Jonathan Cook, The Electronic Intifada, 6 July 2009
Ariel Atias said he considered it a "national mission" to bring ultra-Orthodox Jews -- or Haredim, distinctive for their formal black and white clothing -- into Arab areas, and announced that he would also create the north's first exclusively Haredi town.
The new settlement drive, according to Atias, is intended to revive previous failed efforts by the state to "Judaize," or create a Jewish majority in, the country's heavily Arab north.
Analysts say the announcement is a disturbing indication that the Haredim, who have traditionally been hostile to Zionism because of their strict reading of the Bible, are rapidly being recruited to the Judaization project in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
Atias, of the ultra-Orthodox party Shas, is drawing on a model already successfully developed over the past decade in the West Bank, where the Haredim, the group with the highest birth rate in Israel, have been encouraged to move into separate settlements that have rapidly eaten into large chunks of Palestinian territory.
Several mayors of northern cities in Israel have appealed to Atias to help them "save" the Jewishness of their communities in a similar manner by recruiting Haredim to swell the numbers of Jews in the north.
Atias revealed his new drive on Thursday as he spoke at an Israeli Bar Association conference in Tel Aviv to discuss land reform plans. He told the delegates: "We can all be bleeding hearts, but I think it is unsuitable [for Jews and Arabs] to live together."
His priority, he said, was to prevent the "spread" of Arab citizens, who comprise one-fifth of the country's population and are mostly restricted to their own overcrowded communities in two northern regions, the Galilee and Wadi Ara.
Referring to the Galilee, where Arab citizens are a small majority of the population, he said: "If we go on like we have until now, we will lose the Galilee. Populations that should not mix are spreading there."
Atias also revealed that mayors of several northern cities where Arab citizens had started to move into Jewish neighborhoods had asked him how they could "salvage" their cities.
One, Shimon Lankry, the mayor of Acre, where there were inter-communal clashes last year, met with the minister only last week. "He told me, 'Bring a bunch of Haredim and we'll save the city,'" Atias said.
"He told me that Arabs are living in Jewish buildings and running them [Jews] out."
The Haredim have a birth rate -- estimated at eight children per woman -- that is twice that of the Muslim population and are increasingly seen as a useful demographic weapon to stop the erosion of Israel's Jewish majority.
Atias's comments brought swift condemnation from Israel's Arab lawmakers. Mohammad Barakeh, the head of the Communist Party, told the popular Israeli website Ynet: "Racism is spreading throughout the government and Minister Atias is the latest to express it."
The key initiative proposed by Atias is the development of a large Haredi town of 20,000 homes based on an existing small community at Harish in the Wadi Ara, near Umm al-Fahm, a region close to the West Bank.
Harish was established in the early 1990s by the housing minister of the time, Ariel Sharon, as part of a huge settlement drive inside both Israel and the OPT.
Harish and a dozen communities known as "star points" were built on the Green Line -- the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank -- as a way to erode its political significance.
Most of the communities, however, were located in densely-populated Arab areas and failed to attract Israelis.
Until recently the settler population had spurned settling in Israel and has been drawn instead either to Palestinian areas close to Jerusalem or to frontier communities deep in the West Bank.
Cesar Yehudkin of Bimkom, a group of Israeli town planners critical of government planning policy, said the goal of Harish was to occupy a large swathe of land in Wadi Ara to prevent the "natural growth" of Arab localities. "Harish is an attractive option for rapid development because the infrastructure for a large town is already in place," he said.
Atias told Israel's Bar Association that Harish was a vital way to stop "illegal Arab expansion" and that the Haredim "are the only ones willing to live there."
The Israeli media revealed two weeks ago similar plans by Shimon Gapso, the mayor of Upper Nazareth, a Jewish town established 50 years ago in the Galilee region to restrict the growth of the neighboring Arab city of Nazareth.
He announced that 3,000 homes are to be built next year for the Haredim to increase Jewish dominance of the city, which has seen a steady migration of Arabs from Nazareth and its surrounding villages desperate for a place to live.
Tight planning restrictions on Arab communities mean that there are few places for Arab citizens to build legally and they are excluded from hundreds of Jewish rural communities through vetting committees, Yehudkin said.
Gapso, who is identified with the Yisrael Beiteinu Party of the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has complained about the "demographic threat" posed by Arabs moving into Upper Nazareth.
He recently told the Israeli media: "As a man of Greater Israel, I think it more important to settle the Galilee than Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] ... I urge the settlers to come here."
Some 600 ultra-Orthodox families have already signed up to live in the new Upper Nazareth neighborhood, which has the backing of Eli Yishai, the interior minister and leader of Shas.
In a related Judaization drive, Nefesh B'Nefesh, one of the main organizations bringing Jewish immigrants to Israel, announced in December a program to offer financial incentives to new immigrants to settle in northern Israel.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.
A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.
Harish to Become Hareidi-Religious City?
The small community of Harish, just south of the Galilee, may be about to blossom into a new hareidi-religious city after almost a decade of delays - but the move is facing major opposition from neighboring residents in both the Jewish and Arab sectors.
