JERUSALEM (Apr. 8)
On a clear day one can see forever. And forever is the vast expanses of the Galilee in the north, with its sloping valleys and hills, kibbutzim and moshavim, border towns and development towns.
Forever is also the Negev in the south, with sand dunes and deserts areas, the salt-laden Dead Sea, Bedouins who continue to live in tents and shacks tending their flocks of goats and sheep as they graze on whatever edibles there are, and other Bedouins who have resettled in urban environments like Beersheba and Rahat where they strive for a new future while holding on to old traditions.
Many areas in the Galilee and Negev are forlorn and desolate, waiting for the human element to complete them. Highways, roads and byways run through both regions like veins, seeking to become part of an organic whole. Motorists drive through the areas but, unless they are local residents, they are usually on the way from nowhere to the excitement of the big cities. Both regions are in desperate need of more people.
WHERE THE FUTURE IS
But for all that, a visitor to the Negev and Galilee is immediately told by the natives that the future of Israel is in both regions. “It’s not jut a place to visit, it’s a place to settle,” is the effusive affirmation. The same enthusiasts agree that both regions have been largely neglected by Israelis, new immigrants to the country, and the government which is more intent on having the West Bank populated than the Galilee and Negev.
Ben Carmel, Secretary of the Histadrut Labor Council in Beersheba, the capital of the Negev which has recorded an amazing growth in the last 20 years, told a group of visitors, “If Israel is to offer new opportunities, it’s here in the Negev and the Galil. This is the future and it needs to be worked at.” But, he added, “We are failing. We lack the vision and ardor to populate the Negev and the Galil. It’s much more attractive and exciting to live in big cities. But Israel is not just Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.”
Menachem Perlmutter, head of the Jewish Agency’s rural settlement department, engineering division in the Negev, pointed out some problems involved in settling the area.
“It is more than reclaiming land and building houses. It requires a great deal of work both in terms of the structure and superstructure: electricity, roads, pipeline for water, transportation facilities, educational and health facilities, diversified crops, and investment to build up related industries. There is not enough industry to provide jobs for settlers. We’re getting some industry, but not enough.”
Shlomo Drori, head of the information department of the Dead Sea Works, noted that “Unfortunately, sending people to the Negev was stopped during the last 10 years because of the government’s Judaea and Samaria policy. We want more people in the Negev, but to get more people we also need more employment opportunities, more industry, more high-tech industry, textile, clothing, electronics. We have natural resources, but we lack the human resources.” Orly Gilat, head of planning and implementation of the Galilee for the Jewish Agency’s settlement department, stated that there are two settlement priorities: the central Galil and the Negev. “Unless we do something urgent in the Galil it won’t exist for us anymore,” she said. “It is more important to assure a beachhead in the Galil against the Arabs than settlements in the West Bank which only aggravate Arab-Israeli tensions.”
ANGER OVER NEGLECT AND INDIFFERENCE
People in the Negev and Galil are angry over what they perceive to be the attitudes of indifference and neglect regarding the two regions in favor of the West Bank. There is also anger over the neglect by the government of the development towns which were populated haphazardly by dumping mostly Sephardic Jews, and more recently Ethiopian Jews, in a process that became known as “reluctant pioneering.”
Industry failed to be attracted to the areas because a requisite labor force was lacking. Investment capital remained in the larger cities, far from the Negev and Galilee. David Ben Gurion’s dream to see the Negev settled has remained a dream. This year the call to settle the Negev is little more than a gimmicky slogan with which to commemorate the centennial of Ben Gurion’s birth.
Despite the problems, Negev and Galil officials and residents emphasized the same message: we need more settlers, more industry, more capital. We are not the end of the world. The Negev and the Galil are the foundries in which the future links of Israel will be forged. And people in both regions pointed out that in spite of everything, there are exciting developments in both regions.
FAR-REACHING REGION 2000 PLAN.
One of the more ambitious and far-reaching undertakings designed to attract settlers to the Galilee is Region 2000 (Hevel Alpalim). It began several years ago when Prof. Ephraim Katzir, the fourth President of Israel and a renowned scientist, was appointed the head of a government commission to bring 100,000 Jews to the region and to develop one of the world’s most sophisticated science-based industrial parks.
Katzir called the program “something of a dream.” But he added that it was “a vision of such extraordinary appeal, that it compels us to give it our most serious attention. It envisages life in tomorrow’s society in which man will be able to draw upon the limitless possibilities generated by a post-industrial technology in order to shape a better world.
