Wadi Ara Jews and Arabs protest against planned haredi city

Dozens block Barkai interchange hours before cabinet decides to form c'tee to oversee and expedite Harish housing project.

Dozens of Wadi Ara residents, both Jewish and Arab, blocked the Barkai interchange Sunday in a demonstration against a planned haredi city in the area.
The protest came hours before the cabinet decided to form a committee to oversee and expedite the haredi housing project in Harish.
The resolution establishing the committee made no mention of a decision made in December by an Interior Ministry panel to limit the development to only 50,000 residents, and not the 150,000 desired by the Housing Ministry and developers.
The plan to build the large haredi community in Harish has received heavy support from Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Housing Minister Ariel Attias.
In December, following similar protests, the National Building and Planning Council approved the haredi development in Harish, but clarified that it must be limited to only 50,000 residents.
In early December, the Menashe Regional Council held a partial strike to protest the Harish construction plans, out of fears that a city of 150,000 would change the rural nature of their area, whose Jewish communities are largely secular, while Wadi Ara region in general is heavily Arab.    
Kibbutz Ma’anit member Arik Hatzor, who heads the protest movement, said Sunday that around 100 people came to declare they did not want the project to be either large or haredi.   
“We are against the founding of this town for haredi people only,” Hatzor said. “If they are going to open a new city in the area, it should be open to all the public. We don’t believe the concept of haredi ghettos is a good thing.”
Harish lies south of Haifa and is near the Green Line, next to northern Samaria.
The town was founded in the early Nineties as part of the Housing and Construction Ministry “Seven Star” program, which aimed to increase Jewish settlement in areas along the Green Line.
In the following years, repeated efforts by the Housing 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 Housing Ministry announced plans to build 10,000 housing units in the area for the haredi community.
Igal Shahar, the head of the special committee overseeing the expansion of Harish, said Sunday that the project is not meant to disturb communities in the area, but rather to help solve the housing shortages affecting the haredi community.
“Whoever lives here and wants to continue to live here can do so,” Shahar said, but added, “when secular people ask me if they should buy into this new project, we tell them it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.”  
Shahar took issue with those who refer to the community as a “haredi city,” saying that it will be a “religious community that keeps Shabbat,” and will include members of the national-religious community.
Shahar said he felt that much of the protest against the project is based on fears that it will raise rental prices in the area.
“Usually, when rental prices rise in an area, people tend to blame thenew arrivals. Either way, the market will determine who stays in thearea, not us,” he said.
Shahar couldn’t say whether the programwould eventually house 150,000 people, citing the example of othertowns, such as Carmel, that never reached the planners’ originalpopulation goals.
Although “the historic vision isn’t alwaysrealized,” Shahar said he hopes that in the case of this new religiouscommunity, the vision will be become reality.