Fighting 'Arabization' or solving housing shortage?

Negev, Galilee, leaders debate new haredi enclaves in the periphery.

On Tuesday, the National Planning Councilsubcommittee responsible for general planning principles recommendedthat the National Planning Council authorize the construction of Kasif,a new haredi city in the Negev, 10 km. west of Arad. The move was metwith criticism from environmental organizations for its effect on openspaces, but also from local leaders.

AradMayor Gideon Bar-Lev said his municipality had opposed the initiativefrom the start, when it first came up for debate two-and-a-half yearsago.

"We think it is a huge mistake in principle and that thedecision goes against the state's main planning objections ofdispersing the population," he said.

Bar-Lev is also concerned that the new city will cut into regional budgets and mostly at the expense of Arad.

"Insteadof investing in a neighborhood for officers who will serve in theNegev's new instructional base, the funds will go towards a haredi-onlycity that will draw on the resources," said Bar-Lev. "It is a mistakefor the state to create segregated cities, no matter for whichpopulation. Instead of promoting integration it is creating an insularsociety."

Bar-Lev, who was previously the director-general for theMinistry of Interior, said that the project, entailing 10,000 housingunits and all the auxiliary structures and institutions that go with abrand new city, would cost the tax-payers billions of shekels.

"Insteadof spreading the costs over the whole country and installinginfrastructure where it is needed, the state will spends millions ofshekels on brand new infrastructures in a remote location. The costwill be unprecedented," he said.

MK Menahem Eliezer Moses (United Torah Judaism), chairman ofthe Knesset Lobby for Housing Solutions for Young Couples, defendedheavy state subsidies for new, haredi-only housing in the Negev and inthe Galilee.

"No other population in Israel is willing to move en masse tooutlying areas such as the Negev and the North where the Jewishpopulation is dwindling and the Arab population is on the rise," saidMoses.

"It is a national interest to encourage Jews to move to theseplaces and haredim are the only ones ready to do it. If other segmentsof the population are willing to, they should get subsidies also."

Moses said the subsidies would be used to lower contractors' development costs.

In addition to Kasif in the Negev and Harish near Hadera, whichare still in preliminary stages of planning, there is anotherharedi-only project planned for a neighborhood of Upper Nazareth calledHar Yona.

The city's mayor, Shimon Gapso, has made numerous publicstatements expressing interest in bringing haredi or religious-Zionistpopulations to a future neighborhood that would be called Har YonaGimmel.

Gapso is interested in using the haredim to fight the"Arabization" of Upper Nazareth taking place in recent years as Jewsleave and residents of neighboring Arab villages move in.

Moses said that since infrastructure and roads were already inplace, the prospects of building in the near future were better thanfor any other major haredi building project. The new neighborhood wouldhave 12,000 housing units, he said.

Moses, a Viznitz hassid, said that 3,000 haredi families wasthe minimum needed to create the "critical mass" for the success of aself-contained haredi city.

A source within Viznitz hassidism doubted that members of his movement would agree to move to a place like Har Yona.

"I believe that Viznitz leadership will first want toconcentrate on building up existing centers such as El Ad, Betar Illit,and Ashdod before directing people to a new community," he said.

Although the haredi community is looked at as monolithic, it ismade up of many diverse groups that might not be willing to cometogether to form a new town. This could complicate plans for thecreation of a new haredi city. Hassidic groups tend to stay together,with Gur, Belz, Viznitz and other movements' members living inhomogeneous neighborhoods. For instance, the Boyan hassidic movement,as part of a leadership-level decision, is planning to create a newenclave in Kiryat Gat.

Lithuanian haredim also tend to live together in homogeneous neighborhoods.

It is unclear whether enough haredim from different groups can be brought together to populate Har Yona.

The source from Viznitz added that many in the haredi populationmight be turned off by the large Arab population in the Nazareth area.

Nevertheless, housing shortages in established haredi communityare acute. High fertility rates among haredi families for severaldecades have kept housing demand high.

In parallel, two Shas cabinet ministers are in key positions toinfluence building policy for the haredi public. Ariel Attias on thenational level as construction and housing minister and Eli Yishai onthe municipal level as interior minister can work together to pushthrough projects.

The minister of the Galilee and the Negev, Silvan Shalom,rejected the notion that the haredi cities were the state's way to"Jewishize" the periphery.

"Kasif provides a solution for haredim who have nowhere tolive. Some went to El Ad and some are going to the Negev. People canlive where they want," said Shalom.

Populating the Negev was a vision as old as the state and theconstruction of new towns and settlements there was a top governmentpriority, he said.