Negev Residents Do Not Interest the Government
10 TV – Opinion Article – Translated from the Hebrew Article Published 11/20/2018
By Bella Alexandrov
Urban renewal in the Negev will save lives
“Ben-Gurion’s Day” took place a few days ago, in the shadow of the heavy rocket attacks that reminded us all – for the umpteenth time – that the Negev is not Tel Aviv. It was not easy for me. Beyond the unfortunate expression of a politician about how much less valuable the lives of the Negev residents are than those in the center, this year on Ben-Gurion’s Day, the members of the government achieved a new level of disconnect. They came by helicopters straight to Ben-Gurion’s Grave, delivered political speeches, then disappeared back to Jerusalem. No connection to the residents. No attempt to connect to the day that symbolizes the death of the leader who placed the Negev at the top of his priorities. No vision. Only politics.
This year, to celebrate the day, heads of social organizations in the Negev, mayors and local forces, came together to create a different discourse – one that does not ignore the people who live here, but instead, addresses the issues that affect us, the residents. The conference was attended by hundreds of residents: young and old, Jews and Bedouins, religious and secular. Residents came to hear new perspectives and discuss the narrowing of gaps, the strengthening of our cities, and what we need to do so that our voice will resonate in Jerusalem. At the moment, it seems that the residents of the Negev are the last thing that interests those in high places.
This injustice can be seen in the sphere of urban renewal. Urban renewal was defined as a national goal by the Israeli government, but it does not function in the periphery – neither in the older neighborhoods of the Negev nor in development towns. Why? The government does not promote budgets and economic incentives for this purpose, and the private market is not strong enough to promote such projects alone. This creates both social and security injustice.
As a result, the old neighborhoods in the Negev cannot grow and flourish, and remain stuck somewhere behind. Affordable housing plans are not implemented for lack of funds.
Ironically, last week, we saw how not investing in urban renewal can cost lives. A building in Ashkelon collapsed from a rocket. If the beams had been reinforced and the building had undergone a process of urban renewal, the building would not have suffered such a strong hit. The harsh result is a dead person buried under the rubble, with another seriously wounded. If the government of Israel would make a responsible decision in favor of the residents of the Negev and the South and act to implement the urban renewal fund immediately, we would not pay in human life.
Despite the security situation, the community and civic involvement in Negev cities has grown exponentially in recent years. New urban communities form and create educational and cultural opportunities in cooperation with the authorities. Entrepreneurs establish social businesses and develop the economy of the region. Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, processed by the Negev Council, show a halt to the negative migration from the cities of the Negev in recent years.
All this, thanks to the work of social organizations and local authorities working in the area, who are succeeding in creating a connection between the existing human capital. But developing the Negev’s social fabric alone is not enough. If the government fails to invest in the national plan for urban renewal, fortifying existing buildings, rehabilitating older neighborhoods, creating new housing units, and new housing at reduced cost, it will be too late. We do not have to wait for the old woman to break her leg in the dark stairwell, or the next earthquake or the rocket attack, to understand that the writing is already on the wall.
* The author is the CEO of Eretz-Ir, a Negev based organization that improves urban community life in cities across the geographical and social peripheries of Israel.