Harish Israel news photo: Flash 90

Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Thursday signed off on the first building project for the projected Hareidi Jewish city of Harish. The project will include 6,000 units designed mostly for large families. Prices are projected to be significantly more affordable than for similar sized apartments in other large Hareidi communities, such as Bnei Brak and Ramat Beit Shemesh.

Yishai presented the plan at a press conference Thursday. The plan includes not only homes, but a wide array of services, such as schools, shopping centers, and numerous synagogues. In many older Hareidi neighborhoods, there was often a lack of planning for synagogues, and in many areas congregants were forced to hold services in bomb shelters and parking structures, because of a lack of space. Also included are community centers and parks.

Transportation plans were also announced. Express buses will be available to take residents to other large Hareidi communities. The proximity of Highway 6, Yishai said, will ensure speedy transportation to Jerusalem, Ashdod, Haifa, and other areas where there are large communities. An emphasis has been placed on environmental sensitivities, in light of the fact that the area where Harish is to be built is largely rural. Environmentalists had opposed the city's construction because of concerns over possible damage to the environment, while residents of the secular communities in the area had opposed the city because they were afraid it would impact on their lifestyles.

The biggest town in the area is the Arab city of Um el-Faham, and one of the reasons Harish is being built in the 'Iron Valley' – known in Arabic as Wadi Ara – is to increase the Jewish population of a strategic area of the country. The city has actually long been in the planning stages, with the government years ago submitting plans for the construction of a city of up to 250,000 residents in the region. The idea of setting the city up as one for Hareidim is about five years old, and after meetings with rabbinic and communal leaders, Hareidi-religious groups expressed great interest in working with the government to populate the city, in order to relieve the housing shortage in the Hareidi community.

After an unsuccessful stint as a kibbutz, Harish was originally intended as a town for the general Jewish population, but Arab riots in 2000 frightened away potential home buyers.

A religious Zionist core group that has lived in Harish for more than 10 years is expected to remain, and several hundred homes are to be allocated to religious Zionists as well, according to Rabbi Nissim Dahan, head of the local authority.

Now that Yishai has officially approved building plans, contractors are being invited to bid on tracts for building projects. “This is the first level of development in Harish,” Yishai said. “We can expect to see tractors here already in the fall, and within a year there will be 2,500 housing units in Harish,” Yishai said. Thank G-d we have been able to accomplish a major task – building a city in the Land of Israel.”