JNF Mobilizing Manpower, Machines, to Tackle Israel’s Housing Crisis

The Jewish National Fund is mobilizing manpower and machinery to tackle Israel’s immigrant housing crisis, JNF Chairman Moshe Rivlin disclosed last week.

At almost a dozen building sites, from Eilat in the far south to Nazareth and Carmiel in the north, earth-moving equipment is preparing the ground for major residential homebuilding projects under the government’s accelerated housing program.

Up to 30 percent of the actual machinery at each site and the operators belong to private contractors. But JNF planners, engineers and foremen arc directing the work.

Senior officials at JNF’s head office in Jerusalem are in regular contact with Housing Ministry officials and Treasury aides. They have to make the financing available until the government’s expanded housing budgets get formal approval. And it takes time for the money to work its way through the bureaucratic pipeline.

Rivlin reckons that JNF will ultimately shoulder $35 million of the budgetary burden itself. It will have to add some $25 million to its $100 million budget this year and transfer a further $10 million from other projects to the residential groundwork that is now a national emergency.

That $35 million, he says, will account for about one-third of the cost of the work, which JNF has taken upon itself.

Housing Minister Ariel Sharon told a high-level meeting that he well remembers the speed and commitment with which JNF worked to prepare the ground at Pithat Shalom for the settlers evacuated from Sinai and the Rafah area in 1981 and 1982, under the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

He also recalled JNF’s energetic drive in the late 1970s to prepare the “mitpim,” strategically located hilltop settlements all over Galilee.

“You worked three shifts, day and night. That’s what I want to see again,” the housing czar said.

Rivlin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that work at three residential sites in Eilat these past two-and-a-half months were a test-case.

JNF has not previously focused on urban or suburban areas, he explained. Most of its knowledge and experience is in preparing land for agriculture or rural settlement.

But the Housing Ministry and the local authorities found its efforts praiseworthy, Rivlin said.

Since then, JNF staff and equipment has gone to Beersheba, Sderot, Netivot, Ashdod and Ofakim, cities in the Negev, and to Migdal Haemek, Carmiel and Nazareth in the north.

“We leave the center of the country to the commercial ‘kabblanim’ (contractors),” Rivlin noted wryly. “We go where they aren’t so keen to go.”

While committing a good deal of its manpower and energy to residential sites, JNF is not neglecting its basic land reclamation and development mission and some very large and ambitious tourism-related projects in the Negev and the Galilee.

In Eilat, for example, JNF is not only clearing the ground for three new apartment blocks. Its bulldozers are also at work on two parks in the city.

JNF planners are also preparing the next stage of the highly successful Timna Park project north of Eilat. It will link the Timna tourism area with the planned new Eilat International Airport by means of a forest studded with recreational facilities.

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