Efrat, immigration and the tent protests

Has the State of Israel reached the stage where it can give up on new residents wishing to establish their home in Israel?

September 18, 2011 21:46
3 minute read.
Christian Galilee

Christian Galilee. (photo credit: Courtesy: Israel Images)

While much has been written about this summer’s social protests, it seems that despite the multiplicity of groups protesting, one important one has been prominently absent – the new immigrants. Or, to be more exact, the immigrants that aren’t making aliya.

The State of Israel has no constitution.

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Over the years, however, the Declaration of Independence has come to be defined as a constitution of sorts.

About half of the declaration is dedicated to presenting the historical, moral and legal basis for the renewal of Jewish independence in the Land of Israel and for the establishment of the State of Israel. Its main points are that “in recent generations there was a massive return of Jews to the Land of Israel as pioneers, illegal immigrants and defenders who made the deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns... ” etc. The country’s founders were well aware of the importance of new immigrants and thus emphasized their contribution.

The second part of the document declares “the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel,” and goes on to list the basic principles of that state: the State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and the ingathering of the exiles, the State of Israel will work to develop the land for all its residents, etc.

This is not the place to go through all the principles presented above since they were all given a place of respect on Rothschild Boulevard, except for the first principle – that the State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and the ingathering of the exiles.

The city of Efrat, the capital of Gush Etzion, is a clear example of the Jewish state’s abandonment of this principle.

More than sixty families from North America wanted to make aliya to Israel this year and establish their homes in Efrat (where about a third of the residents are from North America). All of the families are established ones from affluent countries, all with employment prospects, all with children seeking to be integrated into the excellent education system of Efrat. However, not all found housing. In the present insane reality, only about 20 out of the 60 families that wanted to come were able to realize the dream of “ingathering of the exiles” due to lack of housing. Has the State of Israel reached the stage where it can give up on new residents wishing to establish their home in Israel? Can Israel allow itself to “close” its gates to new immigrants? The common response is: “Why Efrat? Let them go somewhere else! There are other cities in Israel.”

However, if a person wants to choose a place to live, and the chance that he will be successfully absorbed in that particular place is very high, is it not our duty to give him the possibility to exercise this choice? In addition, many of the new immigrants can no longer afford to buy property in Jerusalem or in Ra’anana. Beit Shemesh is becoming more Haredi and the Absorption Ministry is sending new immigrants to the north to make the Galilee more Jewish.

Indeed an important mission, but who will help with their absorption in the far north? Where will they work? So why is there no housing in Efrat – the capital of Gush Etzion, the very heart of the Israeli consensus? The answer is that despite the freeze having ended, there is still a de facto freeze. The government, 10 years ago, prepared the infrastructure for 300 housing units, and invested about NIS 40 million, but in one moment of fear of the American government, decided not to market even a single residential unit. So Efrat is now frozen, there is no building, its sons cannot continue to live here and the new olim, who yearn for Zion, remain abroad until Netanyahu decides to sign.

The writer is the mayor of Efrat.

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