“For those of us who love this land, there is an added dimension…We see the unspoiled beauty of the Galilee and the chance to enhance its potential by attracting to it the cream of Jewish youth from Israel and the diaspora.”
Region 2000 is planned for the Western Galilee and covers an area of about 12,500 acres. The region, according to Gilat, will be a thoroughly integrated system of commerce, industry and social organization. In addition, a comprehensive communication system will be established to ensure efficient highway links to work and community facilities such as hospitals, schools and shopping districts.
“The geographic pattern of the existing settlement system is heterogeneous and haphazard,” Gilat said. “The area includes some 45 Jewish settlements with a population of 28,000 people, and 24 Arab settlements with a population of 150,000. These settlements are dispersed throughout the entire region, and vary considerably in their physical layout, their demographic characteristics, their economic base and their organizational structure.”
One of the planning objectives, she said, “is to establish a framework within which the various elements of the region will function as an integrated unit.” The responsibility for the project’s planning was assumed by the Jewish Agency’s settlement department.
IMPORTANCE TO ISRAEL’S SECURITY
Gilat and others stressed the importance of the Galilee to Israel’s security. Demographic changes in the region are one of the most serious problems facing Israel.
While the ratio of Jews and Arabs in Israel is 5 to 1, in central Galilee it is 1 to 6 in reverse. In some regions, such as the mountains around Sfad, Arabs outnumber Jews 2 to 1.
There is, therefore, concern that a national minority gaining a clear numerical majority in one region could form the basis for a separatist movement.
A great deal of Arab expansion in the Galilee is illegal, according to Thalma Duchan, chief of the Jewish Agency’s planning team for the Galilee, Jews and Arabs alike must have building permits and build according to a master plan under Israeli law. “Nevertheless, there are today about 10,000 illegal Arab dwelling units in the Galilee. Demolition of illegal structures is not being carried out, as it would be in other areas and municipalities, because in the Galilee it becomes a national problem with strong political implications.”
Region 2000 is a plan whose time has come. Vision now has to be converted into reality.
HARNESSING THE RESOURCES OF THE NEGEV
Meanwhile, the natural resources of the Negev are being harnessed. Scientists, researchers and agronomists have responded to the challenge of developing the region which comprises two-thirds of the State of Israel. They have developed techniques and agricultural practices that have been adopted in the world’s most advanced countries as well as in developing nations. These technique and practices have helped California farmers to optimize their high vegetable crops through drip irrigation and have aided Kenyans to adapt newly modified methods of run-off farming.
The Negev, with its natural assets of abundant solar radiation, warm temperatures, large tracts of land suitable for grazing, and the availability of brackish and saline water, potash, chloride, bromine and phosphates, has become a miniature laboratory in the conquest of the desert.
Major enterprises and scientists at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, the Desert Meteorlogy Unit of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research, and the Sde Boker Midrasha (college) are directing research efforts to finding ways by which the arid and semi-arid Negev, and all arid zones throughout the world, may be populated.
There is experimentation in agricultural chemicals, in commercial uses of potash, bromine and bromine compounds — raw materials required for the production of chemical fertilizers needed by advanced agriculture — and in solar paneling to generate electrical energy. The Dead Sea, for example, has an estimated billion tons of recoverable chloride and bromine, enough for 3,000 years at the world’s current rate of consumption.
Scientists are also experimenting with salt-tolerant crops that help desert farmers to irrigate with saline water sources below the surface of the Negev. Other research is exploring the development of a water carrier that would channel the Negev’s underground water supply, thus utilizing about 300 million cubic meters of water annually. Off-season vegetables are a big industry in the Negev and there are experiments with tomatoes that will have a longer shelf life and with square tomatoes that can be boxed easier.
A joint project between the Department of Atmospheric Sciences of the Hebrew University and the Blaustein Institute has begun to experiment in cloud seeding. Another area of investigation is that of the microclimate of the desert, necessary for determining conditions for desert agriculture, human comfort and the sitting of desert buildings. In order to promote the settlement of the Negev, the Jewish Agency’s rural settlement department has prepared a five year plan to help develop agro-industry and the economic climate of the region.
The developments in science and technology, in politics and social relations in the country tend to pale, however, in comparison to an undertaking that has already radically altered cities and people.
(Tomorrow: Past Four)