Israelis Moving to Golan Heights As Development Booms

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Even though peace with Syria seems far from reality, some 4,000 Israelis are taking advantage of incentives to become a part of community expansion in the Golan Heights. Ofer Petersburg reports that hundreds of small and medium-size businesses have been set up there and industrial zones have developed.

A peace agreement with Syria seems to be far away, more so than ever before. Meanwhile, the Golan Heights is enjoying an unprecedented development boom and highly generous incentives are offered to potential settlers. Just come and settle here! Where else in Israel can you receive these days a plot of land for free?

In the past five years, 1,600 [Israeli] families comprising some 4,000 settlers have been integrated into the various expansions of the settlements in the Golan Heights. According to Eli Malka, who heads the Golan Regional Council, there are 32 rural settlements in the Golan Heights and in most of them expansion activity is carried on. "This massive integration [of new settlers] has also served as a significant economic engine," Malka notes, adding that "hundreds of small and medium-size businesses have been set up and the industrial zones have also developed with the influx of new companies and plants."

Thus, for instance, the Bnei Yehuda Industrial Park in the southern Golan Heights is undergoing stepped-up development. A preliminary [planning and building] committee of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor approved just a couple of days ago the allocation of areas for six plants that elected to move or extend their activity to the Golan Heights. In the past year, 15 plants from various industrial sectors entered the process of land allocation, among them plastics, food, cosmetics, and irrigation companies, a manufacturer of electric boards, a boutique winery and others.

Gabriel Hamo, who serves as the Golan Regional Council deputy head and as chairman of the Bnei Yehuda Industrial Park, says that the expansion of the industrial park has been promoted thanks to the attractive conditions offered to entrepreneurs, including tax breaks and markedly low development costs, among the lowest in Israel — 53 thousand shekels [about $13,530] per 1,000 square meters [10,763 square feet].

The settlements in the Golan Heights include cooperative settlements, communal settlements and community settlements, some of which are religious while others are secular. In most settlements, plots of land ranging in size from 500 to 1,000 square meters [from 5,382 to 10,763 square feet] are marketed for self construction or on the basis of a [house] model selection. The plot of land itself is given for free. Infrastructure development costs vary from settlement to settlement and range from 120,000 to 190,000 shekels [$30,632 to $48,500] while construction costs depend on the house size and standard of building.

The Golan Heights Small Business Development Center ("Mati") also offers support in the form of architectural and supervisory accompaniment and guidance, as well as economic and legal counseling services.

Public transportation in the Golan Heights has also improved lately. A year ago, the Golan Regional Council assumed responsibility for the issue, and it is currently operating 226 bus rides per day between the settlements, the regional centers and the towns in the vicinity.

Contrary to concerns over employment opportunities in the region, unemployment rate in the Golan Heights stands at a mere 4% and various jobs are offered in the region in industry, agriculture, tourism, education and other sectors.

The Golan Employment Center reports a soaring demand for workers. In 2011, 800 appeals by employers were received at the Employment Center, most of them for jobs in the Golan Heights and the rest for vacancies in the environs. Nine years ago, when the Golan Employment Center was established, it handled mostly requests for industrial production workers. Later on, occupational fields such as software development, electronics and management and administration, as well as free professions like accounting and bookkeeping have been added to the list. The field of services in the region is also undergoing development. The customer service company InfoCall Marketing & Consulting, located at the Gshur communal settlement, has recently expanded and in the Tzemach regional center [on the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee] the Sela pension consulting company has been opened.

According to Yossi Malka, the director of the Golan Employment Center, as new plants have been set up in the region the demand for industrial workers has grown. The Nistec [Golan] electronics plant started operation in the Katzrin industrial zone three years ago and is constantly looking for qualified workers. The veteran plant of Night Light Technologies [which develops sophisticated night vision systems] has also expanded in recent years. In the Bnei Yehuda Industrial Park, the Dror Plast plant for packing products is to start operation this year. The plant is owned by a family that is about to move to the village of Had Ness [situated on the eastern banks of the Jordan River] from the cooperative settlement of Bnei Dror in central Israel. The plant, which is currently employing some 20 workers, is expected to expand once it moves to the Golan Heights.

In addition, about a quarter of the new settlers in the Golan Heights have developed individual entrepreneurship in areas such as tourism, catering and touristic agriculture — wineries, oil presses, cheese factories and beer breweries — as well as art galleries. Yossi Malka further notes: "In part of these sites, visitor centers have been set up, which provide even more jobs to the residents in the region."

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Found in: syria, israel, inhabitants, incentives, golan heights, development
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