Neighborhood Watch: Humble roots

A former home to vineyards and orchards, today Rishon Lezion is incorporating the Tzrifin military base to accommodate its high population growth.

East Rishon Lezion 521 (photo credit: Courtesy Rishon Lezion Municipality)
East Rishon Lezion 521
(photo credit: Courtesy Rishon Lezion Municipality)
Rishon Lezion is Israel’s fourth-largest city, after Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, with a population of approximately 250,000.
But despite its size it has very humble roots, and like other cities such as Petah Tikva, Rehovot and Hadera, had its beginnings in the agricultural colonies established in what was then Turkish Palestine.
Petah Tikva was the first such colony.
Rishon was the second.
Rishon Lezion, “First to Zion,” was founded on July 31, 1882, by 10 Jewish pioneering families from Kharkov, Ukraine (then part of the Russian empire). They purchased about 338 hectares (835 acres) of land southeast of present-day Tel Aviv, then owned by an Arab village called Ayun Kara.
Ayun Kara was the scene of a bloody battle between Turkish and British New Zealand troops on November 14, 1917.
A stone cenotaph was erected by the people of Rishon Lezion in memory of the New Zealanders who fell that day, but it has since been destroyed.
The founders, who were not used to agricultural work, encountered many difficulties. The soil was sandy, water was scarce and the settlers had no experience.
It was then that Baron Edmond de Rothschild decided to take the agricultural settlements under his wing, sending experienced estate administrators, who advised the settlers to plant citrus orchards and vineyards. It was they who were instrumental in establishing the Carmel-Mizrahi winery – the first of its kind in Palestine.
Modern Rishon kept little of its former history, and today all of the old citrus orchards and vineyards have become housing estates. It has preserved and restored some of the historic buildings – such as the old winery and the city park, symbols of a bygone age – but the current city has nothing in common with the agricultural village of the late 19th century.
Rishon Lezion became a city in 1950, when it had a population of just over 10,000. It is located in the southern part of the Dan Region, between Ness Ziona to the south, Holon and Bat Yam to the north, the vast Tzrifin military base to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Since the 1970s, Rishon Lezion has undergone massive development.
New construction gained momentum when Meir Nitzan was elected mayor in 1983, and many new neighborhoods were built. In fact, during the 1980s, the growth of the city’s population was 2.5 times higher than the national average. By 2020, the population is expected to reach 315,000.
Geographically, Rishon Lezion can be divided into four main areas: The Old City in the central area, located in what was the residential area of the 19th century agricultural village; the eastern housing projects; the northern, old industrial zone; and western Rishon.
There is also an industrial zone in the southern tip of the city, next to Gan Sorek.
The Old City includes some buildings dating back to Rishon’s founding in 1881. This quarter is located in the city center, between and around Herzl and Jabotinsky streets.
The industrial zones in Rishon Lezion are considered industrial no more. They used to be the home of various light industries, but now house large commercial enterprises such as malls, offices and entertainment centers with a vibrant nightlife.
Western Rishon Lezion is made up of the new neighborhoods of the city, built in the 1980s and ’90s. The west is relatively more expensive because it is closer to the sea.
The eastern part of Rishon was historically considered one of the least expensive parts of the city, populated by families of a relatively low socioeconomic status. All this is shifting and the tempo of change will soon increase dramatically because new, vast tracts of land are being opened up. The huge Tzrifin military base is being moved south and developers are already competing for land in what is set to become a large, self-contained quarter of quality housing.
According to figures supplied to Metro by the Rishon Lezion Municipality, the eastern area has 28,750 households or 88,000 people.
Incorporating the area of the base will add an additional 20,000 households or 80,000 inhabitants.
Dov Zur, the incumbent mayor, told Metro that the eastern part of the city was somewhat neglected in the past, but this is changing. “When elected three and a half years ago, I decided to upgrade the area to increase the quality of life of its residents. [The city] made very heavy investments in education and physical infrastructure and I am happy to say that we are seeing results, with a 12 percent increase of those acquiring a high school [matriculation] certificate.”
One of the problems of eastern Rishon is overcrowding and the lack of green areas; this will be solved when the Tzrifin base is moved and the land becomes available. The eastern area is already undergoing an upgrading process, with some of the country’s leading developers building projects that are of a much higher quality than existing housing. The Minrav development company is constructing a compound of seven-, eightand nine-story buildings called Minrav Hatzeira (Young Minrav).
Three of the seven buildings with 90 dwellings have been completed, while the other four buildings – with an additional 178 dwellings – are in the process of been completed.
Sales manager Haim Maoz told Metro: “Sales are satisfactory. We are offering a quality project with easy access to the Tel Aviv metropolis for very reasonable prices. All of our apartments have large terraces from 12 to 23 sq.m., and a storage room. A four-room apartment is being offered for NIS 1.7 million, fiveroom garden apartments with 145- sq.m. gardens are been offered from NIS 2m. to NIS 2.1m., and a five-room, 150-sq.m. penthouse with a terrace of up to 125 sq.m. is been offered for NIS 2.4m.”
Noam Cons of Anglo-Saxon brokers in eastern Rishon also characterizes the demand for area real estate as satisfactory.
“Despite the fact that the municipality has increased investment in the area, it is still considered generally on a lesser level than other parts of town.
Consequently the new developments are very much in demand from local residents in the area, who are used to living in the area but want to upgrade their residential standards. There is also investment demand because the area is very well-connected to the road grid, and furthermore, the demise of the Tzrifin military base will give a fillip to the real estate market and real estate prices.”