Ramat HaNegev Regional Council seeks to evacuate Garin Harel settlement

Council ready to disband illegal ecological community.

Negev desert 311 (photo credit: Joe Yudin)
Negev desert 311
(photo credit: Joe Yudin)
A few weeks after an ecological community of 60 residents illegally settled within their midst, the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council has vowed to evacuate the hilltop village.
The Garin Harel ecological community, which settled atop Mount Eldad in early August, contains 60 adults and 15 children, according to data from the settlement. Envisioning a Zionist and ecological lifestyle that would “integrate with nature and the desert” and promote continuity in the Negev’s development, the community members explained that they had been fruitlessly working with all the relevant authorities to establish their community legally for past seven years.
The council slammed the settlement members, however, for building their community in the end without any permits or authorization from them or any of the relevant authorities.
Countering the community members’ claims that authorities were uncooperative with their requests, a council spokeswoman said that the chairman and representatives of the council have long been in active dialogue with Harel Garin. During this ongoing dialogue, offers were made to allow the group to settle in the Negev, including options to join existing communities within the council’s jurisdiction, as well as Beersheba, Yeroham and Mitzpe Ramon, the spokeswoman said.
“The members of Garin rejected all proposals, for reasons known only to them and announced that it was their intention to opt for settlement in Mount Eldad, a sensitive area of the first order in terms of landscape and heritage – which does not enable settlement without compromising nature and the environment,” the spokeswoman said.
Rona Levine, one of the Garin Harel settlers, stressed that the community members did not reject all proposals and said that they simply “wanted to settle in the Negev.”
For example, the community members were more than willing to become part of Kibbutz Telalim, she explained.
“At the end of the day it didn’t work out because as a small community they decided that connecting with a group of 60 people was too much,” Levine told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “The same happened in Sde Boker.”
Despite warnings from the council that they would remove them if they settled at Eldad, the community members did so regardless, the council spokeswoman explained.
“The council’s position is unequivocal: Ramat Hanegev strongly opposed the illegal settlement of Garin Harel and the misrepresentation of an ecological settlement that its members are trying to present,” the spokeswoman said. “The council is working with all judiciary and public means available in order to evacuate Garin Harel from Eldad speedily.”
Two weeks ago, the council issued a demolition order, after which Garin Harel members issued a one-sided injunction to prevent this demolition, according to the council. Earlier this week, meanwhile, the council filed a response to the court and simultaneously has issued a cleaning order to Garin Harel members in order to minimize environmental damage in the area, the council said.
The settlement’s location on the top of the hill will have a severe environmental impact, stressed Guy Rotem, project manager for the council’s environmental committee. Atop an area with antiquities and remains from the Bronze Age, the Nabatean era and the Byzantine period, there are now 20 tents, a water tower, sun shades, signs and a kitchen, a document drafted by Rotem explained.
The existence of the settlement on Mount Eldad disrupts the open space landscape, threatening to damage the habitats of wild animals and reduce their mobility, Rotem explained.
Meanwhile, the infrastructure that would be required should the settlement end up remaining there would include road access, sewage pipes and many other developments that would likewise disturb the space, he added.
In a clear desert environment where stars are typically visible, light pollution becomes a problem in a community such as Harel, Rotem said.
Dust pollution has become problematic in the settlement, as the dirt road up to the community area is experiencing a “massive movement of cars.”
Dust clogs the respiratory tracts of humans and animals, and settles on the leaves of plants and prevents photosynthesis, Rotem continued.
The Society for the Protection of Nature recently came out against the settlement, stressing in a letter to the relevant legal authorities that “there is no place for an independent settlement without receiving approvals from government bodies.”
The establishment of the community, the August 21 letter said, occurred on an area of land with natural, archeological and cultural significance.
“We request that the work being conducted in the area immediately be stopped, and that the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council be instructed...
to urgently evacuate the buildings from the land,” the letter concluded.
MK Yisrael Hasson (Kadima) voiced his support for the community in the Knesset on Wednesday, lamenting the fact that the members had worked tirelessly for seven years to achieve legal recognition and yet still failed.
“Show me one community, in this land, in the past 30 years, that was established without a movement backing them... one community like this that was established,” Hasson said. “You won’t find it. Do you know when it was established? On August 11. Do you know where it was established? In the Negev, Garin Harel.”
Observing how skilled and accomplished many of the residents are, Hasson told Knesset members that “we owe this to these youngsters.”
Countering the claims that their plans are disturbing the environment, Levine, meanwhile, stressed that “all of the planning and all of the building is ecological.”
She explained that the domeshaped residential structures do not require any kind of digging or cement.
“Wild animals don’t come to this area because it’s a mountain and there’s no water resources,” she said.
Members have gone so far as to take pains to protect any spiders they find, according to Levine.
As far as the dirt road is concerned, Levine emphasized that the road already existed before they arrived, since it was once used by the Israel Electric Corporation.
“All the electricity we use is by a solar powered system,” she continued. “We are the most ecological settlement there is in Ramat Hanegev and Israel as well.”
The residents use gray water systems to water their plants, and they perform eight different types of recycling, Levine explained.
As far as added infrastructure goes, in the future, everything would be kept the way it is now, without additional pipes and disturbances, she added.
In response to the idea that they were causing light pollution, Levine stressed that at 10 p.m. the lights are all off.
If they are able to stay in Eldad in the future, Levine said that she and other community members would be pleased to work with council on promoting environmental consciousness throughout the region.
“We very much care about and love the Negev and the land of course,” Levine said.
“The way we see it, we want to be a model of the way you can live on a land in the Negev and instead of corrupting it and polluting it, actually giving back to the land.”