More Green, Less Galant

Authorities hope that Alona Park near Moshav Amikam, now in its final stages of approval, will put the area on the map for other, less controversial reasons

As you move a bit away from the residences of Moshav Amikam to the surrounding hills, the story is no longer about Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant and his purported takeover of public lands. What you discover instead is one of the most beautiful Mediterranean landscapes in Israel - green hills dotted with fields and agricultural settlements.

A project, now in its final stages of approval, will turn this huge area into a public park, hopefully resolving in the process some of the disputes over land and illegal construction which have embroiled local residents.

Last month, the Haifa District Planning Committee announced that the Alona Park plan, which encompasses an area of 35,000 dunams (equivalent to two-thirds of the area of Tel Aviv ), between Zichron Yaakov to the west and the Trans-Israel Highway to the east, is now open for public purview. Before the project receives final approval, the public will be invited to a hearing to voice its objections.

The plan, drafted by the Greenstein, Har-Gil architecture firm, was jointly initiated by the Jewish National Fund and the nearby regional councils, most prominently the Alona regional council, comprised of Aviel, Amikam and Givat Nili.

The explanatory material attached to the plan, which describes the terrain as "a landscape of rolling, gentle hills," says: "Nature and man have created a harmonious mosaic here, which blends with conditions in the area and with its character. In the Mediterranean landscape, vineyards and woods intermingle, and despite its proximity to densely populated areas, this area is for the most part untouched and unruined by tourism."

Shlomo Brand, director of the region for the Jewish National Fund, says the Alona Park plan will significantly expand the area of Israel's nature reserves, thanks to a tract that will be defined as a reserve near the Nahal Taninim stream, which runs through the park. Nahal Taninim is one of the only creeks in the country to empty into the sea that remains relatively clean and preserved.

"This park will complete a continuum of preserved areas, including the Carmel to the north and Ramat Menashe to the east," says Brand. "It will remain preserved for the most part, but we will prepare a central route for outings that will make it possible to reach various areas. The farmers will be able to continue to cultivate the lands they are cultivating now and to graze, in accordance with the plan."

Regulating activities of local residents is likely to prove challenging, as quite a few have grown accustomed to using the land in ways that are potentially damaging. One resident, for example, has erected structures meant to be used as chicken coops, without obtaining the proper permits. Other farmers recently put up fences, ostensibly to prevent damage to their cattle, which enable them to take over lands without being subjected to the usual restrictions.

About two months ago, residents from the area of Amikam sued a moshav member Guri Rosen. A friend of Yoav Galant's, Rosen helped the former army chief-of-staff designate plant olive trees on the agricultural tract that has since become famous. The suit stipulates, among other things, that Guri encroached on areas adjacent to the moshav to maintain his herd of cattle, causing environmental damage to the land. Rosen is scheduled to submit his response by the end of the month.

Brand notes that one of the objectives of the new plan is to allow flocks and cattle to graze in order to thin out vegetation and prevent fires, but at the same time, prevent the type of over-grazing that once plagued the Mount Horshan area of the park. Special tracts in the area are now being fenced off by scientists from the Volcani Agricultural Research Institute to study the development of vegetation in these parts compared with vegetation in other parts of the area where cattle graze extensively. In the fenced off areas, where cattle do not enter, it turns out, vegetation is abundant, while in the areas where they graze, heavy damage to plant life has been reported.

Efforts will also be made to preserve the system of winter pools set up in the park by the Nature and Parks Authority, a system meant to recreate the winter pools that used to be there and dried up. In addition, it is hoped that these preservation efforts will facilitate the free movement of different sorts of wildlife, including Carmel deer, hyenas, wild boar and rabbits.