Construction Projects & Billions in Investments: Israel is Making Over Golan Heights
05:35 GMT 14.01.2022 (Updated: 05:43 GMT 14.01.2022)
The Jewish state's government has recently decided to double the amount of residents in the disputed plateau. It also announced that a great deal of money will be injected into infrastructure projects, the expansion of current towns, and the creation of new settlements.
In 1981, when Israel applied its sovereignty over the Golan Heights - captured from Syria in the Six-Day War in 1967 - the idea was that pretty soon the disputed plateau would turn into a buzzing area filled with people.
In reality, however, that hasn't happened and even today, 40 years after the Golan law, the area is largely uninhabited
. Only 53,000 people live there. Some 27,000 of them are Jews, 24,000 are Druze, and the rest are Alawites.
Haim Rokach, the head of the Golan Regional Council, says he understands what has kept the general public from the area.
It is not just the proximity to the Syrian and Lebanese borders that have been problematic in the past decade. It is also the absence of basic infrastructure, proper education, and medical services. It is limited access to the internet, the lack of job opportunities, and very few shopping and entertainment options.
Over the years, successive Israeli governments have tried to encourage people to settle in the Golan. In 2014, for example, they poured millions of dollars into the development of agriculture in the area and assisted in relocating hundreds farmers
, who would cultivate the land of the plateau.
That, however, wasn't enough and when Rokach took charge in 2018, he decided to step up efforts and push the government to invest even more.
"We came up with a plan aimed at doubling the area's population over the next ten years. And those efforts have finally borne fruit".
At the end of December, it was reported that the current government had proposed an initiative that would see a dramatic increase in the amount of Golan residents. It has also agreed to invest millions of dollars in the area's infrastructure, the provision of services, the boosting of the education system, the expansion of current towns and cities and the creation of new ones, in a bid to cater to the needs of the new residents.
Although Rokach says that decision was "well received" by the residents and the leadership of the area, it has also raised multiple concerns.
"One such concern is the potential harm such an expansion could do to the cohesion of the community. Another is the damage that could be dealt to the area's environment. But I can assure you we are making all the necessary arrangements to make sure that these problems are avoided".
While the plan is still in the works, thousands have already started flocking to the area. Partially, due to prices in the region still being affordable compared to the rest of Israel.
And because of the coronavirus pandemic, which showed people they could work from the comfort of their homes, even if that home was located in the periphery away from the centre. And partially, due to the nice vistas, clean air, and open spaces considered a commodity in the centre.
"Before COVID-19 we had some 200 applications a month. Now we are boasting over two thousand and we are struggling to cater to them all", said Rokach.
This trend might continue, especially if the government keeps its word to inject billions into a region
that has largely been neglected. And Rokach believes that this time around there won't be any setbacks.
"We tried to work with the previous government too. But it couldn't promote the plans because of its political problems. With this coalition, I am sure things will go differently. Of course, there are no 100 percent guarantees but I am optimistic that we will get the much-needed support".