Text size

Here's an especially tempting proposition for hikers: Come hiking on a route from which you can see how money flows in the mountains and winds like a gushing river between the hills. In brief, come visit the planned route of Road 358.

This road is planned to run close to the Green Line in the southern Judean Hills, between Beit Guvrin in the north and Kibbutz Lahav and Moshav Shomriya in the south. An additional part of it was approved two weeks ago by the national planning commissions.

The state is willing to pour more than NIS 100 million into this road, and feels an intense need to do so as quickly as possible - so much so that a specific team in the Prime Minister's Office, intended to facilitate construction planning procedures, has been systematically advancing it.

Why is all that money to be poured into the beautiful hills of Judea? Planning and transport experts who examined the road's plan could not find an answer. After all, this is a road linking together a few small communities - consisting of a few dozen families - which are all already connected to other roads.

The answer should be sought in the depth of the grand strategic concept, that wherever there is no contiguity of settlements on the hills, and there are Arabs around, we must immediately build a road surrounded by new settlements. This would prevent Palestinians from "spilling over" into Israeli territories, or Bedouin from taking control of the land. Add to this the government's temporary order that any infrastructure investment is an extraordinary contribution to the economy, and a means to link the periphery to the center, and you get a formula justifying the construction of a road.

But why fear a Palestinian spillover in an area where both the separation fence and a security road are to be built? Why must a new road be built rather than use the existing earth road, which could be improved to accommodate vehicles comfortably?

Here the IDF, which is loath to give up the training areas through which the unpaved road passes, enters the picture, as well as explanations that the new road plan takes into consideration the view and environment, and that several alternatives had been examined. Some of the green bodies accepted these explanations, and did not object or raise difficulties to the road's approval. Only a few planning experts protested.

What the road planners failed to examine was the alternative of not building it, an option that should be examined in every planning procedure. This alternative would have kept the open, continuous landscape - so rare in the center of Israel - intact. Refraining from building the road would have preserved the terrain through which the road is supposed to traverse, a region recently described as "the Judean Hills' biospheric space." And if somebody had still insisted on building a road through that terrain, the authorities could have improved the earth road, or even paved it with asphalt.

The biospheric space sprawling along the south of the Judean Hills was a recent plan by ministries and green organizations to preserve areas with unique ecology and scenery as much as possible. These bodies also planned to concentrate construction in the region to areas with existing communities and infrastructures. Road 358 will pass along the margins of this space, segmenting parts defined as the "preserved core." This term means preserved territory that must not be disturbed.

But the PMO and other Israeli state infrastructure bodies understand only terms like security space and beefing up Jewish presence by building new settlements. Only petty critics would try to calculate what contributions to welfare and education in existing peripheral communities could be made with the NIS 100 million that are going to flow through the Judean Hills.

It would be interesting to see the reaction of the UN representatives who developed the idea of the biospheric reserves and spaces and gave them international recognition, thus turning them into world tourist attractions. They have probably never encountered such a space, where a separation fence, a security road, military training grounds and a new road all contribute to preserve the biosphere.