Israeli Kibbutzim Lure Young Families Away From Kiryat Shmona

Eli Ashkenazi
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Eli Ashkenazi

This week a member of the Kiryat Shmona council, Bentzi Yaakov, met an old friend from the city. "Come visit me in my new house," said the friend. "When I asked for his address, he told me he had moved to the expansion neighborhood on the neighboring kibbutz, Kfar Blum. I understood. We've lost another young family that left Kiryat Shmona to live on a kibbutz. My brother and all my good friends have already moved."

Yaakov says the kibbutzim of the Upper Galilee Regional Council are getting stronger at the expense of Kiryat Shmona. The move of the city's young families to dream houses on kibbutzim is only one reflection of the gap between the Kiryat Shmona municipality and the Upper Galilee Regional Council. This gap should be narrowed by redistricting industrial areas that yield a high property tax.

Yaakov and Yigal Buzaglo, another member of the opposition at city hall, want to change an agreement signed two years ago with the Upper Galilee Regional Council. They want to transfer the entire southern industrial zone to Kiryat Shmona.

This week the city council decided that the agreement between the city and the regional council would be reexamined.

"The mayor is talking about a 50-50 division of the property tax in the southern industrial zone, which is in the hands of the Upper Galilee. And I say it's all ours," said Yaakov.

The tension between the city and the regional council stems from the unusual agreement two years ago between the Upper Galilee kibbutzim and Kiryat Shmona. Aharon Valency, head of the regional council, has said that the need for cooperation arose after the Second Lebanon War.

"I realized that Kiryat Shmona had great difficulties, and that we, residents of the country's outskirts, had to stick together," he said.

In addition to the issue of property tax and industrial zones, two other issues are causing tension between the city and the regional council.

Kiryat Shmona has been waiting for years for the agricultural area of Kibbutz Kfar Giladi to come into its hands, as the only land reserve designated for high-quality housing for young families. The regional council's control of natural sites, the Galilee streams and the nature reserves irks many people in the city.

"We want to share the resources," said Yaakov. "Today the kibbutzim control the gates of the tourism sites; they open and close them and benefit from the property tax and a discounted entry fee."

Kiryat Shmona Mayor Nissim Malka was a partner to the agreement with Valency. The two said on Tuesday that they signed the agreement to end the differences of opinion between Kiryat Shmona and the Upper Galilee communities.

They note that in the past two years there have been other agreements and understandings, requiring an equal division of property tax, a joint industrial zone, and teams to implement joint projects and activities in environmental quality, education and culture.

But some people up north consider the agreement a big mistake. Yaakov and Buzaglo say the decision to waive the Interior Ministry's investigative committee for boundaries, as part of the implementation of the agreement, hurt the city because the committee would have granted the city more territory.

"An investigative committee had already been formed, and it was clear that the committee would have decided that there has been injustice here over the years," said Yaakov.

"Is it logical that we suffer from the stench and pollution of the southern industrial zone and they receive the property tax? I don't want a war, I want justice .... We're being strangled from all directions and can't develop."

Buzaglo decries the 50-50 property tax deal for the southern industrial zone.

"They simply deceived us," he said. According to Buzaglo, "the regional council was under pressure. It realized that the entire southern industrial zone, Tel Hai Academic College and another residential area would all be transferred to us. That's why they decided to buy time and they aren't releasing land to us.

"Only after they fill all the expansion neighborhoods on the kibbutzim will they release land for construction to us. So far, 1,000 of the strongest people have moved from Kiryat Shmona to the kibbutzim."

The industrial zone in southern Kiryat Shmona. City council members hope to see property tax from here in city coffers.Credit: Yaron Kaminsky