boost to what already exists. Why do we need more communities?”
Arab council heads slam Israeli plan to build new Jewish towns in Galilee
Proposal seeks to bring 100,000 new Jewish residents to Galilee to create a ‘demographic balance’ with the area’s Arab population.
By Eli Ashkenazi and Zafrir Rinat, Ha’aretz
December 02, 2013
Arab council heads in the north have reacted with anger over a proposal to establish new Jewish towns and expand rural communities in the central Galilee in an effort to achieve demographic balance with the area’s Arabs.
The plan was met with mixed reactions from mayors of Jewish towns in the region. The proposal, presented by the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, calls for the construction of four new communities, the expansion of existing rural communities beyond what the national master plan allows, and the construction of single-family homes, rather than apartment buildings, in the region’s cities.
WZO’s Settlement Division is defined by the government as one of its executive arms.
The objective is to bring 100,000 new Jewish residents to the Galilee by providing housing options “that will attract a stable Jewish population and create a meaningful demographic balance,” according to a letter the Settlement Division sent to urban planning firms.
Imad Dahla, chairman of the Turan Local Council, notes that one of the planned communities, Shibolet, is slated to be erected north of his town, on Mount Turan, which would close off any possibility for his community to expand.
“To the east of us is a quarry that ruins our quality of life, to the north is the plan for Shibolet, to the west is a nature reserve and to the south they are laying a gas pipeline that blocks our economic development,” said Dahla, who stressed that defining the plan to build new communities as “an expression of Israeli sovereignty,” as the WZO letter stated, was a “racist expression.”
“If we would live on the mountain it would undermine Israeli sovereignty?” asked Dahla. “We are loyal citizens who fulfill our obligations to the state. Someone has to do some soul searching.”
Salah Suleiman, chairman of the Bu’eine-Nujeidat Local Council, which will also be adjacent to Shibolet, said that he couldn’t understand the logic of building new communities rather than enhancing existing ones.
“Erecting new communities demands a huge investment,” Suleiman said. “It’s a waste of public funds. Let them strengthen what exists, why do we need new towns?”
Suleiman added that in addition to building new towns, the government must invest in the adjacent Arab communities. “Our situation is very bad,” he said. “I’m not against development, but there should be development for everyone.”
The heads of Jewish local councils in the region had mixed views. Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso saw no reason to worry that new towns would weaken existing cities. “Establishing new communities is a welcome step; it both encourages population dispersion to all parts of the country and preserves parts of our homeland,” he said.
Motti Dotan, chairman of the Lower Galilee Regional Council, in which Shibolet and another community, Ramat Arbel, are to be built, said new towns were necessary because National Master Plan 35 limits the number of units in the existing rural communities.
“We can’t exceed the planning limitations, which is why we support establishing new communities,” he said. “Settlement and Zionism are not dirty words, even though we don’t use them much.” He noted that Shibolet was slated to house a residence for people with special needs.
But Safed Mayor Ilan Shohat believes that the plan is a mistake. According to Shohat, the new towns will lure economically strong families away from cities like his.
“Building new communities will only lead to a weakening of the periphery,” he said. “Past experience shows that new communities and expansion of the rural communities only weakens the older cities. We’ve been through this in Safed, Kiryat Shmona and other cities. It creates inequitable competition between us and the new towns or the rural expansion areas, and the result is that young people who grew up in the cities abandon them.
“[The government] should bring people from Israel’s center to the Galilee by strengthening existing cities and making the Galilee attractive so that migration will occur naturally,” he added. “Building new towns will not really contribute to northward migration.”
Shohat spoke of building a large new neighborhood of 1,400 homes on the outskirts of Safed, on the slope between Safed and Rosh Pina, where a new medical school and an academic research center will eventually be built.
“One possibility would be subsidizing the construction in the new neighborhood, where costs will be high because it’s on a slope,” Shohat suggested.
MK Eitan Cabel Photo by Archive / Tess Scheflan / Jini
MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) on Sunday requested an urgent meeting of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee on the plan, essentially echoing Shohat’s argument that building new communities in the Galilee was liable to weaken existing ones.
The committee, he said, “ought to debate whether these budgets should be allocated to strengthen existing communities, and also discuss the possible harm to nature that could result from the construction of new towns. We also need to think about how to invest resources to create jobs and improve access roads and transportation. Strengthening the Galilee and its Jewish and Arab residents can only succeed by reinforcing existing communities, not by building new towns for the successful and wealthy.”