Ultra-Orthodox Town's Plan to Expand Leaves Neighbors Fearing More 'Abuse'

Kiryat Ye'arim draws up expansion plan despite objections of green groups and residents of neighboring Yad Hashmona and Abu Ghosh.

The Haredi community of Kiryat Ye'arim (Telzstone ), near Abu Ghosh, is seeking to expand from a town of 4,000 into a city of 20,000. The plan has drawn fierce opposition from environmentalists and residents of nearby communities and villages, who fear their way of life would be threatened by an ultra-Orthodox city.

Next week, a committee appointed by the interior minister will begin discussing a request by Kiryat Ye'arim to expand by 519 dunams, along the road linking the Arab village of Abu Ghosh to Neveh Ilan and other local communities.

The Haredi community of Kiryat Ye’arim.
Emil Salman

Under the plan, the access road would go directly through the expanded Kiryat Ye'arim. The new neighborhoods would border Abu Ghosh and Yad Hashmona, a unique community of Finnish Evangelical Christians and messianic Jews.

Kiryat Ye'arim local council head Abraham Rosenthal wrote in the request that the town's development potential has increased, and forecasted population growth shows housing for 16,000 to 20,000 residents is needed.

The local council suggested digging a foot tunnel for residents under the Abu Ghosh-Neveh Ilan road, so it could be kept open on Saturdays.

Abraham Shaked of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel told Haaretz that building Kiryat Ye'arim was a mistake in the first place, as the community is located in the heart of an important nature reserve. "They should make do with the area they already have," he said.

"We already suffer from abuse by ultra-Orthodox, and I have no doubt the problem will only get worse if a community like that is built right next to our houses," Yad Hashmona financial coordinator Daniel Ronen said. He said that there were strict limitations on growth in all towns and kibbutzim in the area, and that Kiryat Ye'arim has requested the most ambitious expansion yet.

The head of the Abu Ghosh local council, Salim Jabbar, said his village would oppose the request. "Expanding that community would block our own chances of development," he said. "The area they want to expand into includes 140 dunams owned by residents of Abu Ghosh, which we want to annex. We're not accepted in other Arab communities because of our strong ties with the Jewish population, and our only possibility to develop is in Abu Ghosh."