The Voice of the Gazelle

About a year ago, residents of Jerusalem submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice against a construction plan for the western edge of the city, claiming it would harm the habitat of the Israeli gazelle.

About a year ago, residents of Jerusalem submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice against a construction plan for the western edge of the city, claiming it would harm the habitat of the Israeli gazelle.

They made an interesting and innovative attempt to add the gazelle to the list of petitioners, explaining that it could not raise its own voice to protect its natural habitat.

The court has still not decided whether to grant the gazelle the status of petitioner. However, since I believe it is a just and moral struggle, I have taken it upon myself to represent (in Jerusalem and elsewhere) the gazelle and another client, the Gray's monitor lizard. I should disclose at the outset that I do not have legal credentials and have not consulted with my clients or received their consent to represent them.

First of all, let me introduce my clients. The Israeli gazelle used to live in many regions of the country. Its habitat is continually shrinking and being surrounded on all sides by new homes, roads and, recently, the separation fence. The Gray's monitor lizard is the largest lizard in Israel, reaching a length of 110 centimeters. It needs large expanses, and complete ecological systems must therefore be preserved to enable it to exist. It has only survived in parts of the sandy areas of the southern coastal plain and is today in danger of extinction.

The legal basis for the defense of the pair is clear and indisputable. My clients are protected by the Law for the Protection of Wild Animals, as well as by international agreements Israel has signed, including the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

What is at stake is the central question that is always examined in the courts - the question of finding the proper balance between protecting wild animals and human welfare. I do not intend to contest the priority given to human welfare, but rather to examine whether it justifies such complete destruction of the habitats of the Gray's monitor lizard and gazelle.

The Israeli courts make wide use of the concept of proportionality, and it is appropriate to apply it to the welfare of human beings when measured against the very existence of wild animals. Human welfare does not require expansion in every direction in open spaces. It can be maintained through efficient use of land resources, dense construction and proper planning of infrastructure lines, based partly on burying some of them underground, or through the use of tunnels.

There is no need for Beit Shemesh to expand toward the hills where gazelles live; less sensitive areas for development needs can be found. The same is true for the westward expansion of Jerusalem and the building plans for the Nitzanim sand dunes, an area where my two clients live as good neighbors. Human welfare would still be preserved if existing agricultural communities in the Ashkelon area were expanded for evacuees from the Gaza Strip, instead of building new communities for them that would strangle the dune areas.

It may even be argued that the preservation of natural areas contributes to the happiness and welfare of human beings, because many of them regard the existence of these areas as an essential condition for quality of life.

It is also justified to place limits on human welfare in cases like the one described in the Automobile section of Yedioth Ahronoth last month. One of the reporters described how he and another driver raced through the Nitzanim sand dunes with two all-terrain vehicles with the repulsive model name Predator. "A frightened deer fled from the pair of motorized animals that succeeded in scaring them," he wrote, without realizing he had frightened gazelles and not deer.

In the High Court petition (which will never be filed) against the construction that is harming the monitor lizard and gazelle, I would write in a personal tone and not a legal one: "It is impossible not to feel excitement every time one sees a gazelle leaping on a hill or emerging from a river bed. I have never seen the Gray's monitor lizard in nature, only at zoos, but I have a basic sense of satisfaction from knowing it is there outside, roaming around the remaining sand dunes and living the routine life of a reptile that has been in the land of Israel for 2,000 years already."