The Village Ungreen

Shibolet on Mount Tir'an, in Lower Galilee, and Michal in the Gilboa Hills in the Beit She'an Valley are the names of the new communities that are intended to glorify the map of Israel's rural settlements.

Shibolet on Mount Tir'an, in Lower Galilee, and Michal in the Gilboa Hills in the Beit She'an Valley are the names of the new communities that are intended to glorify the map of Israel's rural settlements. Less glorious will be the destruction they will wreak on the open landscape that remains in the north and the growing alienation that will be felt by the area's Arab citizens, who watch as new communities are established opposite their homes to act as a Jewish spearhead.

The Planning and Building Commission of the Northern District last week approved the survey of the environmental impact that will be caused by the village of Michal, and decided to recommend that the National Council for Planning and Building add the new community to the district master plan. As for Shibolet, the commission decided that a similar survey should be conducted to determine its impact on the surroundings - meaning that the final approval for the new community is one step closer.

Shibolet should be registered as an Israeli patent on how to strengthen weak communities. It is slated to be built on the Tir'an ridge, where the communities of Beit Timon and Mitzpeh Netufa are already located. They have remained small, even though they have approved plans to add more homes. The innovative patent solves the problem by adding a third community, which is supposed to reinforce its weak neighbors. Who knows? Maybe it will help attract more residents to the area, people who think that if the government is building so many communities on this ridge, it must be worthwhile to live there.

The community of Michal is another interesting Israeli development, as it's defined as an "ecological settlement," even though it will be established within an ecological system which can best be protected by refraining as far as possible from establishing new communities there and instead expanding already existing sites.

The truth about Michal and Shibolet is simple, and is rooted in the old tradition of establishing new communities as part of a policy of divide and rule that the state is waging against its citizens. According to this approach, Shibolet is supposed to prevent the expansion of Arab communities, such as Tur'an and Bueina-Nujeidath into state territory by means of illegal construction. This is precisely the function that the mitzpeh (lookout) communities in Galilee were supposed to fulfill.

Michal has a geopolitical function as well. It is meant to strengthen the Jewish hold in the face of a large Palestinian population which lives in the area of the Gilboa Hills that is located across the 1967 Green Line. For similar reasons, another Jewish community is also planned for the area.

These considerations come with a high social and environmental price tag, but this has no effect on the government obsession to view citizens of the country as enemies. The Arab residents will only become more alienated by a state that is surrounding them with communities that are meant to keep an eye on them. Certainly they will not want to hear about solutions to the problems of illegal construction, with the result that these problems will only be exacerbated.

From the environmental point of view, the result will be a further loss of open areas in regions of great landscape and ecological importance. Most of the Tir'an ridge remains free of construction. It contains areas of brush and forest, and the Jewish National Fund has drawn up plans to preserve the region and extend the forests. The Gilboa region has been designated an ecological corridor, meaning a vital area of passage for many species of flora and fauna. True, the new community of Michal will not be built in the heart of the area, but part of it will be in a forest, and infrastructure lines - electricity, water, a road - which always injure the surroundings will have to be installed.

Two bodies should have been in the forefront of the struggle to protect these two hilly areas the JNK and the Nature and Parks Authority. The latter preferred to agree to a deal with the regional council of the Beit She'an Valley according to which the council will support the declaration of a large swath of land on Mount Gilboa as a nature preserve, in return for which the authority will not oppose the establishment of Michal. The JNF announced that it is against the establishment of Shibolet, but did not send a representative to take part in the latest meeting of the Planning and Building Commission on the subject. There remain only the Environment Ministry and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel - the latter has observer status on the commission. They were the only bodies that tried to stop, without success, the unrelenting building campaign of Ariel Sharon.