Last summer, the central Israeli town of Be’er Yaakov, situated between Ramla to its southeast and Rishon Lezion to its northwest, was finally granted city status.
That August 2021 decision marked the culmination of a 15-year process, which saw the city’s population triple to nearly 30,000 residents. It also signaled the next stage of development: Beer Yaakov is expected to witness another tripling of the population to approximately 85,000-90,000 residents in the next decade.
By today’s standards that would place it just inside Israel’s top 20 cities by population. But numbers alone do not paint the entire picture.
Be’er Yaakov was established in 1907 by people who originally arrived from the Caucasus region. According to Mayor Nissim Gozlan, who has been in the post since November 2003, the founders were instrumental in fighting for the establishment of the State of Israel in 1947-48.
“There were a number of fedayeen [Arab guerrillas] in this area and there were many battles here between them and the pioneers, new immigrants who helped establish settlements in the pre-state era,” Gozlan told The Times of Israel in a recent interview at his municipal office.
“Be’er Yaakov eventually became a local council after several decades. When I was elected, there were only 7,000 residents in the town. After I understood the untapped potential that was here, we started to establish new neighborhoods. We built two of them initially, both of which contained 1,600 residential units. We also built in Talmei Menashe [a moshav inside the city]. Crucially, after long conversations with Rishon Lezion, we acquired another 3,200 dunams (320 hectares, 790 acres) following the sale of Tzrifin, the large nearby military base.”
Tzrifin was established during the British Mandate period when it was known as Sarafand al-Amar.
“The ‘battle’ for Tzrifin,” said the mayor, waged by the competing interests of Be’er Yaakov, the Israel Land Authority, and the ministries of Defense and Finance for the land, “began in 2004 and was only concluded in 2017. Since then, we were able to initiate… [an] agreement with the state… to rapidly increase the supply of residential apartments.”
Be’er Yaakov’s skyline provides ample evidence of the building that is currently taking place. Tall cranes and a mixture of completed buildings and those with exposed steel struts and bare concrete dot the view. The city has plans to build 15,000 residential units along with more than 2 million square meters of office space for tech workers and industry.
“We are trying to build an economically sound infrastructure,” Gozlan said.
“The city is young and vibrant,” he exclaimed. “We now have nearly 30,000 residents and the hope is that in the next four years, we will more than double that to 70,000. We are creating institutions and attractions, such as a country club, another community center, a cultural center, and a large new municipality building. We have a lot of plans to carry out. We will also build a 1,000-seat sports arena… the sky’s the limit.”
Education is also central to plans for Be’er Yaakov’s advancement. The city’s development is geared toward younger professional people with kids. There are currently 10 elementary schools, and at least another six are in the works.
The Hannah Szenes High School — named in memory of the Hungarian-Jewish Special Operations Executive member who was parachuted behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia during World War II, and subsequently captured and executed in November 1944 — will serve the area as an additional school.
“We will build in several different neighborhoods,” Gozlan said. “It is likely that there will be some 60-70 daycare centers built in the city too.”
One of the most anticipated developments is a plan to build a metro system in the city, with work slated to commence in 2028. It is expected to serve the local area and terminate at Ben-Gurion International Airport, approximately 25 kilometers away. Currently, the existing train journey from Be’er Yaakov to the airport takes approximately one hour; the new line is set to cut that time by as much as half.
In addition, there will be an extension of the brown line, a bus route that will serve Rishon Lezion, Be;er Yaakov and Ramla, due to start in 2024. The line is designed to be a complementary network of bus lines for the mass transit system in Tel Aviv.
Gozlan said he is aware of the need to advance these improvements in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
“We are in the process of electrifying the railway in an attempt to improve air quality through a reduction in the use of diesel and coal… as well as the noise. Not only will we help protect the planet, but the trains will also be significantly faster,” he said.
Innovation is also playing its part in the new neighborhoods that will soon be springing up. There will be a smart parking app that will utilize satellites to determine where there are available parking spaces, he said.
Additionally, the city will become capable of handling hundreds, and potentially thousands, of delivery drones laden with food, medicines and other products up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds), a program the National Drone Initiative hopes to make a reality in the coming decade or so.
One of Be’er Yaakov’s major employers is the Israel Aerospace Industries’ MLM Division, which assembles the Jericho and Arrow missiles, as well as the Shavit space launcher.
There is also a desire to make the city attractive to the tech sector to encourage further investment in the area.
“We are creating a young and vibrant city that is grounded in a warm, supportive community. In my opinion, the connection between residents here is special – and you don’t find it in any other place in Israel. Even though the city is growing, we are determined to maintain that sense of belonging and community with our residents,” said the mayor.
“Also, if you can afford to purchase a property now, the prices here are really only going to increase,” Gozlan offered.
Developments in the city have, meanwhile, helped drive up prices in Talmei Menashe, one of the older, self-contained neighborhoods inside the city, to notch up the country’s third-highest residential price rise — approximately 16 percent year-on-year countrywide, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
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