Nature org urges opposition to ‘draconian’ proposals for rebuilding Gaza border area

Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel holds emergency meeting to warn that new committees proposed in draft law memorandum will empower government, at expense of residents

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

File - Residential homes, severely damaged during Hamas's October 7 onslaught on southern Israel, line a street in the Olives Neighborhood of Kibbutz Be'eri on January 1, 2024. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)
File - Residential homes, severely damaged during Hamas's October 7 onslaught on southern Israel, line a street in the Olives Neighborhood of Kibbutz Be'eri on January 1, 2024. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel on Tuesday urged citizens to register objections to a draft law (in Hebrew) on the rehabilitation of the Gaza border area, saying a proposal for a new, government-dominated planning committee and subcommittee for the area was “draconian” and gave hardly any voice to the public.

According to a legal memorandum published on April 9, the state will establish a regional planning committee. The physical boundaries within which that committee will work will be defined by the Interior Ministry within 45 days of the passing of the law.

The chairperson will be picked by the interior minister, together with the head of the Tekuma Authority, which was established after October 7 with a five-year mandate to rehabilitate the Gaza border area, which has been renamed Tekuma.

On that day, Hamas terrorists breached the border and went on a killing spree, murdering 1,200 people in barbarous circumstances and kidnapping 253.

The Tekuma Administration in the Prime Minister’s Office has been tasked with integrating and coordinating between the many dozens of bodies involved in the area’s regeneration, overseeing budgets and activities in the field. The proposed new planning committee will deal solely with planning.

Its members will be the head of the Tekuma Authority, six representatives of the government, five members of local authorities (to be chosen from a list of recommended names by the Interior Ministry), and one representative of the public with an interest in the environment.

Allotted all the powers of a district planning committee, the new regional committee will be authorized to pass local outline plans and detailed plans, even if they conflict with national outline plans. If they do clash, the committee will need the permission of the government and the national planning committee.

A planning subcommittee will be formed to deal solely with the Tekuma area.

With the same powers as the main committee, the subcommittee is to have five members — three from the bigger committee, and another two to be chosen by the committee, of which at least one must represent a local authority.

Moshe Edri, the head of the Tekuma Authority, wearing a white shirt, attends a signing ceremony at the authority’s offices in the Sorek Region on December 24, 2023. (Courtesy of Tekuma Authority)

At an emergency meeting on Zoom, attended by 120 people, most of them residents of the Western Negev, the SPNI’s Assaf Zanzuri, who is responsible for planning, said, “We don’t understand the legislation. We think that there are enough tools to start work tomorrow and that there’s no need for another committee, which will take a long time to get going. We will waste at least six months.”

Zanzuri said that he had been a member of the regular, national planning committee throughout the six months of the ongoing war against Hamas, and that numerous decisions relating to the Tekuma region had been made quickly.

Existing fast-track planning committees such as the Committee for National Infrastructure (Vatal in Hebrew) and the National Committee for the Planning and Building of Priority Housing Complexes (Vatmal) could also be part of the planning arsenal.

By contrast with the new proposed committees, the national planning committee had a balance of members, Zanzuri went on. There were 16 government representatives, 10 from academia, the professions, and civil society, seven from local and regional authorities, and three mayors.

Gitit Weissblum, responsible at the SPNI for partnerships and coordination with government, said the organization had been “shocked” by the memorandum, with its “draconian” proposals for planning.

She said the SPNI had tried to talk to both the government and the Tekuma Authority but to no avail.

“So far, there’s been no attempt by the Tekuma Authority to involve the public in this legislation, which is why we decided to hold this meeting,” she went on. “If the public won’t be able to influence planning, the government will decide for us.”

Damage to a building in Sderot from a direct rocket strike, October 17, 2023. (Sderot Municipality)

Adit Orlev, who is returning home to the Western Negev, said she was “a very worried resident.”

She thought the southern district committee, on which she had served, could plan the Tekuma area if it was given more personnel.

Local authorities were not able to reflect the varying needs of all the Gaza border communities, she went on.

She feared that government control could see a push for infrastructure that was important to the state, rather than the residents, such as power stations and big solar fields to serve the center of the country.

“My feeling over the past six months is that the government doesn’t always see the people,” she said.

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