Re­set­tling 1.5 mil­lion res­i­dents

In­tro­duc­ing KKL-JNF’s new pro­ject in the Negev and Galilee

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - ARAB MEDIA - • ALAN ROSEN­BAUM

The best word to de­scribe KKL-JNF’s new pro­ject is ‘am­bi­tious.’ What other word could be used to ex­press a vi­sion of bring­ing 1.5 mil­lion new set­tlers to the Negev and Galilee in just two decades? “Un­doubt­edly, it is a great chal­lenge in build­ing the land, and one of the big­gest chal­lenges that has ever been placed be­fore the lead­er­ship of the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment and the State of Is­rael,” says Daniel Atar, KKL-JNF chair­man.

The pro­ject “KKL-JNF 2040 – Mov­ing to the Land of To­mor­row” (KKL-JNF 2040) of­fers ways to trans­form the Negev and Galilee into sig­nif­i­cant growth en­gines through high-qual­ity em­ploy­ment in the ar­eas of hi-tech, set­tle­ment, ed­u­ca­tion and com­mu­nity.

“For years we have seen the stud­ies whose re­sults have ap­peared in the me­dia, about the gaps that ex­ist be­tween Is­rael’s cen­ter and the pe­riph­ery in the ar­eas of health, ed­u­ca­tion, in­fra­struc­ture, em­ploy­ment, per capita in­come and the sense of part­ner­ship for eco­nomic growth that the state has ex­pe­ri­enced for many years,” says Atar. “By ev­ery mea­sure­ment, the pe­riph­ery has been de­feated by the ‘state of Tel Aviv.’ We see the eye-rolling and hear the tut-tuts of politi­cians who have been say­ing for years that it’s the pe­riph­ery’s turn for in­vest­ment. In prac­tice, how­ever, sys­tem­at­i­cally and strate­gi­cally, there is no over­all pro­gram which has taken the pe­riph­ery and placed it on the na­tional list of pri­or­i­ties. The only event in decades was the de­ci­sion to move the IDF bases to the Negev – but this is not a com­pre­hen­sive plan, and it is also fal­ter­ing.”

Atar says that while KKL-JNF has been work­ing for years to strengthen the pe­riph­ery, it did not be­gin to work in a sys­tem­atic fash­ion un­til its KKL-JNF 2040 pro­ject, which it has been de­vel­op­ing over the past two years. Ac­cord­ing to Atar, the def­i­ni­tion of the pro­ject “Re­lo­ca­tion Is­rael, KKL-JNF 2040 – Mov­ing to the Land of To­mor­row” con­veys the mes­sage that this is not just an­other pro­ject.

“This is a very dra­matic thing. In or­der to bring about an indepth de­mo­graphic change of an en­tire coun­try, we need much more than KKL-JNF.”

How can one ac­tu­ally cause one and a half mil­lion res­i­dents to move to the pe­riph­ery?

“Is­rael is one of the lead­ing hi-tech coun­tries in the world and is at the fore­front of ad­vanced de­vel­op­ment and tech­nol­ogy. But 93% of Is­rael’s hi-tech world is in the ‘state of Tel Aviv’ and only 7% is in the Negev and Galilee,” Atar ex­plains, “We de­cided that we are go­ing to con­cen­trate our ef­fort in the hi-tech world. How? KKL-JNF will proved the plan­ning, mo­ti­va­tion and in­clu­sive fac­tors in all of the work and the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment will pro­vide the lead­er­ship with its power and abil­ity to carry out the plan.”

In ad­di­tion to the hi-tech world and the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment, the pro­gram is based on a third fac­tor – the Jewish world.

“At ev­ery junc­ture, from when the idea of es­tab­lish­ing the State of Is­rael was born un­til to­day, the Jewish world has been at­tached to Is­rael, be­cause the vast ma­jor­ity of the Jewish peo­ple loves and sup­ports the State and wants to con­trib­ute to its de­vel­op­ment. It must be a part­ner in this process.”

Af­ter uti­liz­ing these three fac­tors, KKL-JNF will ex­pand its reach to other cir­cles, in­clud­ing lo­cal author­i­ties, in­dus­tri­al­ists, stu­dents, heads of academia, heads of non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions, civic or­ga­ni­za­tions and more. “We are putting them all to­gether, and there is great en­thu­si­asm for this vi­sion,” Atar says.

Part of the ef­fort will be in­vested in ed­u­ca­tion, in in­for­mal ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams in high schools in the Galilee and in the Negev, and ac­com­pa­ny­ing grad­u­ates who en­list in the IDF, in pre-mil­i­tary acad­e­mies and in Na­tional Ser­vice pro­grams.

