According to an ancient Kashmir proverb adopted by environmental organizations across the globe, man did not inherit the land from his ancestors; he is borrowing it from his descendants. This apposite description of the responsibility resting on man's shoulders - to preserve the environment whole and clean for future generations - is especially fitting in small, development-hungry countries like Israel.
Indeed, when our children, in however many decades time, look at what we have left them, they will find it very hard to spot the open landscape that is supposed to be part of the national heritage. They will surely ask themselves if it was necessary to butcher and destroy the last remnants of open and uninterrupted land in the very heart of the country.
When they get to the area of Ramat Menasheh, they will see the asphalt and concrete snake known as section 18 of the Trans-Israel Highway that, in recent weeks, has been the subject of much debate and has moved even closer to receiving final approval.
Our children will not be able to enjoy the softness of the hills, the green space and the pastures that still exist at Ramat Menasheh. From every corner, the highway will be a deep and ineradicable scar. They will be well aware that other roads have scarred the landscape, but they will also realize that construction of section 18 should have been discussed in depth before any work was done, since so little open space remained in the center of the country.
Section 18 will dissect Ramat Menasheh from south to north, in an area where the open space had survived almost intact.
Environmental organizations decided that they would offer an alternative to this section, and propsed that a large proportion of the highway run in an underground tunnel. They even sought out the professional opinion of an expert in the field. While it is true that the groups' proposal was submitted late, the huge importance of preserving Ramat Menasheh demands a serious inspection of the tunnel alternative. Despite this, the steering team appointed by the National Council for Planning and Construction made do with the arguments put forward by the state-owned corporation responsible for building the highway that said the cost of the tunnel would be prohibitive. There was no in-depth study to determine the economic benefits of preserving the open spaces, or to examine thoroughly the alternative proposal. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Knesset's Commission for Future Generations tried to present economic assessments of the value of preserving the area, but to no avail.
The discussion of the steering team focused not on saving Ramat Menasheh as a complete ecological unit, but on constructing a bridge in such as way so as to minimize the impact on the view, or on a short tunnel that would save one solitary hill. The Ministry for the Environment, which continuously argues that section 18 will cause severe ecological damage, did nothing to promote the idea of two tunnels, several hundred meters in length, that would, to some degree, ameliorate the damage. Needless to say, the idea of making section 18 conditional on the construction of tunnels - however expensive or complicated that might be - was never seriously considered; because, after all, the loss of open spaces in Israel does not come at a cost, especially when it comes up against the need to build more and more roads.
The fate of Ramat Menasheh now seems inevitable, and our children will be able to travel quickly on section 18, where they will see the roadside horticulture and landscaping put together by the leading landscape designers and ecologists that the Trans-Israel Highway could afford. But a fight can still be fought and other places on the planned route of the highway can be saved. Section 3 of the road will slice its way through the Carmel ridge, and side road 155, which will join the Trans-Israel Highway, will cause significant damage to the Poleg River south of Netanya. The planned northward extension of Route 20 - the Ayalon freeway that currently goes as far north as Herzliya - will take the road straight through the middle of the Alexander River national park.
These roads should be further down Israel's list of priorities than maintaining open spaces, since there is so little open space left. If the authorities are still not convinced that these roads are strictly necessary, they should find the money to construct the roads underground, or to redraw the route of the highway to bypass sensitive areas.
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