Stockade and Tower and Destruction

All the zoning plans and all the research and all the planning documentation in Israel of recent years are based on the recognition that this is one of the strangest countries (and perhaps one of the most fascinating and dynamic) when it comes to its changing planning needs.

Seemingly, there's reason for joy. An Israeli government has decided not only to establish new settlements, but also new cities inside the Green Line. In a meeting two weeks ago, the government approved the establishment of more than 20 community settlements and two new cities. The official reason given for the decision - the need to strengthen the periphery and the seam line.

But celebrations are not only unnecessary - they are in bad taste, because of the unofficial reason given for the decision, the urgent, almost panicky need to Judaize the Galilee and create a contiguous Jewish presence to contain the natural growth of Israeli Arab citizens and the "leakage" of Palestinians from the territories into the Green Line; and the no less urgent need to settle the Negev, to stop the "uncontrolled Bedouin takeover" of state lands.

In other words, what the Druckman bill said explicitly and did not manage to implement, the government, which was forced to shelve the law for the time being, will implement without the need to say exactly what it's doing. But even those ready to swallow the problematic arguments of the right wing, which regards demography as the be-all and end-all and describes the Arabs (all Arabs, especially Bedouin, including those who served in the army) as a risk and a danger to the security and safety of the state, cannot dance with joy over the decision. Because even those who support strengthening the periphery and the seam line (as if Prime Minister Sharon, who is convinced Israel should not have a permanent border, is interested in strengthening the seam line) understands that every new settlement established in Israel nowadays will only accelerate the weakening of the periphery, the seam line and the center, too.

All the zoning plans and all the research and all the planning documentation in Israel of recent years are based on the recognition that this is one of the strangest countries (and perhaps one of the most fascinating and dynamic) when it comes to its changing planning needs. This is a tiny country that is very crowded, with extremely limited land and water resources that are rapidly running out, and with a natural population growth that is one of the highest in the West - and with planning principles derived from its founders' unique pioneering ideology with regard to the land based on national ambitions and a dream of Jews becoming farmers.

But since the days of the song "We'll dress you in concrete" and the "From city to village" movement, things have changed in the world - and here. The need for thoughtful urban planning, sophisticated mass transport and efficiency in creating a complex link between housing, employment, education and welfare rightfully overcame the ethos that a stockade and a water tower was enough to declare a new settlement was in place. And all this did not happen because of some weakening of spirit, or the death of Zionism, as Sharon and his comrades love to claim, but precisely because Israel's ambition, in the true Herzlian spirit of Zionism, was to be a state like all states, a respected, normal member of the family of nations, a place that could offer future generations a decent standard and quality of living.

But Sharon, in every role he has played, has refused to accept the fact that he was a military commander, minister or prime minister, in a normal country. Everything he did caused irreversible damage - to housing, farming, infrastructures - and in effect to the delicate fabric of rational planning and society in Israel. He rezoned agricultural land for massive construction; reorganized farming according to the whims of powerful lobbies that wasted a fortune and left the farmers empty- handed; he dispersed mobile homes for immigrants across the country when the housing market was perfectly capable of absorbing the new immigrants, as a State Comptroller's Report said bluntly; and he strengthened the settlements and roads in the territories. All this was done with an anachronistic, destructive approach that totally ignores economic and social factors, which are the foundation of planning in any country.

Who needs more community settlements in the Negev when Arad, a planned town that in the 1960s and 1970s drew some of the best and brightest Israelis, is now straining to survive economically, amid housing prices that have dropped heart-breakingly low. Who needs another community settlement in the Galilee to draw away the relatively affluent residents of Kiryat Shmona, leaving the city poorer and more distressed than ever? Who needs more settlements in Iron, when Harish, where hundreds of millions of shekels have already been invested in an infrastructure, is falling apart, and even Haredim who get a 100 percent grant to buy an apartment there, aren't ready to move in?

Ministers in the Sharon government say there's nothing to worry about - none of the settlements will be built because this government only talks and doesn't do anything. But the expensive infrastructure will be built, at an estimated cost of $250,000 per planned family, and the open land and the existing townships will be damaged. The settlers won't show up, or will for only a few years and then move on. That's how Sharon is laying the groundwork for the stockade and tower and destruction of the 21st century - and the Labor Party's ministers are lending him a hand.