Israel's first urban park that doubles as a nature reserve is slated to be created in Jerusalem's "Gazelle Valley," after the city council on Sunday approved the NIS 18 million budget. The planned features of the new park include a network of bicycle paths and a pedestrian promenade with three gazelle observation points.
Gazelle Valley (Emek Hatzvaim in Hebrew ) - or Pri Har Valley, as it is officially known - was the site of one of the capital's longest-running political battles. Around 12 years ago, a coalition of environmental groups and social advocacy organizations from the adjacent neighborhoods of Katamon and Givat Mordechai and other disadvantaged areas of the city was formed in order to fight a plan to build thousands of apartments in the valley. The small herd of gazelles that had remained in the valley's open spaces, "imprisoned" by the residential neighborhoods and roads built around it, became the symbol of the battle.
The construction plans were put forward by two area kibbutzim - Ma'aleh Hahamisha and Kiryat Anavim - which were given rights to cultivate the land back in the 1950s.
The building project was scrapped in 2004 as a result of pressure from the activists. Then, in 2009, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved plans for the park, which was designed in cooperation with residents. But only this past March, following a lengthy legal battle, did the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court finally order the kibbutzim to vacate the property.
The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel was the main environmental group behind the effort.
Only a few gazelles still remain in the park, as feral dogs killed nearly two dozen of them a few years ago. But the city plans to introduce new gazelles into it. The first stage of the park is scheduled for completion in January 2014.
The bulk of the cost of developing the park will be borne by the city (NIS 8 million ) and the Jerusalem Development Authority (NIS 6 million ), with the Mifal Hapayis national lottery and Gihon, the city water corporation, each chipping in an additional NIS 2 million.