“We are en­cour­ag­ing them to have as­pi­ra­tions and to ful­fill them. Once upon a time this was an im­por­tant idea in Zion­ism, but to­day that has been some­what for­got­ten. Their goal is to live in the Galilee and the Negev af­ter they com­plete their ser­vice.”

KKL-JNF is pro­mot­ing re­sid­ing in the Galilee and the Negev by dis­tribut­ing schol­ar­ships worth mil­lions of shekels for higher ed­u­ca­tion and eco­nom­ics. A pi­lot pro­ject is cur­rently un­der­way in Arad in col­lab­o­ra­tion with RAD Bynet, in which 42 young men and women are study­ing en­gi­neer­ing or com­puter science. The RAD Bynet group, led by Ye­huda Zis­fal, is as­sist­ing them with schol­ar­ships and – once they have com­pleted their de­gree – get­ting jobs within their 20 com­pa­nies lo­cated in the Galilee and the Negev.

“We in­tend to repli­cate this suc­cess­ful pi­lot in other lo­ca­tions in the coun­try, so that thou­sands of stu­dents can do this.”

My con­ver­sa­tion with Atar is con­ducted while he is en route to a meet­ing with the chair­man of a dis­trict plan­ning and con­struc­tion com­mit­tee that will present him with a plan of in­dus­trial zones in the Bar Lev In­dus­trial Area and the Golani Junc­tion.

“We are in the process of es­tab­lish­ing four hi-tech-ori­ented in­dus­trial ar­eas,” he says. “One of them will be shared with the Gaza bor­der com­mu­ni­ties and Sderot, and the other will be built be­tween Di­mona, Yero­ham and Meitar, with part of the area be­ing al­lo­cated for re­search and de­vel­op­ment cen­ters. The goal is to bring at least two in­ter­na­tional cen­ters of the world’s lead­ing com­pa­nies to this area, and we al­ready are in the midst of ad­vanced con­tacts with a com­pany from the US.”

Atar is fully com­mit­ted to the process and talks about the many de­vel­op­ments that are tak­ing place con­cur­rently – in­clud­ing con­sul­ta­tions with may­ors in the pe­riph­ery – to help cre­ate fa­vor­able con­di­tions for hi-tech com­pa­nies to re­lo­cate to their ar­eas. There is a plan at an ad­vanced stage to es­tab­lish in­no­va­tion cen­ters at col­leges lo­cated in Tel Hai, Kin­neret, Yizre’el and Sapir as well as at the Univer­sity of Beer­sheba. “They will be a huge at­trac­tion for sci­en­tists, re­searchers, engi­neers, pro­gram­mers and other pro­fes­sion­als.”

There is no pro­gram which has taken the pe­riph­ery and placed it on the na­tional list of pri­or­i­ties

You men­tioned that World Jewry is an im­por­tant part of the pro­gram, but the rift be­tween Is­rael and the Di­as­pora, es­pe­cially with the large Amer­i­can com­mu­nity, is only grow­ing.

“The Jewish world is di­vided into two un­equal parts. One group, pri­mar­ily in the US, is an­gry with Is­rael and sees it as be­ing re­spon­si­ble for in­ten­si­fy­ing the di­vide and dis­con­nect be­tween it and world Jewry. They are all pas­sion­ate Zion­ists, but are an­gry at the Is­raeli poli­cies that sep­a­rate them from the State. The sec­ond group ig­nores the dis­con­nect and the widen­ing gap be­tween world Jewry and the State of Is­rael.

“We are not look­ing for do­na­tions from world Jewry. I am of­fer­ing them a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity. In­stead of in­vest­ing in In­dia, Sil­i­con Val­ley or else­where, I urge them to in­vest in the Galilee and the Negev. Next month we are hold­ing a con­fer­ence in New York with 70 fund man­agers and hi-tech in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives from around the world – com­pa­nies that in­vest bil­lions of dol­lars around the world and haven’t in­vested in Is­rael – to show them the map of busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Galilee and the Negev.

We al­ready have a group of Ital­ian bankers, who man­age funds around the world, whose head has ex­pressed readi­ness to be a part of the pres­i­den­tial group that we are es­tab­lish­ing, that will ac­com­pany the vi­sion of KKL-JNF 2040.”

The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment has a sig­nif­i­cant part in the plan. What will hap­pen if the new gov­ern­ment will not want to part­ner with this?

“I am a big be­liever in this vi­sion, and ev­ery­one who has seen the plan is very en­thu­si­as­tic about it. I be­lieve that the gov­ern­ment of Is­rael, too, will play a role in pro­mot­ing this is­sue and will co­op­er­ate. If they don’t want to join, I will not give in. Pub­lic opin­ion will not al­low them to back out. The heads of the lo­cal author­i­ties are mem­bers of those par­ties and ev­ery­one sees the plan as an ex­tra­or­di­nary op­por­tu­nity to make the res­i­dents of the pe­riph­ery a part­ner in pro­duc­tiv­ity. Ev­ery­one knows that the Galilee and the Negev should be Is­rael’s eco­nomic growth en­gines in the com­ing years.

