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Following a long battle, a joint appeal filed by residents of the Arab town of Kafr Kana and the observant Jewish community of Hoshaya - against a regional planning council decision permitting the operation of a metal factory in the neighboring Tziporit industrial area - was accepted Tuesday by Nazareth District Court Judge Avraham Avraham.

The court found the council's decision unreasonable and ruled that the plant must cease operations on the site adjacent to Hoshaya, Kafr Kana and the Arab town of Mashad.

The plaintiffs - the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, Hoshaya, Kafr Kana and Citizens for the Environment in the Galilee - argue that, according to regional planning regulations regarding metal factories, the plant is prohibited from being in the industrial area. In any case, they said, it should never have been approved as it would pollute the environment in the future.

According to spokespeople for the IMC factory, the plans were legally approved by the northern Israel planning council and the Upper Nazareth local planning council. They added that environmental protection was taken into consideration, with the plans approved only after the relevant authorities examined the matter thoroughly and found that the plant would be non-polluting.

The Tziporit industrial area is part of the Upper Nazareth municipality, although it is not contiguous with the city. Area residents - led by Shai Lavi of Hoshaya and Bakar Awada, the representative of the Balad Party on the Kafr Kana council - have joined forces in their three-year battle against the plant, a struggle covered in depth by Haaretz.

The immediate result of this campaign is that permission to ease restrictions within the regional master plan have been denied - permission intended to allow the IMC plant to enter Tziporit. This despite the fact that the IMC plan had been approved by the building and planning committee.

During the campaign, the Coalition for Public Health issued a statement that "The greater ability of residents of Hoshaya - both in awareness of how to wage a struggle and in the network available to them - compared to residents of Arab towns is noticeable. Arab residents have had bitter experiences with the authorities and they wanted Hoshaya to lead the fight. They understood that the Jewish voice would be heard first."

Judge Avraham ruled Tuesday that "The operations at the plant depend on metal forging, no matter what technology is used. As such, they are included in [what is absolutely prohibited according to] the regulations for the industrial area."

The judge also wrote in his decision that the regional council "maintained the absolute prohibition of metal factories and [at the same time] sought to allow IMC into the industrial area. This act is not a reasonable step for the regional planning committee in [terms of] application of its master plan. While there is a rule that the party which issues prohibitions may also grant permission, the regional council - as the body in charge of the application of the master plan - is required to behave reasonably."

After the decision was handed down, attorney Jamila Hardel-Wakim of Citizens for the Environment in the Galilee said "We are talking about a very important precedent from every point of view. The court transmitted a clear message of great importance to industry and planning bodies: it is permissible, and even obligatory, to close a factory when it exists in a location it is forbidden from being in, and when it is likely to pollute [the environment] in the future."