On Tuesday, the National Planning Council
subcommittee responsible for general planning principles recommended
that the National Planning Council authorize the construction of Kasif,
a new haredi city in the Negev, 10 km. west of Arad. The move was met
with criticism from environmental organizations for its effect on open
spaces, but also from local leaders.
Mayor Gideon Bar-Lev said his municipality had opposed the initiative
from the start, when it first came up for debate two-and-a-half years
"We think it is a huge mistake in principle and that the
decision goes against the state's main planning objections of
dispersing the population," he said.
Bar-Lev is also concerned that the new city will cut into regional budgets and mostly at the expense of Arad.
of investing in a neighborhood for officers who will serve in the
Negev's new instructional base, the funds will go towards a haredi-only
city that will draw on the resources," said Bar-Lev. "It is a mistake
for the state to create segregated cities, no matter for which
population. Instead of promoting integration it is creating an insular
Bar-Lev, who was previously the director-general for the
Ministry of Interior, said that the project, entailing 10,000 housing
units and all the auxiliary structures and institutions that go with a
brand new city, would cost the tax-payers billions of shekels.
of spreading the costs over the whole country and installing
infrastructure where it is needed, the state will spends millions of
shekels on brand new infrastructures in a remote location. The cost
will be unprecedented," he said.
MK Menahem Eliezer Moses (United Torah Judaism), chairman of
the Knesset Lobby for Housing Solutions for Young Couples, defended
heavy state subsidies for new, haredi-only housing in the Negev and in
"No other population in Israel is willing to move en masse to
outlying areas such as the Negev and the North where the Jewish
population is dwindling and the Arab population is on the rise," said
"It is a national interest to encourage Jews to move to these
places and haredim are the only ones ready to do it. If other segments
of the population are willing to, they should get subsidies also."
Moses said the subsidies would be used to lower contractors' development costs.
In addition to Kasif in the Negev and Harish near Hadera, which
are still in preliminary stages of planning, there is another
haredi-only project planned for a neighborhood of Upper Nazareth called
The city's mayor, Shimon Gapso, has made numerous public
statements expressing interest in bringing haredi or religious-Zionist
populations to a future neighborhood that would be called Har Yona
Gapso is interested in using the haredim to fight the
"Arabization" of Upper Nazareth taking place in recent years as Jews
leave and residents of neighboring Arab villages move in.
Moses said that since infrastructure and roads were already in
place, the prospects of building in the near future were better than
for any other major haredi building project. The new neighborhood would
have 12,000 housing units, he said.
Moses, a Viznitz hassid, said that 3,000 haredi families was
the minimum needed to create the "critical mass" for the success of a
self-contained haredi city.
A source within Viznitz hassidism doubted that members of his movement would agree to move to a place like Har Yona.
"I believe that Viznitz leadership will first want to
concentrate on building up existing centers such as El Ad, Betar Illit,
and Ashdod before directing people to a new community," he said.
Although the haredi community is looked at as monolithic, it is
made up of many diverse groups that might not be willing to come
together to form a new town. This could complicate plans for the
creation of a new haredi city. Hassidic groups tend to stay together,
with Gur, Belz, Viznitz and other movements' members living in
homogeneous neighborhoods. For instance, the Boyan hassidic movement,
as part of a leadership-level decision, is planning to create a new
enclave in Kiryat Gat.
Lithuanian haredim also tend to live together in homogeneous neighborhoods.
It is unclear whether enough haredim from different groups can be brought together to populate Har Yona.
The source from Viznitz added that many in the haredi population
might be turned off by the large Arab population in the Nazareth area.
Nevertheless, housing shortages in established haredi community
are acute. High fertility rates among haredi families for several
decades have kept housing demand high.
In parallel, two Shas cabinet ministers are in key positions to
influence building policy for the haredi public. Ariel Attias on the
national level as construction and housing minister and Eli Yishai on
the municipal level as interior minister can work together to push
The minister of the Galilee and the Negev, Silvan Shalom,
rejected the notion that the haredi cities were the state's way to
"Jewishize" the periphery.
"Kasif provides a solution for haredim who have nowhere to
live. Some went to El Ad and some are going to the Negev. People can
live where they want," said Shalom.
Populating the Negev was a vision as old as the state and the
construction of new towns and settlements there was a top government
priority, he said.