Harish  - June 2011 - Itzik Ben-Malki
Harish, last weekend. The government plans to attract 50,000 ultra-Orthodox and turn the village into a city Photo by Itzik Ben-Malki
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The campaign by environmental organizations and Jewish and Arab communities in the Wadi Ara area against establishing an ultra-Orthodox city at Harish has suffered a setback. A National Planning and Building Council appeals committee rejected most of the objections they submitted against the planned city. However, the committee did accept the position of the Menashe Regional Council, whose communities are in the area, and specifically stated that the planned city would be for 50,000 residents and not a city three times that size, as the Housing and Construction Ministry originally planned.

The ministry is planning to build a city for an ultra-Orthodox population on the site of Harish, a small community where 300 families currently reside. Local residents and environmental organizations argued that constructing the ultra-Orthodox city would come at the expense of the population already living there, damage natural areas and hinder the development of Arab communities. It would also increase tension among the different groups living there.

In a reasoned explanation released this week, the appeals committee determined that in accordance with legal decisions it is possible to designate a community for ultra-Orthodox residents in order to enable them to maintain their unique lifestyle. The committee was persuaded that tens of thousands of housing units are needed to meet the needs of the ultra-Orthodox sector.

The appeals committee agrees that building the city will affect the secular population now living in Harish, but notes in this regard: "We choose to approve the planning of the community for the ultra-Orthodox community, despite the possible impact on the veteran residents."

According to the committee, it is not possible to prevent the construction of a community of over 8,000 families because of 300 households, which can remain in the community or demand compensation if they feel affected. As for the environmental impact, the appeals committee determined that most of the area in question is zoned for construction according to various plans, including the Haifa district master plan. The committee addressed the concern of local residents that the Housing and Construction Ministry would want to expand the city and populate it with 150,000 residents, and noted that it accepts the current position of the ministry, which informed the committee that it did not intend to expand the community. The committee also determined that the city plan would not affect the development of Arab towns in the area. In addition, it stipulated that privately owned lands belonging to residents of nearby Umm al-Qutuf not be included in the ultra-Orthodox city.

The head of the Menashe Regional Council, Ilan Sadeh, said in response: "The committee's decisions reflect our positions and the objectives for the sake of which we launched a campaign against the greater Harish plan. The city plan will correspond with the district master plan. The city will not slip over into the agricultural lands of communities or into green areas, and it will not affect the development of Arab towns."

The head of the planning division at the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva V'Din ), Yael Dori, said however: "This is an inappropriate planning process that did not thoroughly review the financial, environmental and social impact of developing a new city in Wadi Ara. The city will have a considerable impact on natural resources in the area. Its designation as a city for ultra-Orthodox residents alone will lead to the distancing of the existing population and prevent the arrival of new residents who are not ultra-Orthodox."

The Harish Regional Campaign Coalition set up by residents and opponents of the ultra-Orthodox city said in response: "This is a surprising decision lacking any legal basis. The appeals committee has permitted discrimination against Arab citizens who will not be able to purchase homes in the city of Harish, in clear defiance of the Ka'adan ruling which put an end to discrimination against Arabs in the purchase of houses. In addition, the committee rubber-stamped the expulsion of the current residents of Harish. Never in its wildest dreams did Shas, for whom the Housing and Construction Ministry is an agent, imagine obtaining such a decision. No sane citizen would agree to such a decision and we will work to get the court to rescind it."