The National Council for Planning and Building is set to give a green light on Tuesday for plans to expand the tiny Jewish community of 1,000.
Area residents plan to demonstrate during the hearing in Jerusalem at which the plans are being considered, claiming the expansion will lead to another round of Arab violence such as that which poured forth during the Oslo War, also known as the Second Intifada.
Originally, Harish was to expand into a small city of 30,000, but construction was frozen when the second intifada got underway in 2000.
Three years ago the expansion plans were resurrected, this time in the form of development into a hareidi-religious city. The proposal was backed by two Shas party members, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Housing Minister Ariel Atias.
Growing Jewish Presence Among Arab Villages
The village of Harish was founded in 1982 as a Nahal outpost. It became a kibbutz in 1985, then later transformed into a full-fledged community. It merged with another nearby village, Katzir, in 1993, and then later with a third, Mitzpeh Ilan, to form a local council near the Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm in the Wadi Ara region.
At present the community is similar in size to many of its Jewish counterparts in Judea and Samaria, and for that matter, also similar in size to the many Israeli-Arab villages scattered around the country, both recognized and unrecognized.
The master plan for Harish calls for the expansion of the community to eventually reach Highway 65 in the north (the Afulah-Hadera route), and Baqa-Jatt in the south, skirting close to two unrecognized Arab villages, Dar El-Hanoun and Um El-Qutuf. Officials in both, as well as in the Arab town of Kafr Qari, say they fear land from their communities will be appropriated for the expansion of Harish.
The Supreme Court recently rejected an appeal by the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel opposing the development of the nearby community of Mitzpe Ilan, located near Dar El-Hanoun.
'This Will Ignite the Entire Country'
Ilan Sadeh, head of the Menashe Regional Council, expressed concern that Harish would be expanded to accommodate 150,000 residents. He warned that it "would ignite not only the Wadi Ara area, but the entire country."
Sadeh alleged that "both Jewish and Arab lands will have to be expropriated" in order to build the city. He also accused the government of employing a double standard, in that a similar request to expand the nearby Arab village of Barta'a was recently denied on the grounds that the lands near the council should remain "green." This same land, he said, will now go towards the expansion of Harish.
Riad Kabha, former head of the Barta'a Local Council, said his real concern was specifically focused on the issue of living together with a growing hareidi religious population. "We are not opposed to Jews living in the wadi," he said, "but setting up a hareidi city whose residents are unfamiliar with our mentality could lead to another intifada."
Sadeh agreed, suggesting that the hareidi-religious Jews go elsewhere. "There is the Negev and Galilee, so why build here? There are no Tombs of the Righteous or any other religious element that would provide any special reason for establishment of a hareidi city. I hope someone wakes up before it's too late."
15 July 2010
Adalah and the Arab Center for Alternative Planning Demand Cancellation of Regional Plan to Establish “Harish”, a New Jewish Ultra-Orthodox City in the Arab Wadi ‘Ara Area of Israel
(Haifa) On 12 July 2010, Adalah and the Arab Center for Alternative Planning submitted an objection to a special planning and building committee for the establishment of Harish demanding the cancellation of the Harish Regional Plan. This plan is the first phase towards the establishment of a new Jewish ultra-orthodox city to be called “Harish”, with a very large, planned population of 150,000. The objection was filed by Urban and Regional Planners Ania Bana-Jeries and Hanna Hamdan and Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara.
The new city is to be created in the Wadi 'Ara area, in the Triangle in the center of Israel. This area is currently populated by a large majority of Palestinian Arab citizens of the state. The city is planned to border six Arab towns with a population of over 41,000 residents, and it will actually stretch to the currently constructed areas of four surrounding Arab towns: Kufr Kara, Meiser, Barta'a and Arrara. As a result of the plan, the Arab town of Umm El-Katuf will become an enclave within the planned city of Harish.
The objectors argue that the plan violates basic principles of equality and distributive justice, as set out by the Israeli Supreme Court in past decisions. It is not-objective and it was submitted without the necessary factual and field research, which must involve planning professionals.
The approval and execution of the current plan to establish a city of 150,000 will over-stretch local resources and be detrimental to the natural growth of the surrounding Arab towns. In fact, the plan will prevent any future expansion – of population and/or buildings for residential or economic purposes - of the neighboring Arab towns.
The objectors further argue that the plan reflects the state’s discriminatory planning policies and practices towards Arab citizens of Israel living in the Wadi ‘Ara area. While the planning authorities seek to establish a new Jewish ultra-orthodox town, they refuse to recognize and plan Dar El-Hanoun, a small unrecognized Arab village very close to the planned new city in Wadi ‘Ara. Dar El-Hanoun was created prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The residents of Dar El-Hanoun have worked for over 20 years to gain recognition for their village, without success; in fact, many residents were given demolition orders against their homes. The planning authorities have always refused recognition, claiming that the village is located in an area with a green landscape slated for conservation, which prevents residents from living in Dar El-Hanoun.