Text size

The Givat Yael company has launched a public campaign to persuade the Defense Ministry to reroute the separation fence southeast of Jerusalem to enable construction of a new neighborhood beyond the Green Line.

Environmental organizations, residents of the Arab village of Walaja - which abuts the planned neighborhood - and settlers from Gush Etzion have all joined the campaign, saying the fence's present route is destructive both to people and the environment.

The fence could also crush Givat Yael's chances of ever being built, as it cuts the new neighborhood's planned area in two, reducing the land value.

Danny Tirza, a former top Defense Ministry official who planned the separation fence, today suggests moving it so that all of Walaja is on the Israeli side. The company had asked Tirza to propose an alternative fence route.

The present route is harmful to both Palestinians and the developers, he wrote in a document for the Givat Yael company, which Haaretz has obtained.

As currently proposed, the fence would be ineffective for security and detrimental to nature, Tirza wrote about the route he himself planned. The new route would improve security and eliminate local Palestinians' "sense of suffocation." It would also minimize the environmental damage and enable Givat Yael to be built, as well as being shorter and cheaper, he said.

"This route is good for both Jews and Arabs," he asserted on Sunday.

The greens and the settlers are holding a joint demonstration against the fence on Monday. Palestinians have also demonstrated against the fence in recent days, at times clashing violently with security forces.

Businessmen Benny and Danny Cohen, who bought 2,500 dunams in the area 20 years ago, have been trying for years to promote the Givat Yael project, consisting of 13,000 housing units.

But the plan is expected to rouse the American administration's ire, and is thus not likely to be implemented in the next few years.

"I realize that at the moment, the neighborhood is irrelevant," Danny Cohen said. "But I believe it will rise even if we wait another 10 years. There will be no choice but to build it," to accommodate Jerusalem's need for new housing, he said.

The proposed neighborhood would be built in the city's southeast, near the Malha mall and the Biblical Zoo. The plans, which were drawn up six years ago, call for a major residential area that would ultimately house some 45,000 people, as well as commercial areas and a sports club.

Defense officials blasted Tirza's proposed new route on Sunday, saying it violates the principle that the fence must be as close to the Green Line as possible to avoid annexing Palestinian lands and people.

"It is not proper for the man who planned the fence, and defended its route in court, to suddenly become a businessman and attack the route," one defense official said.

The Defense Ministry commented: "The fence was approved by the government and the court. The planned route provides the best security solution and causes the least harm to the Palestinian community and the environment."