Israel’s Civil Administration, the branch of the military responsible for civilian matters in the West Bank, has been advancing a plan to establish a large industrial zone straddling the Green Line that is expected to cause great damage to a unique ecological area.
Welcomed by settler leaders, the project, called "Samaria’s Gate," is also seen as a way to facilitate a larger influx of Israeli Jews into the West Bank. But it is facing opposition from residents and environmental groups, who cite risks in store not only for nature but deep water aquifers as well.
"Samaria’s Gate," named after the area's biblical name, has been in the planning stages for several years but has recently entered its final phase. The zone is supposed to cover more than 3,000 dunams (over 740 acres) of land east of Kafr Qasem and Rosh Ha’ayin, cities that lie inside Israel’s borders, involving land beyond the so-called Green Line.
An advanced planning commission decided a few weeks ago that the blueprint may be presented to the public, after which objections can be made before the project is set in motion. But as opposed to inside Israel, environmental groups are not represented on planning commissions in the occupied territories.
The plan calls for significant part of the industrial zone to be built near a riverbed, one of four tributaries of the Yarkon River, in an area considered one of a dying group of ecological corridors in Israel, and an area known for its wildlife despite the obstacles of settlements and roads that have been constructed there.
The area is known for its low lying vegetation, carob and plum trees and a diverse population of mammals such as deer, rabbits, coyotes, boars and porcupines. Many types of birds and birds of prey nest or hunt in the area. Construction of an industrial zone would force wildlife to seek shelter in other areas, which are already overcrowded.
“The establishment of an industrial zone will bring total destruction to a natural system that works so extraordinarily well and block an ecological corridor,” Israel’s Society for the Protection of Nature says. There is already a surplus of approved plans related to building up employment opportunities in Israel’s central region, the group argues, saying it intends to suggest an alternative to this particular plan to minimize the ecological damage in the area.
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“This is in light of the fact that this would be a large and very wasteful industrial zone,” and residents in the area are concerned about the project, the society adds.
They’re not the only environmental group to have expressed their opposition. Yossi Aram, a social activist from Rosh Ha’ayin, a town near the site of the planned industry, says “there’s great importance to preserving open spaces, especially in the center of the country. There aren’t many places like this river bed where we can go at any time, any season and see a large variety of wildlife.”
Aran cited a plan to build a cemetery in the area soon and cautioned against hurting the contiguity of open land.
'Absurdity shouts out to the heavens'
Local Israeli council heads in the West Bank have embraced the project, viewing it as the latest step toward creating a contiguous built up area between the West Bank and Israel. Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria regional council, said after a planning commission meeting that the “Gates of Samaria industrial zone can be expected to change the equation on the way toward seeing a million Jews in Judea and Samaria.”
Mor Gilboa, an activist with Israeli and Palestinian environmentalists and in “Climate for Peace,” said “the military government in the territories has for decades created a list of climate blights on the environment. The plan ignores nature the same as it ignores Palestinian rights to these territories which don’t belong to Israel under international law.”
Ecopeace, an environmental organization of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian activists voiced concerns that the park would hurt water springs and underground wells and do hydrological damage to the entire area.
“Approving such a project would be a tragedy for generations and pose a clear and serious risk for the Yarkon basin aquifer,” Gideon Bromberg, the organization’s Israeli director-general said.
“If Palestinians were trying to advance such a plan Israeli authorities would justifiably see it as a serious blow to water security. The danger is beneath the ground but the absurdity shouts out to the heavens,” Bromberg said.
The planning commission said that the industrial park would be split in two, with one part on hilltops and the rest at a lower level to avoid damage to the riverbeds and the rest of the ecological corridor. But the plan also calls for substantial changes on the ground which have the potential to damage natural sites.
The Civil Administration points to a regional survey that says no factories would be permitted in the industrial zone that are not hooked up to a purification system to prevent pollution of deep water wells, and that the sewage would be collected by a centralized system.
The Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories unit, which oversees the administration, said in response that the plan had been approved based on several conditions and that once it’s officially published there will be an option for members of the public to present their objections.