Ariel Atias 88 224.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A vote to okay the building of a large haredi city at Harish, east of Hadera, was postponed to allow kibbutzniks and Arabs who stridently opposed the move to meet with Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Atias of Shas.
Ministry Director-General Gavriel Maimon agreed to postpone the discussion and vote slated for Tuesday to enable Ilan Sadeh, chairman of the Menashe Regional Council and Riad Kabha, head of the Barta'ah Local Council, meet with the minister.
"This is a big victory for us," said Kabha after the postponement was announced. "Thanks to our well-publicized struggle we managed to convince the government to reconsider."
Kabha and Sadeh have been spearheading a campaign against the plan to build for haredim in the area. A demonstration was held in Jerusalem Tuesday morning.
Three Hashomer Hatza'ir Kibbutzim - Ma'anit, Barkai, and Metzer - have formed a coalition with three neighboring Arab villages - Um al-Kutuf, Meysar and Barta'ah - to block the building of Harish, which, they say, will disrupt the delicate relations between Arabs and Jews in the area and will destroy protected green areas.
Former Shas MK Nissim Dahan, who is head of the Harish Local Council and is pushing to turn Harish, a small, failing agricultural community, into a thriving haredi city of 150,000, was angered by the decision.
"The haredi public will have to take to the streets and demonstrate against the unbearable shortage in haredi housing," said Dahan. "Apparently nobody listens unless you make a lot of noise."
But Micha Rothschild, a member of the Haredi Building Council, a lobbying group for haredi housing interests, said the postponement was a temporary setback.
"It will take a little longer and little more political activity but eventually Harish will be built," he said.
According to Rothschild, the haredi housing shortage is severe. This year, 6,500 new haredi couples will marry and need a house. Next year there will be 6,800 new haredi couples and the year after 7,350, and there already is a shortage.
"There are today 37,000 haredi couples who are living in storage rooms, in underground parking lots, in attics or are simply living with their parents."
Two decades ago the government approved a plan to build 9,000 housing units in Harish, which was originally slated to be secular town. But the plans faltered after Harish failed to attract residents.
Rothschild said that plans for expansion of Harish beyond the present size to a total of 22,000 homes is essential for its success.
"If Harish is to succeed it has to reach a critical mass," said Rothschild. "No quality haredi families will pick up and move unless they know that Harish will grow to a size that can supply educational institutions, synagogues, and other services essential for a haredi town."
Arik Hatzor, a member of Kibbutz Ma'anit, who has helped organize the opposition to a haredi town, said that aside from a terrorist attack in Kibbutz Metzer a decade ago, relations between Arabs and Jews are good.
He said that his kibbutz is strictly secular and lacks a synagogue. "Haredim simply will not fit in here," he said.