Hundreds Protest Planned Ben-Gurion Airport Replacement in Northern Israel

Mayors of southern Israel call for planned facility, scheduled to be built in the Jezreel Valley, to instead be constructed at Nevatim, south of Be'er Sheva.

Protests against the planned airport at Nahalal Junction, June 24, 2016.
Gil Eliahu

Hundreds attended a rally at the Nahalal Junction last Friday to protest a plan to build an international airport in the Jezreel Valley, in northern Israel. They called for the new facility, to supplement Ben-Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv, to be built at Nevatim, south of Be’er Sheva in the south, instead. Mayors from southern Israel joined their counterparts from the Jezreel Valley in supporting the alternative plan.

The State Control Committee is scheduled to discuss the matter on Wednesday.

Protesters carried signs with rhyming slogans recalling the symbolic significance of “The Valley,” as the Jezreel Valley is popularly known, to Israeli history, and played recordings of popular songs about the area from the mid-20th century to which they added the sounds of airplanes.

The head of the Megiddo Regional Council, Yizhak Holavsky, said the fight against the airport will be fierce.

Jezreel Valley Regional Council head Eyal Betzer said at the rally that the valley celebrated 100 years of Zionist settlement six years ago, adding, “We were always in favor, never against. Now too we are in favor. In favor of building the airport at Nevatim.”

Betzer said that El Al has a tradition of naming its planes for Israeli communities and there is a plane called Nahalal. Just as the second generation of the pioneers at Nahalal helped build the communities in the Negev, “Our mission is to see to it that airplanes like Nahalal land at Nevatim,” Betzer said.

The head of the Bnei Shimon Regional Council, Sigal Moran, said: “Israel has a problem: When someone says ‘defense needs,’ everyone stands at attention.”

She added that she has nothing against army generals, but “we have a right to protest, contest and disagree, even when defense needs are involved.”

The deputy head of the Negev Regional Council, Tal El-Al, said that putting the new airport in Nevatim was “the right and logical thing for Israel.”

El-Al added that while the air force was affected by constraints, “the senior figures say it’s possible. We invite the new defense minister to sit with us, maybe he can bring a breath of fresh air.”

The mayors of Arad, in the south, and Tivon, in the north, also attended the rally.

Plans for an airport to supplement Ben-Gurion have been making the rounds for two decades. In 2011 Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz declared that it would be built at Nevatim, but alternatives have been suggested including the Megiddo airfield adjacent to the Ramat David air force base. Then, as now, locals opposed the idea.

In October 2014 the cabinet passed a resolution specifying Ramat David as the site of the new airport, setting off protests in the area. At the eighth Galilee Conference held in Acre last December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he planned to build the supplementary airport at Ramat David, saying it would be a powerful “engine for growth” for the Galilee.