Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Wednesday that she will not allow the annexation of an important nature site to the town of Yokne’am so that thousands of homes may be built on it.
The area, located in the Megiddo Regional Council, is known as Hashalom Valley. The minister said she would examine alternative areas that could be added to the town for this purpose. In recent months, area residents have voiced their objection to construction in the valley.
Shaked toured the area earlier this week with Yokne’am Mayor Shimon Alfasi and Megiddo Regional Council head Itzik Holavsky. In a post on Facebook, Shaked said there must be housing to accommodate the population growth of Yokne’am, but that it is also important to preserve agricultural and natural areas.
Behind Shaked’s decision are recommendations made last year by a committee that examined the boundaries between Yokne’am and the adjacent regional council. The committee, headed by Amram Kalaji, a former director general of the Interior Ministry, determined that empty areas must be annexed to Yokne’am, including this valley, which has great ecological and scenic value. The authority to carry out these recommendations lies with the interior minister.
Shaked’s decision accords with a recent move promoted by the Ministry of Construction and Housing. The ministry presented to the Israel Land Authority a host of plans it wishes to promote across the country. In the case of Yokne’am, they proposed several alternatives to Hashalom Valley, one of which included the annexation of an area southeast of the city, near the moshav of Elyakim.
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These alternatives have their own problems. Some of them entail using areas belonging to nearby agricultural communities. One alternative would cut off a newly built area from Yokne’am due to the adjacent national road system.
Alfasi rejects the option of increasing the city’s density by building up, rather than expanding outwards. He says that evacuating people and rebuilding their houses will require building a large number of units in order to be profitable. The city’s entrances will not suffice for coping with the growth in population, he says.
According to the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel, the area slated for annexation in Hashalom Valley includes an important ecological corridor that is vital for the nesting of the red falcon, a small predatory bird that is at risk of extinction. The area is also a habitat for low bushes and extensive blooming of cyclamens, anemones, tulips and irises. It is also home to many types of animals, including gazelles, which take advantage of the corridor. Such areas are shrinking across Israel due to development projects.
Following Shaked’s decision, the SPNI said, “This was an important and positive statement. We began the fight over this valley a year and a half ago. We’ll continue to work towards finding better alternatives.” The campaign headquarters of Yoknea’m and Megiddo residents fighting the annexation said, “This was a correct and just decision that will enable a million Israelis from all walks of life to continue touring one of the most beautiful areas in the country for free.”