Leading religious-Zionist MKs held a special meeting in the city of Nazareth Illit this week, just south of the Galilee, and called on idealistic families to move there.
Rabbi Prof. Dr. Daniel Herskovitz, leader of the Jewish Home party, and MK Uri Ariel (National Union) met with Nazareth Illit Mayor Shimon Gepso on Tuesday and took part in a municipal council meeting. The central topic was the continued development of the city, the policy of "attracting new, quality populace," in Gepso's words, and the attempt to maintain the Jewish character of the city.
Nearby Nazareth has long been an Arab-populated city, while Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth) was built just above it in 1956 as a Jewish city. Its population is now more than 42,000, but its Arab population has increased from 9% ten years ago to around 13% now. This does not mean that 87% is Jewish, however; many are non-Jewish new immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
A giant religious neighborhood of 3,015 apartments is being planned. "We have made significant progress on this project," Mayor Gepso told his visitors, "after it was just sitting in a drawer for over ten years. However, the city can't do it itself; we need the Housing Ministry's help."
The mayor, deputy mayor and other officials took their visitors on a tour of the planned sites for religious residents. They first met with Rabbi Haggai Shilat, who recently moved to the city as a "forward pioneer" with his wife and seven children. He will head a new yeshiva high school in the city.
They also saw other projects that are underway, hopefully to be ready in time for the new school year. These include turning an existing structure into an apartment building for a group of families from the Yeshivat Torat HaChaim community in Yad Binyamin who were expelled from Gush Katif and will form a Torah core group; the placement of a group of national service girls from the Aminadav volunteer organization; the establishment of a pre-military academy for military leadership; and even the establishment of a Hesder yeshiva in the city. All this comes to buttress the existing, though small, Yeshivat Torat Avraham, named in memory of Rabbi Avraham Shapira.
"Clean air, a fantastic view, good people, and a quality environment," summed up Minister Herskovitz. "These are definitely excellent conditions, and I join the call for the religious-nationalist public to come here and settle Nazareth Illit. Double your gains – both quality of life and a chance to really fulfill the commandment of settling the Land of Israel."