Haredi Town Planned Where Arab Construction Banned

New city slated to be built on a tract of land up for conservation over its rare forest landscape.

For years now, residents of the village of Dar al-Hanun in the Wadi Ara region have been trying to obtain legal status for their community. So far, planning committees have always refused, because the village is located in an area whose landscape is so rare and precious that it is slated for conservation.

Tomorrow, however, the National Planning and Building Committee is to discuss a Housing Ministry proposal to expand the jurisdiction of another community located not far from Dar al-Hanun, and which abuts this very same area - the town of Harish. The plan calls for building a large Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) city for approximately 150,000 residents. It is being promoted by Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias (Shas), with help from former Shas MK Nissim Dahan, who is currently the Interior Ministry-appointed head of the Katzir-Harish Local Council.

The new city is slated to be built on a tract of valuable open land that includes forested areas. It will be located not far from Dar al-Hanun, which was established in the 1920s by the Abu Hilal clan and currently consists of 15 houses belonging to members of that clan.

"I am not opposed to the expansion of Harish, but to the discrimination - that I cannot obtain recognition of the home I have lived in for decades," said Mustafa Abu Hilal, chairman of the Dar al-Hanun council. "We will become an enclave in the city without our problem having been solved. A demolition order has been issued for my house, and now a new community is going up next door. That's not the way a proper country should be run, and I see it as discrimination and racism."

Abu Hilal believes that the state's recent efforts to demolish homes in the village is intended to get the residents to agree to evacuate in order to make way for the development of the ultra-Orthodox town. "We'll fight this decision, and if solutions are not found, there will be constant conflict here," he warned.

Another opponent of the planned expansion is Ilan Sadeh, head of the Menashe Regional Council, some of whose lands are to be taken by the new city. "This means damage to the areas of the kibbutzim and moshavim and damage to private Arab land," he said. "It's inconceivable that Jewish and Arab villages were denied expansion permits to protect these green spaces, but now they are approving an ultra-Orthodox town on those same lands."

As an example of the damage Menashe communities will suffer, Sadeh cited Kibbutz Metzer, which has cultivated orchards for years on land that is now slated to be given over to the new city.

The Housing Ministry said that building the city of Harish will provide essential housing solutions for the ultra-Orthodox sector for decades to come. It also said the city would be built on land zoned for urban development under the national master plan.

And it told Bimkom, an association of planners that expressed concern about the impact the city would have on the development of surrounding communities, that the city's planning will take the development plans of nearby Jewish and Arab communities into consideration.