Jerusalemites Go to Battle Over Precious Green Space

Government pushing plan to build thousands of housing units on Mitzpeh Nafto’ah hill, currently home to a forest, ancient agricultural terraces and areas of natural plant growth.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Jerusalem's Mitzpeh Nafto’ah hill pictured in the foreground.
Jerusalem's Mitzpeh Nafto’ah hill pictured in the foreground. Credit: Oriya Tadmor
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The battle for one of the most important green spaces in Jerusalem is reaching its final stages. Jerusalem’s Planning and Building Committee is preparing to examine the construction plans for Mitzpeh Nafto’ah that government is pushing, while area residents have decided to present their own plan for the hill. The residents have filed a plan with the committee to turn the area into a community nature park.

Mitzpeh Nafto’ah is a green hill adjoining the capital’s northern neighborhood of Ramot. The government’s plan is to build thousands of housing units there, overlooking the beautiful Arazim (Cedars) Valley. The hill includes forest, ancient agricultural terraces and areas of natural plant growth. Some 500 species of flora, including a number threatened with extinction, were found there while conducting the environmental survey. A few hundred bird species also use the area, as well as mammals and reptiles – including the largest bale of tortoises in the Judean Hills.

The residents’ plan also has the support of the Jewish National Fund. The residents’ committee in Ramot and a local environmental group have worked for years to stop the building plan by trying to prevent the zoning being changed in favor of urban construction. So far they have failed, and the residential construction plan of the Israel Land Authority also has the support of Jerusalem municipality. City hall says the area is vital to help find housing solutions for the capital. Yesterday, though, the city said that because of the area’s great environmental value, the plan is not on the list of priorities for construction.

In response, residents decided to come up with their own, alternative plan. In their plan, Mitzpeh Nafto’ah would serve as a site for getting to know nature and preserving it. The hilltop would become a center for wild plants, to encourage butterflies to settle there. The orchards at the site would be rehabilitated, and trees appropriate to the local landscape would be planted.

“Mitzpeh Nafto’ah is not just another park we can easily give up,” said Prof. Alon Tal of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who sits on the board of directors of the JNF and is an expert in environmental policy. He calls it a unique natural resource of national, and even international, importance. “In an area of 600 dunams [150 acres], there are hundreds of species of plants and animals,” he said. “If in order to lower housing prices in the capital by a fraction of a percent for a year or two they are willing to give up the last place in the city, where you can see the landscape and ecological system that the kings Saul, David and Solomon saw, then the State of Israel suffers from shortsightedness that can be diagnosed as total blindness,” said Tal.

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