Jerusalem, 16 January, 2022 (TPS) — The government of Israel has approved a new NIS 500 million ($160 million) development plan for the city of Beit Shemesh, which is located southwest of Jerusalem. The Cabinet voted in favor of the project at its weekly meeting on Sunday.
The plan was presented by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Gideon Saar, and was formulated in cooperation with the ministers of Interior; Construction and Housing; Transportation; Economy and Industry; Education; Welfare and Social Affairs; Health; Development of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee; Culture and Sports; Public Security; Environmental Protection; Religious Services; Aliyah and Integration; Tourism and Innovation, Science and Technology.
Beit Shemesh (“house of the sun”) was originally founded as a development town soon after Israel’s independence. Such towns were established in part to promote settlement in the areas of Israel that had not yet been developed and to provide new housing for the influx of Sephardic Jewish immigrants who had been forcibly expelled from Arab nations after Israel’s establishment.
It was also established in an important location for Israel’s defense. On the pre-1967 map, Beit Shemesh sat in the narrow corridor where the road from the center of Israel connected the rest of the nation to Jerusalem. It was also due west of Bethlehem and only about 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the curve of the old border to the west of the Judean Hills. The area was in constant threat of cross border incursions by terrorists based in Jordan. Increasing development in such areas was seen as a way to increase security in them with larger populations.
In recent years, the city has expanded significantly in population with numerous new housing developments. The population of Beit Shemesh has almost doubled since 2008. Its location near Jerusalem, not too far away from the greater Tel Aviv area, and having a train station connecting the city to the center of the country, has made it an attractive location for commuters looking for less expensive housing. Beit Shemesh is also home to many new commercial centers and even hosts an Ikea store.
The need of residents in the area to commute to workplaces elsewhere is taken into account in the new development plan. NIS 300 Million ($96 million, or 60% of the total amount budgeted) has been allocated to improving public transportation lines in the area.
50 million NIS has been allotted to improve municipal services for residents.
Another NIS 34 million will be available for vocational training for people there. NIS 31 million ($10 million) will go to strengthening welfare services in the city. 10 million NIS will be spent on personal security and promoting healthy lifestyles for residents of Beit Shemesh and another NIS 10 million will go to culture and leisure activities.
Naftali Bennett commented, “The city of Beit Shemesh is a wonderful place with excellent people who are facing many challenges. Together with the local leadership led by Mayor Dr. Aliza Bloch, we are promoting a program on an unprecedented scale that will improve quality of life in the city.”
Bennett also complimented the city’s mayor saying that she has been working extensively for a better future for Beit Shemesh residents.
Mayor Bloch is grateful to the government for the new development plan, calling this an unprecedented act. “For years they talked,” she said. “The Bennett government is taking action and effecting change. The story of Beit Shemesh is the story of the State of Israel. Beit Shemesh is currently undergoing an accelerated process of economic development, the goal of which is to reinvigorate the city.”