Hundreds Participate in Drawing for 42 Lots in Dimona

Dimona's main concert hall was packed last night, with people sitting on the stairs that lead to the stage. The people who filled the hall did not come there to hear Shlomo Artzi sing or to see some theater show. They came for a lottery of 42 lots that the Israel Lands Administration decided to rezone for construction in the southern city.

Each winner will put down NIS 200,000 for the lot and its development. Such sums of money are not standard for land in the southern city, which symbolizes Israel's underprivileged population away from the country's center as well as any other sleepy, poor Negev city.

The high cost of development owes to the fact that the neighborhood whose land is being rezoned, Nof Dimona, lies in mountainous terrain which required special drilling. But the price is the same for everybody. Land allotments in the more affluent nearby towns of Lehavim and Omer operate as a tender, where the highest bid wins. Mayor Meir Cohen says he insisted on making the price equal for all in his town, leaving the winner to chance. "I wanted to make the tender affordable also to people with limited resources," he explained.

Among the 639 people who competed for the lots were 61-year-old Ester Va'anunu and Hava Levy, five years her senior. They both enrolled in the lottery for their children. Va'anunu's daughter lives in Tel Aviv. "I really want her to come back to her city and she promised she would if we win the tender," she says. "There's no place like home."

Levy's son has been working in Tel Aviv for several years. She wants him to live near her. "Dimona has gone through a transformation over the past few years," she says. And she attributes the change to mayor Cohen.

Levy is not alone in speaking about a transformation. The city, many residents say, has drastically changed its appearance - and more than just that. When asked to break down the elements of this transformation, residents list the clean streets, the functioning theater and the cinema. And this year the Israel Festival will pass through Dimona for the first time.

On the educational front - where the municipality put much of its efforts toward change - the city's schools are seeing a surge in the number of pupils who pass the national matriculation exam.

But as Dimona climbs up and away from the stereotype of a neglected and desolate Negev city, its residents are starting to resent the increased interest by real estate companies and agents. "People from the center of the country are applying for this tender to conduct business at our expense," complained one Dimona resident, who identified herself as Yaffa. "They want to buy and sell, and the people of Dimona end up with nothing."

One person from the center is sitting directly behind her. Kobi came to Dimona yesterday after deciding to leave Jerusalem. "I have family here. I used to make fun of them for living in Dimona, but my city's becoming more ultra-Orthodox and crowded. Today I envy them. I've been hanging around here for the past two months and I've discovered an amazing city," he says.