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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Amidar Houses and other State-Built Structures in Rosh Ha'ayin

The modern city of Rosh Ha'ayin was built on a former British military base, Ras el Ain, which was established in 1937. The influx of immigrants streaming into Israel after 1948 pushed the new State to its limits, and quick solutions were needed to house the new arrivals. The base already had paved roads, electricity, and a number of existing buildings on site. When Operation Magic Carpet overwhelmed the housing supply, the State quickly decided to establish a new refugee camp in Rosh Ha'ayin, and in about a week prepared the grounds for the influx of Yemenis.

At first the camp was divided into four camps of tents (in what is today the Rambam Neighborhood) and was intended to be temporary. However, the residents demanded that they be allowed to stay, and in the early 1950s it was decided that Rosh Ha'ayin would become a ma'abara and a permanent settlement. This meant that permanent houses needed to be built.

In 1949 Israel set up an organization, Amidar, to build housing cheaply and quickly. In Rosh Ha'ayin, like in many other locales, Amidar went to work, and by 1953 there were 1,208 government-built houses in Rosh Ha'ayin. First four, and then an additional two, neighborhoods were started, known at the time as Neighbhorhoods aleph (543 dunam), bet, (650 dunam) gimmel (725 dunam), daled (805 dunam), hei and vav (combined 550 dunam). (Today these neighborhoods have been renamed: Aleph= Tzahal; Bet= Aviv; Gimmel=Shabazi; Daled=Rambam; Hei is part of Aviv as well; and Vav=Harekafot) Daled/Rambam was the location of the tents, which explains why it was the last of the original four neighborhoods to be built - the tents first had to be evacuated. Aleph and Gimmel were started in 1951, while Bet and Daled began in 1952.

Although tens of thousands passed through Rosh Ha'ayin, a far smaller number settled there permanently. In 1956, approximately 5,600 lived there. The first wave of permanent houses were cheap and spartan, with only a two rooms, built with two houses sharing a wall. They did have indoor plumbing, however. Most sources state that these houses were 24 sq.m, but it seems more likely that they were actually 27.5 sq.m, as shown in the plan from David Zuslavski's Shikun Olim B'Israel. Several types of support buildings were also constructed, and the book shows pictures of a state-built synagogue (98 sqm), clinic(275 sq.m), tipat halav (86 sq.m), kindergarten (64 sq.m) and day care center (149 sq. m) in Rosh Ha'ayin. A chart shows that by 1953, Rosh Ha'ayin also had 3 state-built stores of 65 sq.m and a convenience store of 158 sq.m.

Rosh Ha'ayin is an excellent example of Amidar's work in building up settlements and providing first-stage houses for immigrants. Many examples still exist, some in their original state and others with many additions; some in good condition, and others in ruins. These buildings certainly have significance in the story of Rosh Ha'ayin, but they also have significance in the story of Israel.

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