Friction Brews Over Hemmed-in Sakhnin

Sakhnin Mayor Mohammed Bashir this week warned of possible friction between residents of the Western Galilee town and Jewish neighbors from communities in the Misgav regional council, if public authorities do not approve an expansion of Sakhnin's town limits.

Bashir made his comments during a visit to Sakhnin on Monday by a public committee, headed by Prof. Gideon Biger, that is looking into municipal border disputes. Sakhnin residents complain bitterly of over-crowding and a shortage of land for public buildings and private housing.

Sakhnin officials demand that the town's area of 9,000 dunams be doubled, at the expense of land officially allocated to Misgav council, a Jewish regional entity that sprawls over 180,000 dunams.

Last January, Interior Minister Avraham Poraz appointed a committee to examine complaints by Sakhnin residents. Members of the council, who include heads of Jewish and Arab regional councils in the north, met two weeks ago with delegates from Misgav and Sakhnin, and on Monday they toured Sakhnin to see facts on the ground.

Sakhnin spokesman Aizal Abu Riya said: "We made clear to members of the committee the extent of the catastrophe we face. Since 1968 Sakhnin has virtually not grown at all. The opposite is really the case, since a ring has been drawn tighter around the town, with Misgav's industrial area on the western side, and security facilities which prevent any prospect of Sakhnin's growth.

"There are also agricultural lands owned privately by Sakhnin residents that are now within the Misgav council limits, and there is no possibility of re-zoning them for building [by Sakhnin residents]. Meantime, Sakhnin's population has grown 3 percent a year, and today the town has 23,000 residents."

Young couples from Sakhnin today have no place to build homes, and so many have to move to nearby towns, like Karmiel, the spokesman said. Sakhnin residents are particularly incensed by the huge swathe of land, 180,000 dunams, claimed by the 35 communities in the Misgav council. The total population of Misgav is 18,000 residents. This figure includes six Beduoin villages, which have a total of 5,000 residents.

Misgav Council head Erez Kreisler, who took part in Monday's tour, said: "We understand Sakhnin's expansion needs, and there is an agreement within Misgav to allocate 400 dunams to Sakhnin, but it is important that such expansion relate to the town's needs... In my opinion, there are people in Sakhnin who present information in a demagogic way and the analogy between the size of Sakhnin and the size of a regional council is invidious - 90 percent of Misgav's land is open lands and nature reserves, not built-up. In my opinion, the picture drawn by Sakhnin delegates is exaggerated."