Enter this small refreshing city from just about any direction and you will see it everywhere: construction, as one of the most desirable residential communities in Israel bursts at the seams.
Fuelled by two high-tech industrial parks that host the likes of Intel, Lumenis and Mellanox Technologies, as well as by low-tech food-processing giants, the city of some 22,000 inhabitants is on its way to 40,000, says the popular long-term mayor, Simon Alfasi. And no one is complaining.
The colourful homes – single-family villas, duplexes and low-rise condos – fan out across the hillsides on the back side of Mount Carmel. No one is more than a short walk or bike-ride from the verdant Galilee countryside.
For its lucky residents, Yokneam represents the achievement of the Israeli dream.
But as the country prepares to vote in the Jan. 22 national election, the people here, and the hundreds of thousands of others who aspire to homes in communities such as this, are concerned that current economic and other government policies may shatter their dream.
Meir Haziza and his 18-year-old daughter, Shira, came this Friday morning to see how the construction of their new family home is coming along.
Half a dozen Arab Israelis from the northern city of Sakhnin are busy mounting the golden-hued limestone facade on the Hazizas’ four-bedroom duplex that overlooks the city.
From their home they will be able to see the new shopping mall, the homes on the far side of the valley and, on top of the highest hill, a Carmelite church dedicated to the Prophet Elijah who is said to have lived there in a cave.
More important, says Ms. Haziza, who is in her last year of high school, “I can finally have my own room.” The family of five has been living for 21 years in a smaller apartment in the centre of town.
People here have high expectations of themselves and high hopes for their children. Mr. Haziza, 51, is the son of Moroccan immigrants who came to Israel in the 1950s. He works for a company that produces industrial marble for countertops.
Although concerned about the economy, he thinks Israel has fared better than most countries in the worldwide economic crisis, and credits Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with this. Although the next government is expected to unveil a record-sized budget deficit, Israel is not like Spain, Greece or Ireland, says Mr. Haziza. “We can pay our bills.”
His greater concern is for the security of the country.
“I know the Arabs, they are just like us,” he says. “We can make a deal with any of them, but we have to bargain from a position of strength and we have to keep strong even after we reach peace agreements.”
His daughter is more concerned about the economy.
“High tech is the future,” she says. “But I can see the [financial] struggle I’ll face and know I’m going to need a lot of help from my parents.”
A few blocks away, Effi and Karnit Innes spend their regular Friday family brunch talking about money. Both are in high-tech industries, but Ms. Innis recently lost her job at a software start-up company that laid off 30 per cent of its work force.
To make matters worse, Mr. Innes, 40, had recently left his long-time marketing position at Xerox to join an advertising firm. It has not yet paid off and he is now considering his options.
A year or so ago, when both were at their earning peaks, they brought home the equivalent of about $80,000 a year, but it was still a struggle for them and their three young children.
Sitting in their lovely three-bedroom apartment with a view over the valley outside Yokneam, however, the couple seems relaxed.
“I’d move to Canada,” says Mr. Innes, an 11th-generation Israeli, “but my wife doesn’t want to leave her mother.”
Even if the family moved, Mr. Innes, insists, he’d want his children to retain Israeli citizenship and perform their army service.
Compulsory service is something most people here do with pride, and is another reason why the Inneses are fed up with current policies. They, like so many others, resent the benefits doled out to the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, even though most Haredim don’t serve in the army and most of the men don’t work.
“Their money is coming out of our pocket,” Ms. Innes says.
Which is why they are considering voting for Yair Lapid, an outspoken critic of the free ride given the Haredim.
They know that Mr. Netanyahu is almost certain to continue as prime minister, but they want him to get the message.
At the far edge of town, Zvi Schenberg, 65, can’t wait to show off the home he bought eight years ago with his wife, Zehava.
“I put a lot into this house,” he says, pointing out the backyard patio and impressive garden.
Pensioners, the Schenbergs bought the three-bedroom villa with the proceeds from the sale of their old house in Haifa.
“It’s a wonderful community,” says Mr. Schenberg, who toiled for an Israeli refrigerator plant for 27 years. “I watch over it when our neighbours are at work.”
The Schenbergs, too, resent the millions that go to the Haredi communities, as well as the expense of supporting the settlements and occupation of the West Bank.
A lifetime Labour Party man, Mr. Schenberg says: “I don’t care about Iran. I want my children to be able to afford a decent home. That’s more important.”