Court Halts Construction at Controversial IDF Base

Construction at the site of the planned IDF base near Ramat Hovav was not allowed to begin as scheduled yesterday, following a Be'er Sheva District Court order to freeze all work.

The bulldozers that arrived at the Negev Junction in order to begin preparing the ground for construction of the massive training base were met by officials with the court order, and protesters from Green Course, an environmentalist organization opposed to the project.

The Israel Union for Environmental Defense, known in Hebrew as Adam Teva V'Din, had filed against the project in court, and yesterday welcomed its decision to intervene.

The greens took the matter to court, arguing that the planning and permit process must be transparent and open to the public, and charged that the Defense Ministry internal committees rushed the process without sufficient public involvement.

The groups are complaining that the pollution at the Ramat Hovav industrial site has undergone insufficient treatment to allow the construction of a base that would house thousands in a location less than 10 kilometers away.

Further deliberations are scheduled in court on Monday, and the Defense Ministry issued a statement expressing "confidence that after the court hears our side, we will be able to return to work."

However, in the Knesset yesterday, MK Yossi Beilin, who heads the committee examining the subject of the massive IDF base on behalf of the parliamentary committee Interior and Environment, said that all construction must stop until the report on environmental and other hazards is ready.

Beilin described the project as "and immoral, underhanded maneuver that threatens the lives of IDF soldiers."

At a press conference, the head of Meretz charged that the government "had selected the most inappropriate location for building the training base, for ulterior motives. Something stinks there," he said, hinting both at the stench from the pollution and also possible impropriety.

Beilin has demanded that the government wait for the release of a report by Professor Eli Stern on the hazards posed by the selected site, due early next year, before commencing construction.

Siding with Beilin yesterday was the chairman of the Knesset Interior Committee, MK Ophir Pines-Paz.

However, some in the Negev were outraged by the court's decision.

The Chairman of Ramat Negev Council, Shmulik Reifman, said yesterday that "Ben-Gurion is rolling over in his grave" because of this decision. The late prime minister was a strong proponent of settling the Negev.

The chairman of the Histadrut union in the Negev, Meir Babiuf said that "the struggle for setting up the training base is something we must not lose. On this day of celebration for the residents of the Negev, a moment of historic importance, the court has surrendered to the cheap populism of the greens who are Tel Aviv residents."

Babiuf also linked the future growth of Be'er Sheva with the construction of the base.

"The establishment of the training base will have tremendous impact on the development of the Negev," said Jacob Edery, Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee.

The minister also said that the presence of the base will ensure that the supervision over the Ramat Hovav industrial hazards will be stricter, and will improve the quality of life of the area's residents.

But Beilin noted that there are other locations in the Negev, such as Arad and Sde Boker, that are more suitable for building the training complex.

He also said that the former director general at the Defense Ministry, Amos Yaron, his counterpart at the Environment Ministry, Shai Avital, and the District Physician for the Southern District, Ilana Belmaker, are opposed to building the base near Ramat Hovav.

"Of those in the IDF that I talked to, the majority are concerned and do not understand [the decision]. The vast majority prefer Arad," Beilin said.