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Israelis have found themselves increasingly surrounded by cement and asphalt in recent years, as a result of extensive construction plans that damage nature and open spaces, according to a new report on the threats open spaces will face in 2010. The report, by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, was released yesterday.

"For every threat discussed, we offer alternative plans," said Itamar Ben-David, the report's author.

In the case of the Carmel Park, for example, the organization recommended moving the route of a new regional highway so that it does not pass through the middle of the park. This would also bring the highway closer to local communities, it noted.

One of the more common threats to open spaces in recent years is what SPNI described as "the social separatism of certain population groups, which leads to the establishment of new communities for these groups in the middle of open spaces."

For example, in the coming year, planning will begin for two ultra-Orthodox cities, at the expense of open areas near Arad and Wadi Ara. In addition, infrastructure work began east of the Lachish region this year for the establishment of two towns for settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip during the disengagement.

The evacuees had insisted on relocating to new communities to enable them to recreate the communal life they enjoyed in their former homes. But SPNI argued that the evacuees could have been settled in new towns in a different locale, where construction had already been approved in the past.

Facilities for producing clean energy also threaten open spaces, the report said, because to produce substantial amounts of energy, hundreds of thousands of dunams of space are necessary.

"We favor clean energy," SPNI's Nir Papi said yesterday, "but the special conditions of Israel, with its limited open spaces, need to be taken into account."

Thus the organization has backed the creation of large solar energy farms in the Negev, but it opposes building a large solar energy facility on the plains east of Dimona.

SPNI's greatest fear, however, is the expected approval of new legislation governing planning and construction. The organization said the proposed changes would intensify the risk to open spaces, because they would weaken national planning institutions and expedite construction approval.

"This report is nothing compared to what we expect to face as a result of the reform," Papi warned.