Israel Land Authority Pushes Construction in Jerusalem Woods

The ILA says housing is badly needed at Mitzpeh Neftoah, but environmentalists fear the government will expedite projects in green areas.

Oudia Tadmor / Jini

The Israel Land Authority plans to move ahead with a construction plan for Jerusalem land teeming with 500 species of plants and dozens of species of mammals, reptiles and birds.

The plan for the area on the capital’s northwestern approaches, Mitzpeh Neftoah, includes construction of more than 1,000 housing units, which the land authority says are badly needed.

“The project has undergone many changes designed to take into consideration the great sensitivity of the surroundings,” the ILA said, adding: “It was decided to move the project ahead in light of the city’s housing troubles and the high demand for apartments.”

Ecological organizations, however, fear that new planning committees established by the government will expedite construction in green areas.

The land authority recently sent the project to the special committee that approves housing projects deemed priorities. The ILA said the Mitzpeh Neftoah project was recently discussed by a Finance Ministry committee tasked with recommending areas that should go to the priority committee.

That panel’s decisions outrank all but one existing master plan and override decisions by other planning committees. Moreover, the public does not have the option to lodge complaints against the priority committee’s decisions, as it does with planning and building committees.

In recent days, the Jerusalem municipality had announced that because of Mitzpeh Neftoah’s “great sensitivity,” the construction plan for the area was not a priority for the municipality.

Mitzpeh Neftoah is flanked by the Ramot neighborhood to the north and the Arazim Valley to the south. A residents association, Ramot for the Environment, recently crafted a plan to turn Mitzpeh Neftoah into a park.

But after a long legal battle with the residents, the state got the area rezoned for construction. The next stage was to be for the land authority to push the plan at the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee, where the public can file objections as part of the approval process.

But with the plan at the priority housing committee, it will be easier for the government to push it through.

Under the new plan, the top of the hill at Mitzpeh Neftoah would be preserved, but this would amount to no more than a small urban park. The entire surrounding area would be built on.

The land authority plans two more large construction projects in the Jerusalem area that would go through the priority housing committee.