With the councils in Judea and Samara talking about the government having a policy of a silent freeze on building, Josh Hasten, International Spokesman for Gush Etzion, tells Israel National News that the situation is very serious.
“A campaign was launched by the heads of Judea and Samaria because the subcommittee for building within the civil administration which is in charge of approvals of building has not met since January. You’re talking about new projects which are slated to be constructed in both Gush Etzion and throughout Judea and Samaria, and they’re not even having a discussion on whether or not they’re going to approve or not approve those buildings," Hasten says.
"It’s essentially a silent freeze, the government isn’t coming out and claiming like they did back in the Obama administration that they’re going to freeze building in Judea and Samara. It’s not official. But that being said, the current government will not allow that committee to meet. If that committee does not meet, we cannot meet the great demands for building in Guzh Etzion and throughout Judea and Samaria.”
He notes that all of Israel is currently facing a housing crisis, and wonders why the government won’t let the committee meet to approve new projects.
“The next generation of residents of our area should be able to live and thrive in our area and that’s not happening right now because of this de facto silent freeze,” he says.
He blames the silent freeze on either American pressure or the Israeli government which has coalition members from Meretz and Ra’am who are against building and says the government is possibly dealing with internal pressure to freeze building.
“Unfortunately, down the road – we’re talking five to 10 years – when these projects which are supposed to be approved are supposed to go up themselves, they won’t be going up now, unless this committee meets, so it’s a major problem, something we’re focused on and very concerned about,” Hasten says.
Another big challenge is the takeover of lands by Palestinian Arabs.
“We’re talking about Area C – Area C is under full Israel control – and you have illegal squatting taking place throughout Gush Etzion and throughout Judea and Samaria, and we are once again calling on the civil administration to enforce the law, which states that Arabs must have approval, Jews must have approval to build in Area C.
He explains that the Palestinian Authority is trying to strategically take over swathes of land in Judea and Samara so that if Israel and the PA ever return to negotiating, they can claim Arabs live in certain areas so they have to be included in a future Palestinian state.
“They start by building schools and other structures which would make Israel look terrible if the government or the IDF went in and tore these buildings down,” he says. “It is happening all over the place and Gush Etzion is no exception. The illegal building is a real problem right now.”
Despite all the challenges, Gush Etzion is flourishing. If you include the greater area, including Efrat and Beitar Illit, there are 100,000 residents.
“You have projects which were approved in the past which are bearing fruit right now. There’s building going on in western Gush Etzion and eastern Gush Etzion. Tourism is exploding.”
He explains that over Passover, tens of thousands of tourists came to tourist attractions in the historic sites and for the natural springs throughout Gush Etzion.
“You go out any day and you see people at the restaurants that are packed with people now visiting in this post-COVID-19 area. People have come back to Gosh Etzion and it’s so great to see. I recommend that anyone out there who hasn’t been to Gush Etzion, you’re just 30 minutes away from Jerusalem. Come check out one of the most beautiful areas in all of Israel. The views I can’t describe them. You have to come see it for yourself.”
Gush Etzion will be part of JCNY 2022 - the Arutz Sheva Jerusalem Conference on May 22 in New York, and when you walk through Gush Etzion you can hear English everywhere. Why are so many anglo immigrants coming to Gush Etzion?
Hasten says there are numerous factors, including proximity to Jerusalem for commuting to work, the milder seasonal weather including winters with snow familiar to those from colder parts of the English speaking world, and a strong connection to the land.
“You really feel a connection to the land in Gush Etzion just walking around. I ride my bike on something called the Path of the Patriarchs. This is the actual area where Jews came to Jerusalem three times a year on pilgrimage. They took this road. You can see ancient ritual baths right alongside the road," he says.
"There’s a real connection to the land. It’s a great place to raise your family if you want kids to feel a connection to the land. It’s an unbelievable experience to raise the next generation on the land of Gush Etzion and really get a feel for ancient history and all the beauty which Gush Etzion has to offer.”