Nazareth Illlit Mayor Shimon Gapso is concerned with the demographic situation in the northern city, that has an annual emigration rate of 0.5% and a growing Arab population of 14%, and has decided to build a new ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in the coming year to counter the changes.
Aides close to the mayor said the numerous 'For Sale' signs visible outside houses in the Har Yona neighborhoods, that are quickly purchased by Arabs, prompted him push for plans to build the new neighborhood, Har Yona Gimel, that will house some 3,050 families.
The initiative has received the support of Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who publicly urged haredim to settle in the new neighborhood. Six-hundred families have already signed up.
Approval to construct a new neighborhood on the marked land was granted a decade ago, and the Ministry of Construction and Housing has already invested some NIS 130 million ($32.6 million) to build a neighborhood that will include 10,000 housing units in the area.
The new neighborhood will be conjoined with the 6,000 existing units in the Har Yona Alef and Har Yona Bet neighborhoods that were built on lands expropriated from the Arab villages of Mashhad, Kfar Kana and Ein Mahil in 1967 - a move that led to the events that left six Arab citizens dead and is marked annually by Israeli Arabs as Land Day.
'I urge settlers to come here'The future Har Yona Gimel is also located on expropriated lands. Ten years have passed, and Gapso has realized that in order to prevent emigration, he must offer more to the young residents of the city, and at the same time, build a neighborhood for the religious-haredi public, thus raising the number of Jewish residents.
"The matter of Jewish settlement in the Galilee in general, and in Nazareth Illit in particular, is of national importance today," Gapso said. "As a man of Greater Israel, I think it is more important to settle in the Galilee than in Judea and Samaria, where natural growth is already high and enough Jews already live. I urge the settlers there to come here."
In an attempt to lure more settlers to his new neighborhood, Gapso recruited a resident of the Kiryat Sefer settlement, who has already managed to get 600 families on board. In addition, last Wednesday, the mayor asked Interior Minister Yishai, who was visiting the city, to help promote the cause.
Yishai expressed his willingness and even asked to have his picture with the planned neighborhood in the background published in ultra-Orthodox newspapers, and discussed the matter with Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. "Minister Yishai said he has given us his blessing," Gapso said.
The planned neighborhood has been approved for the construction of 3,050 housing units, that is set to start in early 2010. Gapso believes that by 2011, the new neighborhood, that will be adapted to the needs of the ultra-Orthodox public, will already have its first residents.