Drive into Hashmonaim and you are struck
immediately by the beautiful mosaics, manicured lawns and idyllic
parks. Keep driving down the same street and it is like entering
another country, not the other side of the community - and this other
country is decidedly third-world. The sidewalks disappear, garbage is
everywhere and the stench from the sewer can be overpowering.
which is situated on the road from Modi'in to Kiryat Sefer, appears at
first to be one community; however, complex political battles have in
fact left it run by two separate councils. The community is comprised
of two halves - Gannei Modi'im and Ramat Modi'im.
Years ago, both sides were part of the Binyamin Regional
Council, but in 1996, at the initiative of former resident and Shas
Knesset Member Nissim Dahan, Gannei Modi'im split off from Ramat
Modi'im to become part of Modi'in Illit.
It is hard to separate fact and fiction, as there are many
different versions of the events that followed. Long-time Gannei
residents recall that they woke up one morning and they were part of a
new municipality, and Modi'in Illit claims it was forced on them by the
Whatever the facts, residents of Gannei are not
provided with the same level of services as those of Ramat. This split
and subsequent events have turned Gannei into a sort of "wrong side of
the tracks." Ramat and Gannei have significantly different populations,
income levels and cultural backgrounds. Ramat is mainly well-educated
and affluent with a very high Anglo population, mostly American, but
also English and South African, while the Gannei population is mostly
of Yemenite origin of a lower socioeconomic standing. The result is a
significant amount of tension between the two sides.
RESIDENTS IN Ramat say that their side of the community was in
similar shape to Gannei just a few years ago. The residents themselves
decided to initiate projects which they helped pay for, and which the
Binyamin Regional Council has supported and shared in the expense.
These projects included cobblestone streets, landscaping and mosaics on
the traffic circles. The area is now well maintained, and many services
are now provided to the residents, such as arts, sports, youth
activities and beautiful parks.
the other hand, despite the fact that Gannei tax money is paid to the
Modi'in Illit municipality, residents allege the city has mostly
ignored the needs of the community. Gannei is now often referred to as
the "unwanted stepchild" of Modi'in Illit's only major city, Kiryat
Sefer. Residents claim that every effort that they have made to improve
the situation has been stymied by the municipality in general, and
Mayor Yaakov Gutterman in particular.
Residents of Gannei reject claims that the
differences between the sides of the community are by choice because
they pay lower taxes or do not want to fund improvements. They feel
that their part of the community is a victim of negligence, racism and
corrupt city planning, and that they are being abused in large part due
to their vulnerable economic status.
Some counter that the real comparison should not be between
Ramat and Gannei, but rather between Kiryat Sefer and Gannei. The two
communities are part of the same municipality, and they pay the same
level of taxes, but Kiryat Sefer is clean, organized and has a high
level of municipal services.
It would seem an obvious solution to simply transfer Gannei
back to Binyamin Regional Council, which is precisely what Modi'in
Illit would like to do, but it is not willing to do the repairs
required to bring the community to a high enough standard. Yechiel
Sever, a spokesman for the Modi'in Illit council, put out a statement
blaming the Binyamin Regional Council for the poor state of
infrastructure in Gannei. Sever said that it was "absurd" and an
"injustice" that Modi'in Illit should be responsible for the huge
investment needed to bring Gannei up to par. However, long-time
residents argue that what is absurd is that their community was better
14 years ago, and it has deteriorated over the years due to neglect
from Modi'in Illit.
In many places pedestrians are forced to walk in narrow streets
littered with construction debris while cars careen out of control due
to the obstructions. While there is a small selection of parks in the
area, they are few and far between, and could easily be mistaken for
garbage dumps. To make matters worse, there is also a well-known
criminal element in Gannei. Residents in the community are familiar
with where the heroin dealers live, who is on house arrest and which
areas to avoid.
One local father, Avizohar Riar, expressed his frustration with
the situation when relating the problems his child faces at school.
"Instead of playing in parks, local kids play in the many piles
of construction debris, using rusty metal pipes and broken concrete as
toys," he says. "One kindergartner broke her finger at the beginning of
the school year because there was no playground set up for them - just
sand and rocks. They still don't have a playground, and even though the
children are at school from 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m., they are not allowed to
go outside. There are barely any toys for them, and most of what they
do have was purchased by the parents."
While nobody has ever tested the air quality, an ever-present
stench from the inadequate and often overflowing sewers has raised
It is a regular practice in Gannei to use abandoned lots as garbage dumps. When the piles get too high, they are set on fire.
Michelle Aaron, an immigrant from New Jersey, recalls an
incident where her husband Michael was fighting a fire in a nearby
empty lot and had to use water from their garden hose while others
threw dirt on the blaze in order to put it out. Other English speaking
neighbors made numerous calls to the Fire Department, who refused to
come and later blamed their absence on the fact that they were not
given an exact address.
A spokesman for the Fire Department was not able to locate a
record of a call on the date or at the address of the incident in
question, but denied there was any problem with trash burning in
Gannei. However he later changed his statement, saying that on the day
before the incident in question they have a record of coming to Gannei
twice to put out fires which were a result of trash burning.
Batya Sharabi, an Anglo immigrant who moved into
Gannei ten years ago, states, "I loved Gannei when I first moved here.
It was a sleepy little village that was filled with such warm people."
I saw it disintegrating," she continues. "Now I'm concerned about my
children every time they step out the door. Once, my son got hit in the
forehead by a rock from a construction site and needed [...] immediate
medical attention. Another horrifying incident was when a two-year-old
fell in one of the open construction sites and landed in a deep pit of
water, her father jumped in and pulled her out. Thankfully she was not
"It's criminal that these builders didn't put a fence up, which is the law, but nobody enforces it," she adds.
Sharabi also feels strongly about the issue of the sewage.
"There's a terrible smell nightly, where we just have to keep the
windows closed and suffocate as opposed to breathing in the toxic air,"
she says. "There have been times when the sewer overflows in the
streets, and my kids and I make it a game as to who can jump the
furthest and avoid stepping in the 'pee pee' water.
"Why can't we have normal parks, safe streets and air that's free from sewage fumes? We pay arnona
(municipal taxes), and yet we don't get basic services," she says.
What further infuriates residents is the lack of progress with
regards to infrastructure improvement, despite the municipal taxes paid
by the residents, as well as the millions of shekels allocated by the
Knesset for just such improvements.
"They are criminals with 'kippot,'" says long-time Gannei resident Haim Hubara. "[The mayor] collects millions of shekels in arnona
, and does not use it to maintain the community."
"All we want to get are the services that we deserve as
citizens, which we don't get. We just don't," he says. "How can they
keep raising taxes without giving anything back?"
While Gannei residents have been disenfranchised and have until
now not been able to overcome the organizational roadblocks, they
recently formed a non-profit organization which is working to both
raise awareness of the situation and finally put an end to the
negligence. They have posted signs around the neighborhood calling
others to action which say, "Gannei residents will no longer be