By BEN HARTMAN
The National Building and Planning committee on Tuesday struck down a request to use 1,000 dunams of land belonging to Kibbutz Metzer for a plot meant to house haredi families in the nearby area of Harish.
The decision came hours after the Menashe Regional Council held a partial strike to protest the plan, which is part of a greater construction project to build housing for 150,000 haredim in the area.
The partial strike, which included the closing of gates and hanging of protest signs, came as the Interior Ministry's building and planning committee was set to vote on whether to approve the project.
Council members also plan on holding a torch-bearing march this Saturday on Kibbutz Barkai, where they will release balloons and light a giant hanukkia.
Kibbutz Ma'anit member Arik Hatzor, who heads the protest movement against the expansion of Harish, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday that the plan would lead to the construction of "an Ultra-Beit Shemesh - not only ultra-Orthodox, but ultra-big as well."
Hatzor said the Menashe Regional Council, located just east of Hadera, was against the plan principally because the area, which he said was one of the last preserved ecological corridors in Israel, could not support the influx of 150,000 new residents.
Furthermore, Hatzor said the fact that the project was intended to house only haredi families could upset the character of the area.
"We don't want a city of this size here at all, but if there is going to be one, it shouldn't be solely for a community that is closed and exclusive. In our area, we have secular and religious, Jews and Arabs, all living in harmony. To bring in a community like this could upset this harmony," Hatzor said.
Harish lies within the Katzir-Harish Regional Council, south of Haifa and near the Green Line next to northern Samaria. The town was founded in the early '90s as part of the Housing and Construction Ministry's "Star Communities" program, which was devoted to increasing Jewish settlement in areas along the Green Line to solve demographic problems.
In the following years, repeated efforts by the ministry to populate the area failed, until 2003, when a contingent of 50 national-religious families moved into what was the largely deserted town of Harish. In 2008, the ministry announced plans to build 10,000 housing units for haredi families in the area.
Yigal Shahar, the head of the special committee overseeing the expansion of Harish, said the project was not meant to disturb communities in the area, but to help solve the housing shortages affecting the haredi community.
"This is a community suffering from a terrible, horrid housing shortage," Shahar told the Post on Tuesday. "Where are they supposed to live, Cyprus?"
Shahar said the program to expand Harish was similar to plans instituted in Modi'in over decades that saw the once nearly-vacant area become a thriving community housing tens of thousands of Israelis.
Shahar, who is secular, said the project was being built for the haredi community not only because of the housing shortage, but also because the haredi sector had different needs than secular communities. The town would have to be a large, self-contained community so residents would not have to travel to Bnei Brak or Jerusalem to meet those needs, he said.
Shahar pointed out that the land in question was state land and that not a single dunam would be taken from anyone's private property. He also brushed off the Menashe Regional Council leaders' contention that the city would not fit the character of the area.
"I lived in South Hackensack, New Jersey, one Jew in an Italian neighborhood surrounded by blacks," he said. "Maybe people didn't want me there, but people need a place to live."
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