(photo credit: ARIEL BESOR)
Five years after a government initiative began to improve and develop communities in the Gaza perimeter – despite the ongoing security situation surrounding the Gaza Strip – the communities are fully populated, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced on Monday.
The regions of Sha’ar Hanegev, Eshkol, Sdot Negev and Hof Ashkelon absorbed 1,198 new families from 2014 to 2019, a population increase of 15%, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. For the first time, the communities have been declared full.
After Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, the government announced an initiative to develop the area economically, socially and culturally.
Implementation was assigned to the Settlement Division – a body run by WZO – with a plan formulated by the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry in coordination with the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, the Ministry of Construction and Housing, and the Regional Councils.
Although there is still an ongoing security concern in the region due to the threat from Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, hundreds of millions of shekels were assigned to the region to improve services and infrastructure, and to attract new settlers.
Investment in development and agricultural infrastructure was increased, including animal structures, roads, drainage and water systems and reservoirs. Lighting and electrical infrastructure were improved to increase personal safety, and 120 new shelters were added in agricultural areas.
Rural tourism and tourist initiatives have also been strengthened.
The plan also included an additional NIS 40 million for agricultural activity in the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip, an addition of 20 million cubic meters of water, an increase in the quota of foreign workers, and reduced taxes for farmers employing foreign workers.
“The Agriculture Ministry recognizes the difficulties of families who choose to live in the vicinity, and appreciates and welcomes their choice to house themselves there,” said Dr. Ruti Frum Aricha, director of the Planning Authority. “The ministry is doing all it can to improve the lives of the residents and make it easier for them, by all means at their disposal. The rehabilitation and upgrading of infrastructures and public buildings in the surrounding communities... has led to a significant and unprecedented investment in improving the appearance of the settlements, which contributed greatly to shaping an improved and attractive living environment.”
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