|Written by Keith Hall|
Celebrating a Free Harish
The residents of Wadi Ara are celebrating a huge success. They've shown what can happen when citizen strength is harnessed to preserve democracy and create change even in the face of powerful opposing forces.
Several years ago, to the dismay of the local population, a government plan was proposed to change Katzir Harish, a town of several thousand, into Israel's first planned Haredi city. The blueprint included nearly 5,000 new housing units and a master plan geared exclusively toward a Haredi lifestyle.
The decision would have drastically altered existing residents' way of life. An intensive citizen-led campaign was born to preserve the nature of their town. And on January 16, an Israel Land Administration committee disqualified 12 bids submitted by the United Haredi Housing Committee.
Instead, the committee awarded contracts to a multitude of bidders representing the full breadth of Israeli society, including groups representing the Arab community and those promoting affordable housing.
"What happened here is a miracle. After years of struggle, this is a decisive victory," said Hemi Bar-Or, who coordinated a coalition that struggled to keep the planned city open to all. "Now the city is open to everyone - secular, religious, Arab, Haredi. We haven't got anything against Haredim per se, but we are opposed to Harish being a Haredi-only city. This was a historic day for joint Jewish-Arab struggle and an important victory for civil society - it proves that when citizens organize together they can emerge victorious against the odds."
This landmark decision guarantees the future of Harish as a pluralistic and multi-cultural city.
Green Harish, a SHATIL-guided group composed of local residents dedicated to preserving their community's eco-friendly and inclusive character, led the efforts. NIF provided an emergency grant to Green Harish that enabled it to intensify its campaign during the critical and dramatic final months of 2012.
The grant is part of NIF's ongoing efforts to promote socially-just and environmentally sound policies in Israel.