In Win for Environmentalists, Panel Stalls Plan to Build on Jerusalem’s Last Green Lung

Capital's municipality, environmentalists hail decision, hope to nix plan altogether.

Deer seen in Mitzpeh Naftoach, March, 2016.
Yossi Zamir

An Interior Ministry panel decided on Wednesday to reject a construction plan on Jerusalem's last green lung in a win to environmentalists and the municipality.

The Ministry’s Planning Committee for Housing Sites decided not to approve the construction plan in Mitzpeh Naftoach and pass the plans to the regular channels of the district planning panel. The objectors to the plan say now it will be easier to delay the construction and even to cancel it altogether.

The construction plan consists of 1,435 housing units and commercial structures. Mitzpeh Naftoach, located between the Ramot neighborhood and Arazim Valley, is the last natural landscape that remains unbuilt in Jerusalem and is home to a large variety of fauna and flora species. Among other things the largest gazelle herd — 70 gazelles — in the Jerusalem Mountains lives on the hill.

In recent years the Ramot neighborhood residents have been fighting, together with the Jewish National Fund, the Nature Protection Society and other green organizations, against the construction plans on Mitzpeh Naftoach. The Jerusalem municipality also objects to the construction, claiming it will severely harm the natural landscape and that there are enough areas to develop in the city without spreading to new ones.

Despite the city’s objection, the planning panel approved the plan last November. On Tuesday an investigator appointed by the panel started hearing the numerous objections — more than 8,000. The Israel Lands Authority said on Tuesday that additional tests must be carried out to ascertain the environmental damage posed by the plan.

Consequently, the panel decided to pass the plan over to the District Planning Commission, i.e. to stop the speeded-up procedure and return the plan to the regular channels. This will mean delaying the plan’s approval and its opponents hope it will be easier to fight to revoke it in the District Committee.

The panel wrote that the plan does not meet the required criteria to continue its advancement and is being passed to the District Committee for continued handling.

Last week the wildlife and shrubbery of Mitzpeh Naftoach received a severe blow when a fire devastated the hill, following a Lag Ba’omer bonfire that hadn’t been put out properly. The fire burnt a considerable part of the trees on the hill, killing almost all the small animals, including some of the gazelles and fawns. All the herd’s food sources and hiding places were destroyed.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat commended transferring the construction plan to the district panel. “This is an important day for Jerusalem and great tidings for its residents. It was proved today that decisions cannot be made over the heads of Jerusalem’s residents and contrary to their opinion.”

JNF chairman Danny Atar also commended the decision, which he called “a significant achievement in the struggle for our country’s landscapes and especially for the Jerusalem area’s rare natural assets.”

Deputy Mayor Tamir Nir said “it would have been a crime to continue advancing the plan in view of the many reasons to cancel it.”

MK Mickey Levy, who was partner to the struggle and filed an objection to the plan, said “common sense defeated obtuse bureaucracy. We’ve managed to remove the real estate threat from the beautiful green lung on Ramot’s slopes.”

The Nature Protection Society called on Jerusalem to set up a natural park on the hill.