Carmit, a New 2,600-Home Development in the Negev, Aims to Leverage IDF Base Moves, Aliyah Growth (INTERVIEW)
by Joshua Levitt
Carmit, a 2,600-home planned community in the Negev, will leverage the relocation of three Israel Defense Force bases and aliyah growth to develop a barren swath of the desert, a co-founder of OR Movement, an organization spearheading the development, told The Algemeiner in an interview.
Ofir Fisher is the “O” of OR Movement along with co-founder Ronnie Flammer, two young Israelis who, in 1999, when the government created a Ministry for the the Negev and Galilee, decided to “dedicate their lives to building the future of Israel,” Fisher said this week, while in the US for fundraising events in New York City and Los Angeles.
Created in 2002, the OR Movement is now raising funds for shared services at Carmit, its seventh community, but its first to be fully planned. It has facilitated six other towns, including Sansana, Givot Bar, and Kibbutz Kramim, near Beer Sheva, with over 50 community and public building projects, through partnerships with the government and leading Israeli and diaspora charities. More than 25,000 families have moved to OR Movement towns, and their success has brought the group tremendous notoriety in Israel.
In 2010, OR Movement won the first ever Prime Minister’s Award for Innovation and Initiatives, followed by the Yigal Alon Award for Exemplary Pioneering Activities and was then named to The Algemeiner’s Jewish 100, a list of the top 100 individuals who positively influenced Jewish life in 2012.
Fisher said the seed idea of OR Movement was to provide young people in Israel an alternative to moving to Tel Aviv, while focusing development and economic growth on locations that were “not in dispute.”
“We wanted to channel the energy of young people to the 70% of today’s Israel made up of the Negev and the Galilee; right now, the Negev makes up 60% of Israel, but with only 8% of our population,” Fisher said. “This land is the future of Israel.”
The communities are not being built in a vacuum, but as part of a broader national plan accelerated by a government decision to relocate three major IDF operations to the area, bringing military investment in the bases, as well as thousands of career soldiers needing residential housing.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon visited the Negev to tour what will become a new IDF training complex, which will cost 21 billion shekels ($5.92 billion) to complete.
The IDF’s Communication Corps compound will be transferred from Herziliyah to the new Negev complex next year. The IDF’s Intelligence compound is set to move to the Negev in 2018, and with it, 30,000 personnel, of which 6,000 are career servicemen. The Computer Science division will also makes its way to the Negev.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu, looking towards the future, said: “The IDF’s move to the Negev represents an unprecedented maneuver in its scope and economic, social and cultural impact. The completion of the maneuver will see the Negev turn into the ‘Israeli Silicon Valley.”
Last month, the government approved an investment of 500 million shekels ($137 million) to allocate over the next five years to Negev communities to develop educational institutions, as well as industrial and high-tech parks that will facilitate job opportunities for spouses of career IDF servicemen and women. Local residents will benefit from a development and construction boom unheard of in Israel’s southern desert.
Fisher said the government investment in Carmit will total about $30 million, through a grant to build all of the basic infrastructure, including roads, sewage and utilities, which will take about 14 months to complete. Before that, development partners Keren Kayemet LeIsrael – JNF contributed $4 million to cover the costs of all the earth moving to level the ground for the development. Seventy years ago, in 1943, KKL-JNF began developing the Negev to keep the arid land connected to the easier to settle land on the coast.
OR Movement is raising money from donations to cover the shared communal services that provide the seeds to grow the town — a $2.5 million synagogue, a $1.2 million day care center, and a $1 million entrance way into the community. The first residents are expected to move in within 24 to 30 months, and the new synagogue, in the center of the town, is already up.
So far, Fisher said, 180 families have paid for their lots and their number is expected to grow to 470 families by the end of next year. After the completion of the first phase of about 500 homes, the community will be expanded to encompass up to 2,600 families.
Each plot of land is between 500 and 700 square meters, about an eighth of an acre, and is sold for between $100,000 and $120,000. On top of that, OR Movement recommends architects and builders to actually construct the homes, most of which will cost another $100,000 to $300,000 to build.
“Rather than build these ourselves, the philosophy of OR Movement is to help facilitate all of the paperwork, all of the planning, all of the permits, all of the infrastructure, to then allow families to come in with their own architects and builders to create their dream homes,” Fisher said.
The location of Carmit is attractive because of its proximity to Israel’s Highway 6, which will have its own exit to the town, about 15 miles north of Beer Sheva and an hour south of Tel Aviv. The development will also have its own train station, which will connect Carmit to Tel Aviv with a 42 minute trip, making commuting very feasible.
The prospect of new residents is boosted by the Army personnel in need of housing. Ben Gurion University of the Negev, whose president is on the OR Movement board, also has about 900 employees who commute to the school each day, and many are expected to move to Carmit to be closer to the University’s Beer Sheva campus.
In addition, spots are being reserved for families making or having made Aliyah, including a large English-speaking contingent.
“This is an opportunity, far away from the peace process and the conflict, where Jews can build on the land, in undisputed territory, reclaim the desert, raise their families and become part of a community created to embrace all who want to take part in what we are building together in the Negev,” Fisher said.
A video about the new Carmit development can be viewed below: