A 914-acre patch is considered extremely important because it abuts a forest and the Alexander Stream.
By Zafrir Rinat | Mar. 11, 2015

The government is reviving plans for a new town near Kochav Ya’ir that would comprise thousands of homes, but local people say it would harm the environment, damage their rural way of life and overburden the transportation system.

There are two existing communities in this area northeast of Tel Aviv near the West Bank. One, Kochav Ya’ir-Tzur Yigal, is a rural suburb, while the other, Tzur Yitzhak, is more urban.

A few months ago, the Interior Ministry set up a committee to look into whether 3,700 dunams (914 acres) currently belonging to the nearby South Sharon Regional Council should be transferred to Kochav Ya’ir-Tzur Yigal.

The committee is also considering whether Tzur Yitzhak, currently part of the regional council, should remain under its auspices or be merged with Kochav Ya’ir-Tzur Yigal. The ministry’s director of planning favors the second option.

At about the same time, the Housing Ministry began pushing plans to build 3,500 homes on a 900-dunam area west of Kochav Ya’ir. The plan, which the ministry says was prepared with the Interior Ministry and the Israel Land Authority, replaces an earlier plan to build a city in this area to be called Kochavei Ya’ir and swallow up Kochav Ya’ir.

The 3,700 dunams that the Interior Ministry committee is considering transferring to Kochav Ya’ir are considered extremely important by environmentalists, as they abut a forest and the Alexander Stream. Moreover, when combined with the land on which the Housing Ministry is currently planning 3,500 new homes, this area corresponds exactly to the area on which that ministry had previously planned to build the city of Kochavei Ya’ir.

The South Sharon Regional Council thus claims that the goal of the proposed land transfer is to enable the plan for Kochavei Ya’ir to be revived.

The regional council opposes any new development in the area. It argues that a new city would compete with existing communities for residents and resources and would harm the environment. It adds that a new city would overburden the transportation system, marring local people’s quality of life.

Kochav Ya’ir, for its part, objects to the proposed merger with Tzur Yitzhak. Tzur Yitzhak also opposes the merger, but supports leaving the regional council; it wants to be granted the status of an independent township.

“The merger with Tzur Yitzhak would destroy the character of the rural community we’ve built here,” said Avi Kadish, a member of the Kochav Ya’ir residents committee set up to oppose the merger.

“As for establishing a new city, you’re talking about building thousands of homes for tens of thousands of people in the area between Kochav Ya’ir and Tzur Yitzhak. This means destroying the [nature] reserves and the Alexander Stream area,” he said.

“An urban monster would be created here that would lack transportation infrastructure and sources of employment. Even today, the burden on the existing transportation infrastructure is extremely heavy.”

The Housing Ministry responded that the area in question is slated for development on both the national and regional master plans, and that the borders of the proposed new community “don’t come near the Alexander Stream basin.” Environmental and hydrological consultants helped prepare the plan “as part of the ministry’s sustainable planning agenda,” the ministry said.

It offered no comment about any development plans for the 3,700 dunams that may be transferred from the South Sharon Regional Council.

In recent years, plans have advanced for the establishment of several new cities. These include one near Tzur Hadassah west of Jerusalem; a new Arab city in the western Galilee; the ultra-Orthodox city of Kasif near Arad, which recently received final approval; and the city of Harish near Wadi Ara, which is now under construction.