Replacing Irises With Houses

The proposed settlement of Michal reflects the problematic nature of establishing another new community in a small country that is full to the brim with construction and development.

Hikers venturing up Mt. Yitzpor in the Gilboa range during the spring enjoy a dizzying panorama of the mountainside in full bloom. Thousands of Gilboa irises blossom behind and between every rock, offering a visual feast of deep purple, pink and violet. Tomorrow the fate of this beauty will be placed in the hands of a subcommittee of the National Planning and Building Council. This body will debate objections to the plan to build a new community named Michal on Mt. Yitzpor. Approval of the plan will result in the replacement of the irises with houses.

The beauty of nature is not the only issue at hand here. No less important is the problematic nature of establishing another new community in a small country that is full to the brim with construction and development. The construction of a new community means the allocation of substantial resources for a relatively small number of people - in an area with reserves of housing units (whether existing or planned) in already established neighborhoods. The planning council meetings held so far to discuss Michal have been presented with positions clearly supporting or opposing the plan.

Tomorrow the forum's members will hear the opinion of an independent professional body, in the form of a report that examines the objections to the establishment of Michal, which was prepared by urban planner Dina Ringer at the council's request. The report advises against the construction and determines that it would seriously harm the Gilboa iris, which is a rare flower and a national icon. The extent of the potential damage has been made clear thanks to a survey of the irises conducted at Mt. Yitzpor by the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority. It would apparently not help to relocate the irises to another protected site, as the success rate of such relocation attempts is usually very low.

The Beit She'an Regional Council, which initiated the idea of the new community, claims that it cannot expand existing residential areas in its jurisdiction. There have been campaigns to bring religious couples and families to the existing religious communities in the region, but without success.

Ringer writes that she was not presented with any data to back up the argument in favor of the plan, and that her requests for additional information on this matter received no response. She therefore concluded that the regional council has not done everything it can to strengthen the population of the Gilboa area. Ringer found a convincing counterclaim concerning the establishment of new communities in the notes of Prof. Naomi Carmon from about 10 years ago, regarding the Israel master plan for 2020. Carmon then pointed out that new communities are not interested in just any individual citizen or family, but seek a strong population composed of young, educated families looking for quality housing. According to Carmon, these families are a population resource that is even rarer than the land resource. New communities manage to attract this rare resource and prevent it from gravitating toward established communities. As a result, the older communities begin a process of aging and withering.

It could be expected that a professional report that takes such a critical stance toward the plan for a new community would quash approval of it once and for all. Instead, experience has shown that it is impossible to rely on the professional and independent judgment of some of the planning council's members, who represent government ministries. In the past these representatives have been subject to heavy pressures from their political superiors, who have demanded the approval of new communities. In the event that in this case, too, there have been such requests from senior political figures, the ministry representatives on the council should remember the attorney general's latest directive: that the government can decide to establish a new community, but cannot determine its exact location or force representatives on the council to ignore their own professional judgment in considering such a scheme.

The various members of the council who will be convening tomorrow must professionally and independently consider the proposed location for Michal and also justify its establishment. Beyond the formal and professional processes, these members should also consider their children and grandchildren, and preserve their right to visit Mt. Yitzpor in the spring, to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life and gaze in awe at the Gilboa irises.