“I don’t see any prob­lem. We are talk­ing about a pro­gram that re­quires col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween all gov­ern­ment min­istries: ed­u­ca­tion, health, eco­nom­ics, fi­nance and more. Therein is the big­gest chal­lenge, and I be­lieve we will meet it.”

Your at­tempt to help the Negev and the Galilee with the “Buyer’s Price” (Mechir LaMish­taken) pro­gram failed. What is your re­sponse?

“We have ex­pressed our op­po­si­tion to the cur­rent for­mat with the Is­rael Land Au­thor­ity. We are in fa­vor of the plan, but only in the Galilee and the Negev. We want the state to act and en­cour­age young peo­ple to move there, and pro­vide the con­di­tions to do so, in or­der to spread the pop­u­la­tion more in­tel­li­gently. It is il­log­i­cal that some­one who wins the ‘Buyer’s Price’ lot­tery in Her­zliya, Ne­tanya or Tel Aviv re­ceives sup­port from the state be­tween NIS 500-800,000 and the same per­son who lives in Ne­tivot or Di­mona [would] re­ceive the sup­port of NIS 80-120,000. If they were to give NIS 400,000 to ev­ery fam­ily who buys a house in Na­hariya, Yero­ham, Di­mona or the Galilee, you would see many young peo­ple run­ning there and many more jobs be­com­ing avail­able. The pro­gram cur­rently en­cour­ages peo­ple to leave the pe­riph­ery and causes tremen­dous strate­gic dam­age to the State of Is­rael.

In the mean­time, you claim that the Is­rael Land Au­thor­ity has been mar­ket­ing your land with­out your per­mis­sion.

“KKL-JNF par­tic­i­pated in the ‘Buyer’s Price’ pro­gram against its will, and we are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of get­ting this money re­turned. We in­vested over NIS 2 bil­lion, and all of it went to the coun­try’s cen­ter. It’s crazy. We told the state that we will not part­ner in any ven­ture for the cen­ter of the coun­try. It’s im­por­tant to strengthen the Galilee and the Negev now.”

Ev­ery­one knows that the Galilee and the Negev should be Is­rael’s eco­nomic growth en­gines in the com­ing years

And that loss was recorded against the back­drop of a NIS 90 mil­lion bud­get cut.

“The 2019 bud­get was cut, and we re­cently ap­proved the 2020 bud­get with a 10% cut as part of our stream­lin­ing and fo­cus on our core is­sues.”

Has the stream­lin­ing been be­cause of the re­cent crit­i­cism of KKL-JNF?

“We ac­cept real crit­i­cism, be­cause it is a teach­ing tool. When I took of­fice in 2016-17, we in­vested in self-mon­i­tor­ing. We brought in the pre­vi­ous head dis­trict judge to be our pri­mary le­gal au­thor­ity and we es­tab­lished a de­part­ment headed by Yo­ram Shapiro, from the State Comptrolle­r’s of­fice. We have re­cruited ten em­ploy­ees to mon­i­tor our sys­tem, and they have al­ready is­sued 20 au­dit re­ports, which are use­ful tools for us.

“We are man­ag­ing thou­sands of projects around the coun­try at the same time. An or­ga­ni­za­tion that en­gages in so many things can make mis­takes and needs ef­fec­tive con­trol mech­a­nisms. We have con­trol mech­a­nisms and we em­brace and strengthen them and work to cor­rect ev­ery crit­i­cism.

“We needed to cor­rect our past short­com­ings and fix them. Thanks to the State Comptrolle­r’s au­dit that was placed on our desk in 2016, we com­piled a book of pro­ce­dures con­tain­ing over 300 pro­ce­dures. Each KKL-JNF op­er­a­tion is de­fined there and all KKL-JNF em­ploy­ees and man­agers have a train­ing se­ries, which teaches them what pro­ce­dures are re­quired, so that ev­ery­one ad­heres to them. On our web­site you will find all the pro­to­cols, de­ci­sions, ac­tion plans and read­ers’ opin­ions. Ev­ery shekel that KKL-JNF spends is de­tailed. The 2020 bud­get is al­ready there. The au­di­tor com­mented on our need for trans­parency and he was right, so we car­ried out a se­ries of pro­ce­dures to es­tab­lish trans­parency. Every­thing is trans­par­ent. Since then, I must note, the crit­i­cism has dropped tremen­dously.”

This ar­ti­cle was writ­ten in co­op­er­a­tion with KKL-JNF.

(Yis­rael Peretz)

DANIEL ATAR, KKL-JNF chair­man.

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