Judea and Samaria municipal leaders oppose new Samarian city

Local municipality heads oppose plans for new city in Samaria, claim that initiative is a bluff intended to conceal lack of building.

Tzvi Lev ,

Town of Elkana, in Samaria
Town of Elkana, in Samaria
Arutz Sheva Staff

The heads of various Judea and Samaria municipalities fired off a missive to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri demanding that he freeze the plan to establish a new city in Samaria by uniting the villages of Elkana, Etz Efraim, Shaarei Tikva, and Oranit.

If combined into a single city, the new municipality would be home to more than 21,000 people, making it the smallest city in Judea and Samaria.

The municipality heads asked Deri to refrain from carrying out the initiative, which they allege is intended to hide the lack of actual building in Judea and Samaria. "We're not talking about building a new city which did not exist before - of course we would support that. We would support everyone involved in that case. This is simply unifying four villages into one entity," they wrote.

"Not only will this move not benefit Judea and Samaria villages, it causes them serious damage," continued the letter. "While we have been complaining for years about the construction freeze, which is a travesty, there will now be a false feeling that the needs of Judea and Samaria residents have been fulfilled."

"This move hurts our efforts to push for new building in Judea and Samaria, and not just 'recycled' tenders which are presented as new building," the request concluded.

The towns to be affected include the predominantly secular town of Oranit, home to some 9,000 Israelis; Shaarei Tikva, and its 5,800 residents; the largely Religious Zionist town of Elkana, with some 4,000 residents, and Etz Efraim, with some 2,200 residents. Oranit and Elkana are both independent townships, while Etz Efraim and Shaarei Tikva are administered by the Samaria Regional Council.

While the Interior Ministry has touted the plan as being to the benefit of the four communities, claiming that it will enable construction in hitherto unused land in between the existing municipal boundaries, residents are concerned the move could lower the quality of life in their towns.

The Interior Ministry has also touted the proposed merger as a cost-saving measure, allowing the state to cut administrative positions in the four communities. But locals worry the move would also reduce the quality of municipal services, including education, utilities, and maintenance of parks.

Residents protested a similar proposal by the ministry in 2008, eventually forcing the Interior Ministry to back down from the planned unification.

Elkana and Oranit Residents demonstrated against the plan this past Saturday night.

In 2008, Jewish Home MK Nissan Slomiansky, a former mayor of Elkana, explained opposition to a previous plan to unify the towns, arguing that it would dilute each communities' unique character.

"Another important thing is the character of the towns – Elkana was established as a Religious Zionist town. There are some secular families there, but everyone knows that the character of the community is National Religious – people don’t drive there during the Sabbath, the educational institutions are state religious schools, and people want to protect that [character]” said Slomiansky.

“Oranit has its own style, and I respect that, and Shaarei Tikva is somewhere in the middle.”