Galilee ole

Just over a year after Lebanon War, hundreds of new apartments are being built across northern Israel.

October 10, 2007 10:25
Galilee ole

new house 224.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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The bare facts are astonishing. Over 2,000 lots, houses and apartments are under construction in dozens of locations, from big cities to small kibbutzim, all over the North. It seems that every town is trying to attract new families and in doing so, many places are recreating themselves. This is particularly true for kibbutzim and moshavim. While in the big cities such as Nazareth and Carmiel the construction of new neighborhoods is an accepted fact of life, the kibbutzim and moshavim have traditionally kept to a fixed number of residents over the years. This has changed recently, as more and more villages and settlements have chosen to increase their number of inhabitants, and have set aside land for the construction of new housing units. "These are ageing kibbutzim. The average age of their inhabitants can be over 60. Kids finishing the army are heading for Tel Aviv," says Tuli Tzadar, the general manager of Ampa Galilee, a subsidiary of Ampa Real Estate Ltd. "The rejuvenation and expansion of these settlements will fill up their nurseries and their schools, bring new life to the settlements and to their cultural activities. Maintenance of these places is more feasible once it is shared between more families. "The other side of the coin is large savings on concrete. Kibbutzim and moshavim can have as few as 50 families, but will still maintain the infrastructure for big grassy areas, a hall for events, a dining room, sports grounds and a pool. After expansion, the same infrastructure will be used by more people, who are not stuffing the country full of concrete." This is certainly a complex process. How is the development undertaken? Tzadar: A contract for development is obtained from the Israel Land Administration. The kibbutz gets in touch with a company such as ours and we take on responsibility for building the infrastructure, including roads, sewage, landscaping, drainage, electricity and phone lines. Our job as far as the kibbutz is concerned is to bring interested parties to their acceptance committee. After that, the future resident chooses the one he likes best. Finally, we deal with the construction and get building permits. Can people build their own properties? Yes, but 80% of new residents choose an existing model. Roofs sprouting up amongst the fields One of the steps that have led to the healthy flourishing of the North is Resolution 959 of the Israel Land Administration, which transferred the marketing of housing units to the hands of the residents of the settlements, where previously the Land Administration had been responsible for marketing the units. Under this new regime, long-standing residents get to choose the new ones. Dori Davidovich is the managing director of the private construction company Doral, which has spent the past seven years expanding communities adjacent to kibbutzim. Today it is responsible for more than 2,000 extensions to settlements in the Galilee and Golan including Sarid, Ein Dor, Ashdot Ya'acov, Merom Golan, Lehavot Habashan and others. "Communal expansion allows the kibbutz to initiate the construction of a communal neighborhood of 130-140 housing units," says Davidovich. Is this need exclusive to northern settlements? Davidovich: It's not exclusive. Over the past few years, the Construction and Housing Ministry and the Israel Land Administration have put their support behind the planning process in settlements on the front line and those with national strategic importance. Now we're seeing similar phenomena among kibbutzim in the Negev, and the expansion of other communities in the South. How many of the new residents are returning to the place where they grew up, and how many are genuinely new? In the kibbutzim, the first critical group of 15-20 families is usually made up of ex-kibbutz residents returning home. In total, it's about 50% new families, 50% returnees. Tzadar, on the other hand, claims that only 10% of his new families are returning to their origins. The Second Lebanon War had a severe effect on this phenomenon. According to Davidovich, marketing was a harder job after the war, especially in light of the many headlines predicting another war this summer. Rumors of contact between Israel and Syria didn't help much either. "Marketing the Golan Heights is just impossible these days," says Davidovich, but then he backtracks. "Mind you, there are neighborhoods that are attracting newcomers, and people are settling happily there, despite all the difficulties. These days, war affects central Israel; not necessarily the North. Haifa was more seriously affected than Yiftah or Misgav Am." Coping with issues of security is an inescapable fact of life in the North. Shlomo Sapir, responsible for the expansion of Kibbutz Malkiya by 126 units, (undertaken by Mivnei Ta'asiya), explains: "We tell new residents what goes on in wartime. The war was not something we'd like to repeat, but we didn't abandon our homes or run away. We carried on working, and even picked our fruit. Residents saw that the war passed over our heads. The two sides were shelling each other above us, while the kibbutz didn't suffer any serious damage. In my opinion, what's important is the feeling we had that has solidified over the past months; that despite all the fears, we would not suffer another war this summer. So far, we've been proven right about that." Eli Livneh, from Kibbutz Dafna, is responsible for the addition of about 100 housing units to his kibbutz and for the addition of 30 units to Kibbutz Ne'ot Mordechai, which was also constructed by Mivnei Ta'asiya. Livneh agrees that the war had an effect, but points out other problems. "The whole Galilee area was affected by the war, but today I can tell you that it wasn't critical. The biggest obstacles at the moment are the freezing of mortgage subsidies for young couples and the lack of jobs on offer in hi-tech." Prices are, of course, hugely significant. Construction prices in the North vary, and are dependent on various factors: the size of the building, the land and the status of the settlement. For example, land in settlements on the front line is free. In Ne'ot Mordechai and Dafna, two settlements near the border, you'll pay about $120,000 for a house built on a plot of about 120 sq.m. Another home will cost you about $170,000 on land measuring about half a dunam. There are also homes that will set you back about $155,000, on average. But in Kibbutz Malkiya, for example, a small house of about 100 sq.m. will go for about $600,000, while one of 275 sq.m. will sell for a million shekels. IDF - Inspired settlement Elad Shoshan, a platoon commander of a combat unit in the IDF, was born and brought up in Yated in the South. He is familiar with and fond of communal life in a small settlement. He and a friend, together with their wives, considered setting up a new settlement with "communal life, everybody helping and supporting each other." When they discovered that the state was encouraging the strengthening of existing settlements, they decided on that route. "In small settlements that were established between 10-30 years ago, the population is getting older," Shoshan explained. "We want to be with people of our generation, who all have children of similar ages. We came to the understanding that we had to put together a group of 40 young families to settle together. We approached the army and proposed a joint undertaking of a settlement project. Platoon commanders hold a very special place in the heart of the IDF, which saw this as a fantastic opportunity. They promised to help us if we could manage to find 40 interested couples, of which the husbands were all officers in combat units. "Everyone spoke to their friends and acquaintances and we approached other army officers, and in this way we ensured that we would create a young, quality population, all under the age of 30. The army told us to choose a settlement where expansion was being undertaken. They would be responsible for the purchase of the land, the pre-construction works and the construction of houses. In this way, our costs were kept to a minimum, because the army was not profiting from the deal. In return, the officers signed on another two years of active service; everyone gained from it." As of press time, the core group was negotiating with three settlements in the Jezreel Valley area. About 20 families were expected to join in the first phase. "The minute the program is finalized, I'll publicize it among other army officers, and I'm sure we'll fill the quota of 40 families," says Shoshan, who emanates initiative and a sense of mission. What's the plan? Each family will receive half a dunam of land, including the development of infrastructure and the construction of a house of 100-160 sq.m. The smallest houses cost $140,000 and the army is offering the officers interest-free loans.

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