Residents of the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council were surprised to learn recently that a new village is being built in the area. One structure that resembles a shack has already been set up, and the lingering tractors signaled that more buildings are to come.
The village, called Shezaf, is to become a new student community, orchestrated by the Ayalim Association, a group that promotes the settlement of the Negev and the Galilee. The group reached an agreement with the regional council, which allows them to establish temporary student housing there with a special permit – a legal loophole of sorts.
"The council supports the establishment of temporary student dorms," the local authorities said.
Government approval is required before a new town can be founded, and even if approval is received that measure must also be examined by the national planning authorities. The red tape is endless as the state is trying to discourage new towns from being built due the shortage of open spaces in Israel.
According to planning officials, the only region where settlements tend to crop up unchecked is the West Bank.
100 families in 5 years
Ayalim said that the budding community will house 100 families within five years, and will continue to grow. The village is expected be self sufficient and to become a draw for locals and tourists alike.
Environmental advocacy organizations claim that new towns hurt the ecology by taking over open spaces, installing infrastructure and paving roads. But Ayalim said that Shezaf is meant to "integrate with the desert environment and not take over it."
Howerver, officials at the Environmental Protection Agency and the nearby Sde Boker Field School oppose the move.
"The Negev should be empowered through the growth of existing communities, and not through the surreptitious establishment of new settlements," they claim. "Such a move wastes the public's money and unnecessarily damages the landscape."
Ayalim said in response that its student villages encourage students to permanently settle in the Negev and the Galilee, although a establishing a permanent village would require it to go through the lengthy legal procedure.
Sources in the Israel Land Administration said that the authorities have previously issued injunctions that stopped the association from building settlements in other sites in the Negev.
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