Last Thursday, we went to the wedding of a family member in Kiryat Shmona that was also, in effect, her going-away party from her hometown. Several years ago, we attended the wedding of the bride's oldest brother, and he, too, began his family life far from the Galilee panhandle. More than 80 percent of his former high school classmates either moved southward or to one of the kibbutzim in the area.
Every time he visited his parents, he would be told of another childhood friend who had left the city, about a community center that had gone bankrupt, about a library that had been shut down or a center for the blind that had closed its doors.
The fate of Kiryat Shmona's cultural center is also up in the air. Unfortunately for the northern city, it hasn't received the same publicity as the cultural center in Ariel; no artists are boycotting it and no ministers are fighting for it.
The anniversary of the important military victory of the Six-Day War is the Naksa Day, the Day of Defeat, for pragmatic Zionism. Pragmatism has given way to the protest Zionism that has tainted the pioneering ethos of acquiring "another dunam, another goat." That ethos now has a racist, separatist and provocative slant thanks to the settlements, whose expansion is meant to prove that they are an "inseparable part of the State of Israel."
The settlements have taken the place of Kiryat Shmona and other border towns. Instead of improving the standing of front-line towns, the defeat of the Arab armies has led to the downfall of those areas. As long as the cannons are thundering, the politicians come by; they make promises and then disappear. When the borders are silent, the Galilee panhandle gets mishandled.
President Shimon Peres, who has expressed some degree of contrition for his contribution to the establishment of the settlement monster, said about five months ago that the State of Israel had invested an estimated $60 billion in the settlements. And it's still giving.
At the end of his term as finance minister in Ariel Sharon's government, Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at the Likud party's Kiryat Shmona branch and boasted about the growth in the economy. A young resident who was forced to look for a job in the center of the country asked the guest when the residents of Kiryat Shmona would be among those benefiting from the growth Netanyahu was extolling. "You're like the third or fourth car at a traffic light," Netanyahu replied. "Wait patiently until the light changes and your turn will come too." Kiryat Shmona is still waiting, at the end of the line.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the north had an out-migration rate of 3 percent and the south had an out-migration rate of 4 percent in 2009. The Judea and Samaria district, by contrast, had an in-migration rate of 14 percent.
As Haaretz has recently reported, the Council for Higher Education recently decided to increase by 1,600 the number of students at the Ariel University Center of Samaria who get state financial aid. Meanwhile, Tel-Hai College in the Galilee will have to make do with funding for an additional 657 students, and the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College will get more state funding for just 570 more students.
Had the extensive funds that Israel's governments have allocated to settlements established since 1967 gone instead to the border towns founded in the early years of the state, Kiryat Shmona - whose population has remained below 25,000 for years - would be able to double the number of its residents. If the industrial zone of Ariel were not offering unique benefits to businesses, the Galilee panhandle would be able to attract entrepreneurs and offer jobs and housing to graduates of the local colleges. If the settlers would make do with fewer dunams and goats belonging to others and were to move to the Galilee instead, the Six-Day War could be considered a victory.
The entire world, including all the members of the Arab League, is offering Israel recognition of the June 4, 1967, borders, with agreed-upon revisions and an agreed solution to the problem of the 1948 refugees, without Israel granting the right of return in its sovereign territory.
Defensible borders cannot be determined solely by the width of the country or the rocket range of the enemy. They are determined by internal consensus and international status, by the number of libraries and packed theaters. A large, strong and flourishing Kiryat Shmona will contribute to Israel's might quite a lot more than will Ariel, Ofra or Kiryat Arba. So when will Netanyahu's traffic light change?
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