A long-running campaign for public access to a beautiful body of water within the boundaries of Kibbutz Nir David in northern Israel took a big step forward on Sunday, when the prosecution informed the district court of Haifa that public access to a stretch of the creek should be granted immediately.
“From the point of view of the state, the general public has the right to access the stream [popularly known as the Hassi]… The access that comes from the state’s property rights to this land, ”one written notice read.
Stressing that public access should be balanced with the right of kibbutz members to continue their way of life, and that the preference would be for access that does not pass near members’ homes, he said: “If access can only be done through the kibbutz [residential areas], then it cannot be avoided.
“Look at the clock, look at the date and mark this day as a huge victory,” said a post Sunday on a Facebook page with 23,600 followers. “Free the Hassi. “
Residents of the northern city of Beit She’an, increasingly supported by social justice activists from across the country, have been fighting for years to gain access to the Turquoise Stream, which is actually a canal.
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Hassi (whose official Hebrew name is Amal stream) is a Hebrew version of the Arabic name for the stream, al-‘Atsi. It starts from a source in Gan Hashlosha, better known by his Arabic name, Sakhne, before flowing into Nir David.
The stream ran through Beit She’an, but was diverted for agricultural and other purposes in the 1980s, and dried up.
After free access to other local water bodies in the area ceased, residents of Beit She’an and other communities began to flock to the kibbutz to enjoy the waters of the stream and relax on the lawns. well maintained that lined its shores.
But in Nir David, some houses almost touch the stream. To the kibbutzniks, it looked like an invasion. They pleaded for their right to preserve their quiet lives after their ancestors suffered from scorching heat, humidity and malaria to drain swamps, channel water into a canal, build houses and develop the area in what today looks like a Garden of Eden.
They insisted that they needed the creek to help fund the kibbutz through tourism and that they were not equipped to turn their village of several hundred souls into a public national park for thousands.
In 2015, activists turned to the Beit She’an Magistrates’ Court to force entry. This prompted a compromise whereby the kibbutz agreed to plan a section of the creek, some distance from the houses, to be set aside for public enjoyment. He submitted the plans, but they went back and forth and are still stuck in the planning system.
With growing frustration, activists launched the “Free Hassi” campaign.
In 2010, feeling that their way of life was compromised, the kibbutz blocked the entrance with an iron gate.
Last summer, groups of protesters gathered outside Nir David’s gate, calling for social justice.
Nir David responded by hiring a private security company and the heated clashes between the two sides turned violent.
Responding Sunday to a petition filed by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which primarily represents Mizrahi voters, and one of its lawmakers, Moshe Arbel – against Nir David, the Emek HaMa’ayanot Regional Council (Valley of Springs ) and the Israel Land Authority – the prosecution recommended a phased approach, starting immediately, with the opening of a gate on the west side of the kibbutz currently used only by members of the kibbutz and a sports center kibbutz. This, the prosecution said, is located a “reasonable” distance from the houses on the kibbutz, does not imply any statutory change and requires a walk of 500 meters (550 yards) at most.
Another possibility would be access from the direction of Gan Garoo, a kangaroo attraction northeast of the kibbutz, according to the opinion.
A third option, which will take more time, would be to extend the initial access plan to the kibbutz from the east and pass it through the planning system.
The final decision, which the court has yet to render, could set an important precedent.
A message posted Monday on “Free the Hassi” said: “Dozens, if not hundreds, of pairs of eyes from across Israel are looking beyond the legal and public debate at the center of this petition … with the understanding that any decision , this or that, can have an impact on how other private and economic organizations and other interest groups allow themselves to own or prevent access to public, natural or other lands.
The post continued, “This is not a theoretical struggle and it is not a petty struggle. It is a struggle that raises serious questions as to who holds the powers that allow or prevent access to public areas of the State of Israel. “
The saga has revealed deep ethnic and socio-economic dividing lines that many Israelis would prefer to think no longer exist between Mizrahi Jews, especially North African Jews, and Ashkenazi Jews, mostly of European descent.