With a housing crisis and high population growth in a tiny country, Israel faces many daunting infrastructure problems. However, the OR Movement, an organization devoted to the development and population of the Negev and the Galilee, says it has found a solution, but the country needs to start preparing these areas now.
The organization is stepping up efforts to build up the Negev and Galilee so they will be sustainable in terms of population, infrastructure and jobs.
Ofir Fisher, Or Movement’s co-founder and vice president of development, told The Jerusalem Post that natural population growth could mean there will be 16 million Israelis in 2048, and a population of that size will not be able to remain clustered in the central plain.
According to the OR Movement, the Negev and Galilee regions are home to 24 percent of the population, despite comprising 70% of the land. About 700,000 people live in the Negev and 1.3 million in the Galilee. The organization’s goal is raise those numbers to a combined 6 million within the next three decades so that the two regions will account for 40% of the country’s population.
“If you look at history, every spike in population in Israel was accommodated in a rush... nothing was planned in advance,” Fisher said referring to the immigration waves in the state’s early years, and the Russian aliya in the 1990s.
“We have an opportunity now to plan,” he said. “It would be the most stupid thing to put our heads in the sand and do nothing.”
The Or Movement is working on a detailed, five-year plan for intensive development in the northern and southern parts of the country. It includes encouraging the government to budget more funds to build infrastructure, thus creating jobs, strengthening existing communities or building new ones and creating awareness of the opportunities in these areas. It also includes building up the burgeoning hi-tech and cyber sectors in the South, or even rebranding areas and cities, such as in the western Negev, which he envisions as Israel’s agro-tech center. The Or Movement is working with officials in Safed, in the Upper Galilee, to turn it and the surrounding areas into a health hub.
When asked about job opportunities in the South, for example, Fisher said the region is stigmatized for its high unemployment, but in reality, there are many upper-tier positions available to those willing to live in the Negev.
Since the Or Movement was founded in 2002, it has directly assisted 32,000 people in moving to the Negev or the Galilee. In the past year, it has helped around 1,500 make the move, and the number is constantly increasing, he said.
Fisher said it was the “ripple effect,” what he calls “engines of change,” that accounted for the biggest changes.
He gave the example of a cluster of small and struggling communities in the western Negev (Shuva, Zimrat and Shokeda), all located close to the Gaza Strip.
“Though they had the infrastructure, they couldn’t bring in one new family in a decade,” he said. The Or Movement got involved and helped 20 families with relocating to these communities.
In the following year, an additional 150 families moved to these communities, but with one significant difference – they moved “organically,” without any direct connection to the Or Movement, he said.