These are words of farewell to a landscape that cannot be replaced, with views of flowers that go as far as the horizon and a mosaic of natural groves and cultivated fields. This month a new section of the Trans-Israel Highway will be inaugurated in the heart of this scenery. It will shorten the distance between the north and the country's center, and it will make many drivers happy. But the tortuous black scar that it cut into the heart of the area known as Ramat Menashe will change the landscape forever.
The country's best architects and planners worked on the planning and execution of the new section of the highway. A great deal of thought and financial resources were invested in integrating it into its surroundings. Bulbs from wild flowers and trees were carefully transferred to safe places and for the first time, an "ecological passage" was set up, by which wild animals will be able to cross the road safely by an overpass. Members of the Greenstein Har-Gil office for landscape architecture and environmental design, who were partners in the project, say that they "planned the land-shaping according to the outlines of the hills so as to create a landscape that appeared as soft and natural as was possible."
Not one of those experts and advisers can compete with the diverse beauty that was created over thousands of years at Ramat Menashe. They will not be able to reassemble the continuum of the landscape that was shattered, nor can any ecological passage replace the complete ecological system that supplied a living space in the midst of this tiny country for deer, wolves and birds of prey, and breathing space and a place to relax for their human neighbors. The architects also admitted frankly that their work was "the best possible answer for minimizing the effect of the highway on the surroundings and the scenery, and for repairing the harm done to them." The various planning bodies and relevant government ministries time and again rejected proposals to transfer this section of Highway 6 to a tunnel. A project of that kind is being implemented in the tunnel road being built through the Carmel mountain, and will be used for the express railway line between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as for a fifth water line to the capital. In the case of the Trans-Israel Highway, the proposal was rejected for various reasons of safety and cost, but to a large extent also because it was not seriously considered at the initial planning stage. The damage to the scenery was not given the weight it should have been given when compared with the financial considerations.
Ramat Menashe is the best conserved and most intact area where the highway has so far been built; it is even more intact and special than the hills near the Ben Shemen forest which the highway has already dissected. What will henceforth go through the area is an important infrastructure project, but it harms the very infrastructure of our lives.
There is something symbolic in the fact that, despite the long struggle that was waged to advance the alternative of a tunnel, the environmental agencies did not manage to hold up the building of the road. On the other hand, it was delayed for more than a year, and its cost was significantly increased, by ultra-Orthodox organizations that demanded - and of course got - an expensive and complicated change in the route of the highway so that burial caves in the area would not be affected.
In Israel, the authorities worry about ancient graves but not about preserving that which provides quality of life to people living now or in the generations to come. The dead will enjoy a road that does not disturb their rest but the living will not be able to wander, as they did in the past, through the hills next to Nahal Taninim and Nahal Dalia. From now on, the area will not have only hills covered by groves and fields of wheat, with the whistling of birds in the background. From now on, there will also be a place for hills of asphalt and the whistling of passing cars.
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