The Interior Ministry approved Tuesday the establishment of Ahuzat Naftali in the northern Karnei Hittim region in the lower Galilee, paving the way for the first new Druze town in Israel’s history.
The approval by the ministry’s National Planning and Building Council comes three years after the cabinet gave its okay to the new town in 2012. The original proposal was first raised by then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman following a long campaign by Druze leaders to end a housing crisis within the community.
When completed, the new town is expected to house over 10,000 people at full capacity, according to the initial building plans.
An Arabic-speaking community with their own distinct monotheistic religion, officials say there are over 110,000 Druze living in the northern Galilee, and another 20,000 on the Golan Heights.
The topographical features of most Druze towns, with private homes and lack of planned zoning, make expansion almost impossible and have created a dearth in housing as the population has grown over the years. Druze leaders say the lack in housing has had drastic effects on the community, with many men choosing not to marry due to a religious tradition that links marriage to the purchase of a home.
Deputy Minister for Regional Cooperation Ayoub Kara, who is Druze himself, helped draft the original proposal and took part in the meeting Tuesday. He called the move “a historic decision” but stressed that the government must continue efforts to solve the housing crisis within the Druze community.
“This decision will help ease the discontent felt among many young Druze. Israel must continue to do all it can to embrace the Druze community,” he said.
Kara added that additional plans were underway for a second new town, to be located in the Carmel region near Haifa.
Two weeks ago the cabinet approved the establishment of a socioeconomic development agency for Israel’s Druze minority.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the new agency’s establishment “corrects a great injustice done to the Druze,” referring to longstanding government neglect of the community.