Israel plans ultra-orthodox city amidst Palestinian area 11Jun12 June 11, 2012

Alternative Information Centre  -  7 June 2012

A day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved construction of 850 new housing units in the West Bank, Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) signed a plan for establishment of the first ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood in Harish-Katzir. Harish will become a Jewish only settlement in northern Wari Ara, near the Palestinian city of Um El Fahem.

According to the plan, residential units will be built in the neighborhood for the exclusive purchase of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Harish started out as part of a plan to move Jewish population to the Israeli edge of the Green Line, thus creating a continuous Jewish population from the center of the country into the 1967 occupied Palestinian territory. This was the1983 “Seven Stars Plan” of Ariel Sharon. In the 1980s Harish was a kibbutz belonging to the Hashomer Hatzair movement, but it fell apart a decade later.

However, because Harish sits not only on the Green Line but in the midst of an area heavily populated by Palestinian citizens of Israel, in the early 1990’s the government decided to establish a new town in the area, particularly targeting Israeli army career officers. Sharon, who was then Minister of Housing, proposed to build a town that would accommodate 20,000 people. This plan also failed.

On 7 June 2011, Minister Yishai introduced the new plans for Harish in a news conference. The town as presented by Yishai will include residential neighborhoods and amenities tailored for a population of Jewish religious character. However, this presentation contradicts state claims in the Haifa District Court that the new neighbourhood will be pluralistic and allow the current 1,300 Jewish and Arab residents to continue living in the area.

Current resident of Harish, among them several Palestinian families from the triangle area as well as from other places of the country, appealed to the court against the plan to build an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood as it essentially means they cannot continue residing there. The state responded to the appeal by changing the planning documents so they appear to include the non-religious population who live in the area.

Yishai claimed at the press conference that the construction work will start immediately “and within a year there will be 2,500 homes.” Yishai added “Thank God we had set up a city ​​in Israel. This is heavenly guidance that the two ministries, Housing and Interior, are in the hands of Shas.”

According to the Ministry of Housing preparatory work, the new settlement will provide housing to some 55,000 people. The end objective, however, is to populate Harish-Katzir with about 150,000-200,000 people and its territory to include 23,000 dunams, slated to be confiscated from the local Palestinian population as well as from Jewish rural settlements in the area.

Ariel Attias, the Minister of Housing, sees populating Harish as “a national mission” in order to “stop the spreading of Arab population from Wadi Ara who do not like the state of Israel.”

Harish-Katzir Mayor, Nissin Dahan, a member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party who was appointed by the Ministry of Interior, adds that “also a secular human being who wants to live (here) can do so if he takes upon himself the yoke of Torah and commandments.”

This point was further stressed by Yigal Shahar, head of the Special Planning Committee, which was appointed to bypass regular planning institutions. “This city is designed for ultra-Orthodox,” Shahar noted. “It will have no areas or neighborhoods or quarters or even one structure that is intended for secular Jews.”

Jewish and Palestinian residents of the Wadi Ara area oppose this plan that will radically change the rural blueprint of the area, surrounding existing villages and towns and rendering them into enclaves within an ultra-Orthodox Jewish city.

”This will transform us into residents of an Arab ghetto,” says Ali Kabah from the neighboring Umm al-Kutuf.

Dahan stresses that this is the objective of Israel when promoting a large ultra-Orthodox city. According to Dahan, Harish will “keep the Arabs under control.”

“Today Arabs can close Wadi Ara and cut the country into two”, says Dahan, “but when 150,000 Jews will be living here then the perspective will change. This is an important issue for the security of Israel.”

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