Arab Israelis and Jewish kibbutz members are both trying to stop the building of the first Charedi city in northern Israel. But the kibbutzniks are wary of being seen as working too closely with Arabs, fearing Jewish public opinion.
Plans spearheaded by the strictly Orthodox Shas party call for the expansion of the small community of Harish, in the heavily Arab Wadi Ara region, into a Charedi city of 150,000 people.
The Housing Minister, Nissim Dahan of Shas, has stoked anti-Arab sentiment in his efforts to market the project, saying in July it was a “national duty to prevent the spread of a population that to say the least does not love the state of Israel”.
Riyadh Kabha, the former mayor of Barta’a — which borders the area to be developed — has appeared together with Ilan Sadeh, the local council head, at planning commission meetings.
He said the city would take 400 dunams of village land, block the town’s expansion when it is already facing a housing shortage and bring the new Charedi neighbours to within 100 metres of Barta’a houses.
“The character of the area will change,” he added. “They will try to impose their lifestyle.”
Arik Hatzor, a Kibbutz Maanit resident who is heading the campaign to oppose the plan, voiced similar fears.
“We have activities every Shabbat and holiday. The shopping centres are open and this provides income to thousands. We know exactly who will dictate to whom the way of life. We have seen it happen in Jerusalem.”
Land would also have to be expropriated from Kibbutz Metzer.
Mr Kabha called the battle against the city “a joint struggle”.
But council head Mr Sadeh is more circumspect, saying the Arab leaders “know what we are doing and vice versa. We all agree that the city should only be of a limited size.”
Ariel Atias, the mayor of Harish, said that the large town is necessary to address a severe Charedi housing shortage and to prevent Arab demographic primacy in the area.
Ten different Chasidic denominations are each to be allocated 3,000 housing units.
Mr Sadeh said that he does not want the public to perceive the opposition to the city as a struggle for Arab rights, especially given the Arab demonstrations in the area in 2000, during which 13 Arabs were killed by security forces.
“We have to assess what is good and what is not good for the struggle. Most of the public will say about the plans ‘great, let’s show the Arabs who rioted in 2000 who the boss is here.’”