The municipality joined the fight after residents’ protests, claiming there have been serious defects in planning for the plant, including violations of government policy and conflicts of interest

Deiaa Haj Yahia Feb. 20, 2022

Leaders of the struggle against power plants being built in the areas of Kfar Saba and Rosh Ha'ayin, in 2018.
Leaders of the struggle against power plants being built in the areas of Kfar Saba and Rosh Ha’ayin, in 2018.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The municipality of Rosh Ha’ayin, northeast of Tel Aviv, petitioned the High Court of Justice on Wednesday to halt plans for a power station between Rosh Ha’ayin itself and the nearby community of Kafr Qasem.

The municipality claims that there have been serious defects in planning for the electricity plant, which is known as the Kesem power station, including violations of government policy, substantial defects in planning documents, conflicts of interest and a failure to provide a health impact survey.

Opposition to the plan has united residents of Rosh Ha’ayin, a Jewish city, and Kafr Qasem, an Arab one, around the claim that the power station would be a source of environmental pollution and noise. Nevertheless, it is expected to receive the support in the coming week of the ministerial committee on internal affairs, which is headed by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, after already being approved by the national infrastructure committee. 

A community organization established to fight the plan is also working to delay its consideration by the ministerial committee, Haaretz has learned, and Rosh Ha’ayin Mayor Shalom Ben Moshe has vowed that efforts would continue until plans for the power station are scrapped.

Opposition to the proposed project among Rosh Ha’ayin residents dates back to 2018, joined a year later by the residents of the Arab communities of Kafr Qasem and Kafr Bara. They set up a small protest tent where they hung signs in Hebrew and Arabic and staffed it on a daily basis with members of the city councils of the three communities. 

Their common cause forced the area’s residents to set aside any political differences that they might have had even during last May’s fighting between Israel and Gaza, a period during which clashes broke out around Israel between Arabs and Jews. 

“At our protest campaign headquarters, relations weren’t harmed,” Rosh Ha’ayin resident Yaffa Zafrani told Haaretz. “We were very concerned about the violent events and the hatred, and there was concern that it would hurt us, but in the end, we put everything aside. We focused on our protest.”

Rosh Ha’ayin city councilman Raz Sagi noted that residents from Kafr Qasem contributed money and equipment, labor and volunteers – as did people from Rosh Ha’ayin. “There was amazing cooperation,” he said.

Rosh Ha'ayin residents demonstrate against the power plant.

Mahmoud Freige, a social activist from Kafr Qasem, called it the Israeli Arab population’s first nonpolitical environmental battle. “The partnership with Rosh Ha’ayin is spectacular, a feeling of shared destiny,” he said, noting that a common adversary had brought Jews and Arabs together. If the plans are approved, the power station will be established next to Kafr Qasem. 

Freige said it would be just 80 meters (260 feet) from homes in the city. “We will have a water shortage. This will lead to shutting down a well that provides water to a third of the residents and businesses in the area,” he claimed. It would also critically harm residents’ quality of life, and the noise from the turbines would be expected to affect a large portion of Kafr Qasem to an extent that would make living there unbearable, he predicted.

“The power station would be an environmental and human disaster for the residents, particularly of Kafr Qasem,” alleged Muzhar Badir, a Kafr Qasem social activist. He said it would pollute the ground, “in addition to the environmental hazards that we [already] experience in the city on a daily basis.”

The residents vowed not to give up the fight. “The more we have delved into the consequences of the establishment of the station, the more determined we have become in our fight,” Badir said. “Our interest is a shared one, [among] Arabs and Jews. We won’t give up on it even though we know that that the mission isn’t an easy one.”

Zafrani, the Rosh Ha’ayin resident, claimed that the plant would cause pollution in the vicinity of homes and workplaces. Diesel fuel could endanger residents’ drinking water and air pollution would harm their health. “There can be no negotiations over this. We will fight to the end,” she said.