Environmentalists Up in Arms Against Massive Jerusalem Housing Drive

Due to be discussed by planning panel on Tuesday, scheme to build 4,500 housing units in Reches Lavan in city's southwest would destroy ancient natural springs, parks officials warn

Ein Lavan, one of the ancient springs in the southwestern part of Jerusalem, in 2016.
Zafrir Rinat

Environmental organizations are opposing a massive housing construction plan southwest of Jerusalem, slated to be discussed Tuesday by the municipal planning committee, on the grounds that it will decimate the region’s natural springs.

For thousands of years, farmers in the Jerusalem area depended on spring water for irrigation, drinking and other purposes. Latter-day residents also enjoy visiting and bathing in the springs.

The new housing project is supposed to arise on Reches Lavan – a series of hills along the Green Line – and calls forthe  construction of 4,500 apartments covering an area of 600 dunams (150 acres), of which 100 dunams will be green areas, meaning free of construction.

On Tuesday, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee is due to decide whether to proceed with the plan. If approved, the next stage would be publication of its details so that area residents can comment and object, if they wish.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel has already declared its opposition to the scheme, on the grounds that the earmarked area is of crucial ecological importance because of its groundwater and also in terms of local water ecology.

There is also the issue of the springs’ cultural and historical importance, since they go back many generations.

While construction in recent decades has shrunk the area's Nahal Refaim ecological corridor, say SPNI officials, it remains key to the movement and sheer survival of local animal populations.

“Planning authorities argue that there’s nowhere else to build in the city so they have to encroach on the open areas, but that’s just an urban legend,” SPNI charged in a statement published ahead of the planning committee meeting. Moreover, it said, Jerusalem has plenty of land for development – enough to build 100,000 housing units – without ruining the local ecological system.

The parks organization claimed that a quarter of that land has already won preliminary planning approval, and construction could start if not for other obstacles. The latter should be addressed, and the little open land that remains must be preserved, it said.

The planning panel, for its part, stated that it had conducted a survey of Reches Lavan and found the sources of the springs there. It promised that a certain amount of land would be left between them and the area slated for construction. The country is in dire need of more housing for its growing population, it noted, but ecological principles must be preserved as well.