Graffiti and signs in Beit Shemesh tell people to wear only modest clothing.
(photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
Some 17,000 residential units were approved for the city of Beit Shemesh this week, although as usual, the construction plans are becoming a point of contention between the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and non-haredi communities.
Two neighborhoods will be constructed under the plans, Beit Shemesh Dalet and Heh. Dalet has been designated as a haredi neighborhood and will include two thirds of the units, while Heh has been designated for the “general community.”
But according to Miri Shalev, a social activist in the city, building contractors are already expressing skepticism about the business viability of building the neighborhood for the general community, out of a concern that the non-haredi public may already have been scared off by Beit Shemesh’s reputation for inter-communal strife.
If the plans for a non-haredi Beit Shemesh Heh cannot be realized then it is possible that it too could become an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood she says.
Mati Rosenzweig, a Beit Shemesh spokesman, said if non-haredim do not show interest in the neighborhood, “something different will have to be considered.”
He insisted however that the division of the units between Dalet and Heh was fair, and also noted that only 10,000 units of the 17,000 total are being marketed at the moment, while the rest will be marketed at a later date.
Rosenzweig also argued that many municipal mayors have been reluctant to designate construction for the haredi population, whereas haredi Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul was also building for the non-haredi sector.
Still, Shalem argues that due to the construction that has taken place in recent years in the new Beit Shemesh Gimmel neighborhood, any attempt to balance the population of the city would have required much more than 6,000 units for the general populace.
The effect, she said, would be that non-haredi residents “will continue to leave the city.”
In the meantime, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Interior Minister Arye Deri lauded the proposals at a Monday ceremony.
Netanyahu welcomed what he described in Beit Shemesh as “brothers dwelling together,” mentioning the overall population.
“I am aware that there are problems, my ministerial colleagues are aware there are problems, but in joining hands we can solve them,” the prime minister said. “This land and this city belong to all of us and there is space for all of us.
We intend to create a wonderful future.”