Caught on Tape

Recording Reveals East Jerusalem Park Is About Politics, Not Environment

WATCH:Parks Authority staff member was recorded saying that the Mount Scopus Slopes Park is meant to prevent construction in the area rather than to protect nature.

An Israel Nature and Parks Authority staff member was recorded as saying that the main reason for the establishment of the Mount Scopus Slopes Park in East Jerusalem is to prevent construction in the area and not to protect nature.

Although the park has not yet been officially established, over the past year the INPA has been carrying out a number of activities in the area, including razing agricultural structures and fences belonging to Palestinians and building roads. During the Sukkot holiday, the authority also put up an information booth about the future park at the Mount Scopus lookout. A visitor recorded an INPA employee at the booth saying: “The idea is to protect all the slopes as open space. Especially to block construction so the city does not expand to [the open space], so the communities do not expand to it.”

The staffer said the area “is a habitat for all kinds of animals. It creates a corridor that leaves us the view of the whole ascent to Jerusalem. From a historical point of view this is a pilgrimage road.”

The controversial park is to extend between the Palestinian neighborhoods of Isawiyah and A-Tur, in areas slated for the expansion of those neighborhoods. According to the Palestinians and leftist activists, the only purpose of the new park is to stop plans to expand Palestinian communities and the park will leave them almost no room to build.

The area planned for the national park is now used mainly as grazing land and activists say it contains no valuable natural or archaeological elements worthy of protection. The area includes rocky slopes on both sides of the new road to Ma’aleh Adumim, only one small, insignificant archaeological site and no special species of plants or animals.

However, the INPA claims that there are many elements of the area that should be protected. The former environmental protection minister Gilad Erdan said at the time that the park was needed to protect “archaeological findings, rare plants and valuable heritage elements found in it.”

Archaeologist Yoni Mizrahi, of Emek Shaveh, an organization that opposes the establishment of the park, says of the employee’s statements: “She says what she sees. She sees that there is nothing there; if there were something there would be no need to ask. Nobody asks ‘why is a national park at Masada needed.’ There are antiquities in Pisgat Ze’ev [a Jewish neighborhood east of Jerusalem] and the Malha Mall and nobody goes and declares them a national park. The authorities find it convenient to declare it a national park to avoid political criticism, but in the end this is a political park.”

The INPA responded: “Jerusalem is located geographically between the woodlands and the Judean Desert. In Emek Tzurim [a national park on the west side of Mount Scopus] millions of shekels have been invested in caring for the terraced landscape, ancient trails and olive trees, all in order to restore an ancient landscape to the park and also to allow people to live in an open area. National parks or nature reserves are declared throughout the country and one of the purposes is to preserve nature and not to allow construction, as was done for example on the Carmel, Mount Meron and elsewhere. This is the case throughout the country and not only in Jerusalem. We reiterate that one of the goals of the INPA is to identify areas with valuable nature and heritage resources and prevent construction there, as was done at Khirbet Qeiyafa above the Elah Valley, where a national park was declared that will obviate the construction of more than 1,200 housing units at Ramat Beit Shemesh. The same law [applies] for everyone.”

Michal Fattal