Residents, JNF Oppose Housing Plan for Environmentally Important Jerusalem Site

Proposal to be voted on by the housing cabinet foresees the construction of 1,400 housing units below Ramot neighborhood, including Mitzpeh Netfoah, covering approximately 104 acres.

Alex Geifman

Concerns are mounting that the government intends to expedite a construction plan at the nature site of Mitzpeh Neftoah, west of Jerusalem. On Monday the housing cabinet is to discuss approval of a number of priority housing projects, including the area below the northwestern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot, which includes Mitzpeh Netfoah.

Ramot residents and the Jewish National Fund want the so-called Ramot slopes plan to be shelved because of the major environmental importance of the area.

The proposal to be voted on by the housing cabinet, headed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, foresees the construction of 1,400 housing units in the area, which covers 417 dunams (approximately 104 acres).

If the cabinet approves priority status for the Ramot slopes project, the construction plans will be sent on to a special planning committee for such projects. The purpose of that committee, according to the proposal, is to approve extensive construction plans “through focused and intensive discussion in order to shorten timetables.” The public has almost no recourse to oppose the decisions the committee makes.

At Monday’s meeting the housing cabinet is set to discuss nine projects, in which 22,000 units are to be built.

Mitzpeh Neftoah is considered of prime ecological importance because of the great variety of plants and animals living in such close proximity to an urban environment. Among other special characteristics, it is home to the largest number of gazelles anywhere in the Judean Hills.

A residents association, Ramot for the Environment, has asked Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbai to work to remove the Ramot slopes plan from the housing cabinet’s agenda, and to allow residents and the Jewish National Fund to move ahead a joint project to turn the area into a community park for Ramot, which has 50,000 residents.

The chairman of the JNF board of directors, Effie Stenzler, and JNF board member Prof. Alon Tal on Thursday asked Kahlon to remove the plan from the housing cabinet’s agenda. “Along with expediting construction and planning, the cultural, national and environmental importance of sites with special environmental and ecological assets must be recognized. We see no contradiction between the need to settle the country and find a solution to the high cost of living, and the obligation to act according to principles of sustainable development,” Stenzler and Tal wrote.

The Environmental Protection Ministry responded that the Ramot slopes plan has undergone some changes and was now being examined by the ministry’s experts, who would present their opinion to the minister before the housing cabinet meeting. According to a decision last week by the full cabinet, the environmental protection minister has been made a member of the housing cabinet, the ministry said.