Residents Rally Against Plan to Build School on Woodland in Central Israel

Ramat Hasharon municipality says Amal Grove being considered as site for new elementary school, but locals say area has environmental, ecological importance.

Ilan Schwartz, right, Danit Nitzan and Ofer Miara, left at the Amal Grove, July 18, 2016.
Moti Milrod

Ramat Hasharon residents have launched a public campaign to save a grove in the center of town, after learning that the municipality is thinking of building an elementary school there.

Many local residents demonstrated in front of city hall on Sunday and called for Amal Grove to be saved, saying it was an important part of their quality of life. Recent weeks have seen protests and information activities posted on social media, flyers distributed throughout the city and meetings with various city officials, including the new mayor, Avi Gruber.

“I heard about the municipality’s plan from a member of the city’s parents council,” said Ilan Schwartz, a resident of the Hadar neighborhood where the grove is located. “At first I thought it was a joke, but it turns out there is such a plan.”

Amal Grove was established 20 years ago, when dozens of North Indian Rosewood trees were planted that now attract a wide variety of birds. The municipality has improved the area over the years and made it more accessible. The total area of the grove is 10 dunams (2.5 acres), and building a school would reduce its area by at least half.

“The grove is a lively center of activity for a variety of residents,” said Schwartz. “Babysitters come with their charges, and the elderly come with their caregivers. Children and dog owners come from all over the city.”

Another resident, Ofer Miara, said the grove plays a number of important environmental and ecological roles. “The area provides shade and facilitates the penetration of groundwater. It’s a habitat for wildlife,” he said.

Other residents note that there are bats, hedgehogs and a wide variety of birds in the grove. These include the Syrian woodpecker, which pecks on the trees to find food. “This is the only green area in this neighborhood,” said Miara. “Building the school would make the grove disappear, because dozens of trees would have to be cut down.”

Resident Danit Nitzan believes there are alternative locations for the school and that, in any case, it’s other neighborhoods that are actually short of classrooms. “The shortage of schools must be resolved,” she said, “but not by doing it in the wrong place.”

The plot on which the grove is located is actually zoned for public buildings, and those leading the protest know there is no legal barrier to proceeding with the construction. However, they believe that the mayor should take into account the importance of the area to residents.

The Ramat Hasharon municipality cited a “real problem of overcrowding in the Hadar neighborhood’s schools that requires an immediate solution, which is why the city is looking into every option for building another school – and a number of plans are being examined for advancing a comprehensive plan for the city school system. The primary concern is for the city’s children and to invest in the school system for every child in his place of residence.

“We are aware of the residents’ arguments and are in constant dialogue with them,” it added. “It’s important to stress that, as of now, there is no plan or decision. All their arguments are being checked and every stage from the planning to implementation will be thoroughly examined with the participation of the public.”