Israelis fleeing from north and south, heading for West Bank hills

Study shows steady decline in Negev and Galilee, population hike in settlements; MK in charge of strengthening the ‘periphery’ blasts government

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

The northern city of Safed (photo credit: Alana Perino/Flash90)
The northern city of Safed (photo credit: Alana Perino/Flash90)

A Knesset study reveals that over the past 10 years, Israel’s Jewish population has been trickling out of the northern and southern regions of the country and into the center and West Bank.

According to the Knesset Research Department, in the years 2001-2010, 30,200 residents of the country’s north left the area, and 25,300 left the south, while 38,880 went to live in the West Bank. It is not clear how much of the West Bank’s population rise came from people leaving the north and south.

The study, based on Housing and Construction Ministry figures and submitted this week to the Knesset Finance Committee, also found a population decline in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as Israelis increasingly move into neighboring suburbs.

The figures are a blow to the country’s longstanding policy of trying to promote growth in peripheral areas, though some officials charge that the goal has been abandoned, as evidenced by a state funding priorities map released this week which added several West Bank settlements.

The figures in the report reflect primarily the movement of the Jewish population, according to Knesset researchers. The Arab population in the north and south is remaining in those areas, according to the Maariv daily, which first reported on the study Wednesday.

“The center of the country is pulling the young people away from the periphery,” noted Shlomo Buhbut, mayor of the northern town of Maalot Tarshiha. “Most of the high-tech industry is centered on Herzliya, Raanana, Kfar Saba, in the country’s center.”

“The Israeli government has given up on the Galilee and the Negev,” he charged on Wednesday. “The benefits have dried up.”

“I am personally an example of a person who had to leave the Galilee, my hometown Safed, for Jerusalem because of the desperate lack of employment in the north and south for many years,” said MK Hilik Bar (Labor), the chair of the Knesset Caucus for Strengthening the Periphery.

Bar blamed successive Israeli governments for favoring settlements over poorer periphery communities.

“The right-wing governments that have ruled Israel for the past 20 years have taken funds that could have developed the Galilee and Negev and created work and housing, and invested them in places [in the West Bank and Gaza] that only heighten the conflict and threaten the two-state solution,” Bar said.

It was a policy, he said, “that contradicts the Zionist dream and a Jewish state of Israel.”

Funding for isolated settlements created a fracas in the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, as ministers sparred over adding several isolated settlements into the government’s National Priority Areas map.

The new map, which was approved by the cabinet on Sunday, counts 600 towns and regions as priority areas, including 90 over the Green Line. Several outlying West Bank settlements were included, some of them for the first time, due to the dangerous security situation outside the West Bank’s major settlement blocs.

The map contains some 20 communities not on the previous map from 2009, including nine new settlements. Among these are Rehelim and Bruchin, which until recently were illegal outposts. Other new settlements are Eshkolot and Sansana in the southern Hebron hills, Alon Moreh near Nablus, Maaleh Michmash near Jerusalem and Nofim in central Samaria.

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At Sunday’s meeting, Environment Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) lamented the fact that a number of poorer towns closer to the economic center of the country were left off the list while the settlements were added.

“It’s inconceivable that Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi are not included in the map because they are close to Israel’s center — despite the fact that their socioeconomic situation is dire — but settlements outside the major blocs that were until recently illegal are included because they face security threats.”

No ministers voted against the new map, but four members of the 22-member cabinet abstained: Livni and Peretz, both of the left-leaning Hatnua party, and Yesh Atid’s two dovish cabinet members, Science Minister Yaakov Peri and Health Minister Yael German, a former Meretz mayor of Herzliya.

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