Expansion of impoverished Israeli Arab town angers Jewish neighbors
Jisr al-Zarqa local land-expropriation dispute reflects social rifts between Arabs and Jews, rich and poor.
Intense pressure and clashes of interest are apparently thwarting efforts to rescue the impoverished town of Jisr al-Zarqa. Local planning authorities have determined that the densely populated Arab town should be expanded to include hundreds of acres appropriated from neighboring well-established communities such as Ma'agan Michael, Beit Hanina and Caesarea. However, residents of these communities are threatening mass departure from the area should the plans go through.
The solution to the conflict involving Jisr al-Zarqa, which suffers from overcrowding and serious budget deficits, is to be determined by the Interior Ministry.
This dispute embodies the country's greater national and social rifts - between the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, Jews and Arabs - and each side is trying to enlist support in their own favor. While residents of the Hof Hacarmel regional council are threatening to take to the streets in protest and to sell their homes, Jisr residents are optimistic, hoping that the Interior Ministry will do them justice.
"The expansion of the community is essential and extremely urgent. We are suffering today from a serious lack of land on which to erect public buildings, kindergartens and schools," says Jisr al-Zarqa municipal engineer Yakub Jubran, just days before the start of the new academic year. "We are short of residential units for 300 families, and this number will only increase in the future.
The distress, Jubran adds, "is real and problematic; there is much overcrowding and violence is on the rise. The interior minister was here three to four months ago and we spoke about this, but haven't heard a thing yet. It's reasonable to assume that this is the result of pressure from the other [local] authorities.
"If Hof Hacarmel would consent, the interior minister or the director general [of the Interior Ministry] wouldn't hesitate for a second [to agree to our plans]. We are aware that there is massive pressure, and in the end, it's all a matter of politics."
The Jisr al-Zarqa master-plan team met some two weeks ago with newly appointed Interior Ministry director general Amram Kalaji, voicing their support and that of the Haifa district planning council for the proposal to appropriate large tracts of land from the adjacent communities and to divert the coastal road (Route 2 ) eastward.
This solution, however, is being vehemently opposed by the residents of Beit Hanina who stand to lose 790 dunams (1 dunam equals 1/4 acre ) of their land, by residents of Ma'agan Michael who would have 890 dunams appropriated, and residents of Caesarea who would have to give up 145 dunams.
"The proximity to Jisr that would ensue in the wake of the plans would spell the end of our community," says Beit Hanina council member Arieh Freedman, who sees his community as the principal victim of the expansion plan. "We are in favor of coexistence and peace. Despite the differences in mentality, we are doing a lot in this regard.
"We are not opposed [to the scheme] because they are Arabs; they are good neighbors and we have no beef with them. But rerouting the coastal road would bring them closer to us, and our assets - both from the point of view of the value of the land and of our standard of living - would depreciate.
"The official who lives in Haifa hasn't heard the noise from the weddings or the muezzin from a distance of one kilometer from our homes. There are two mosques there, and they compete to see who is louder. I want to live with them in coexistence and peace - but from a national perspective, too, I am opposed to the idea of taking land from a Jew to give to an Arab, even if he is an equal citizen, more or less, because he doesn't serve in the army.
"From our point of view, there is no room for compromise," says Freedman. "We have acted with kid gloves until now, but we will take to the streets, and like the Rothschild encampment, we will set up an encampment on Route 2. We will not allow the residents of Jisr to rob us of our land and livelihood and set up home at a distance of 500 meters from us. If the plan is approved, there will be a mass departure: People will sell their homes and the existence of the community will be threatened."