Arabs in North object to natural gas pipeline through land

Plan’s advocate says availability of resource would benefit region’s businesses.

Local farmers and landowners from Mashhad, just north of Nazareth, complained to the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on Monday over a proposed natural gas pipeline that would run through their land to the Tziporit industrial zone.
According to MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad), who requested the urgent discussion along with MK Dov Henin (Hadash), the line would damage 800 dunams of Arab land.
The plan was just closed for public comment by the National Planning and Building Council, and an investigator will be appointed to look into the objections raised, Michal Eitan of the Interior Ministry told the committee.
The trigger for building the line was the plan for the Phoenicia glass factory to switch to natural gas, which is cleaner than other forms of fossil fuels. However, Nazareth Illit engineer Mordechai Koler said the line could eventually benefit the entire industrial park and the surrounding area.
However, one farmer from Mashhad complained bitterly over government appropriation of his land.
“When Highways 77 and 79 were built, the state took seven dunams of my land without any compensation. If the pipe goes through I can’t plant anything.
Now I plant tomatoes, melons, and wheat. If the pipe goes through, I can’t plant any trees whatsoever,” he told the committee.
Moreover, “there's not a single employee at the industrial park from Mashhad,” he added. The industrial park is a joint Jewish-Arab venture.
Jawad, who owns land along the planned route which runs along the highway, chimed in, “It’s valuable land. I submitted a request to rezone the land to build a gas station and other economic initiatives. I lost 12 dunams when Highway 79 cut through it 10 years ago. I am set to lose another five dunams now. Compensation is not an option.”
Hanna Swaid charged that the line was being pursued because it was Arab land that was being used.
Ze’ev Hartman, representing Upper Nazareth, contended that a natural gas line was a big draw for the industrial park.
“If people want monetary compensation, the government needs to sit and make that decision. It’s not just the Phoenicia factory that will benefit from natural gas. We tried long and hard to interest businesses in coming. The second that it became known that there would be cheap energy available, we got queries from four entrepreneurs who were interested,” he said.
Yardena Plaut of the National Infrastructures Ministry told the committee that all of the alternatives had been examined, but that the terrain in the Galilee made it very difficult to construct a pipeline in many places.
Eitan of the Interior Ministry clarified how the land would be used and the procedure involved.
“We are not talking about confiscation, but rather the right to cross. There will be compensation paid according to the law. The right to cross does entail a few restrictions: You can’t plant trees, which have deep roots, but you can still use it for other agricultural purposes. You also can’t build on the land,” she said.
The line would run 1.1 meters underground and be marked by signs and not a fence, according to Plaut.
Committee chairman David Azoulai (Shas) thanked everyone for expressing their views and asked that all objections be taken into account in the planning process.