New Town, Mitzpeh Ilan, Named for Ilan Ramon


ilan-ramonThe Israeli Supreme Court has removed what is apparently the last obstacle on the rocky road towards the establishment of a new Jewish town just south of the Galilee. The community is named Mitzpeh Ilan in memory of fallen Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. The Court ruled yesterday against the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel (SPNI), which had asked that criminal proceedings be initiated against the families living there. The SPNI claimed that the families had built in and populated the area before official approval was given.The judges accepted the families’ contention that the new town had received unofficial approval and aid from many government bodies, and that final approval had long been on the way.

Mitzpeh Ilan is located between Charish and Katzir, in the Nachal I’ron area of pre-1967 Israel, adjacent to the northern Shomron. It began, as nearly 80 other towns in Israel have begun, as a Nachal army outpost. Though the initial core group is religious, the families hope that Mitzpeh Ilan will be a mixed community of close to 350 families.

Nachal is an IDF unit engaged mostly in settling new areas in the Land of Israel and preparing them to become civilian towns. New towns have been established in this manner in the Negev, Galilee, and Aravah, and after 1967, also in Judea, Samaria, Gaza, the Golan and the Sinai.

The decision to turn the I’ron Valley outpost into a regular town was made by the Defense Ministry in 2005, and nearly 40 families, with 100 children, began to move in shortly afterwards.

The judges raised their eyebrows at the “great interest” shown by the SPNI in prosecuting the pioneers, and advised the SPNI to concentrate on its original objective of preserving nature.

The SPNI also began to move in around that time, albeit in another sense. The environmental organization sued to have the families removed. They dropped this bid in September 2008, after the government formally resolved to establish a town there, but they did not cease their legal efforts against the pioneers. The latest ruling, against the SPNI’s bid to raise criminal charges against the settlers, effectively closes the door on its attempts to prevent the town from arising.

The core group of pioneering families was organized by the Ohr National Missions organization, which was founded several years ago by a group of young idealists from central Israel cities. The organization’s objective is to promote Jewish settlement and development in the periphery of the Land of Israel, particularly in the Negev and the Galilee.

During the Supreme Court sessions, some judges raised their eyebrows at the “great interest” shown by the SPNI in prosecuting the pioneers. The judges advised the SPNI to concentrate on its original objectives, namely, the preservation of nature and environment.

SPNI has also been leading the legal struggle against the plans to build new towns for the expelled residents of Gush Katif in the relatively unpopulated area between Kiryat Gat and southern Judea.

Ilan Ramon, for whom the new town is named, was killed in February 2003, together with six other astronauts, when their Columbia spacecraft exploded during its re-entry orbit after a 16-day trip. He and the other astronauts had been asked to make a list of personal items they would like to take into space. Ramon, who was not a religious Jew, chose the following, as was reported at the time:

“Because his mother was a Holocaust survivor, he took along a drawing of Earth as it might look from the moon, drawn by a boy who died in Auschwitz shortly before the end of the war. As a representative of the State of Israel, he took along a Presidential pennant, as well as flags of the Israel Air Force, the two cities in which he lived – Be’er Sheva and Ramat Gan – and the high school in which he studied. He hung a mezuzah on one of the doors in the spacecraft; he took a silver ‘hand’ used for reading from the Torah; the world saw him proudly wave his Kiddush cup used on the Shabbos; and in his bag was a tehillim.”

{Arutz-7/Yair Israel}