Westward No!

The city was that was joined with another city and a moshav and another suburban settlement, and spread all over across town and the hill - that could be the description given by visitors to Jerusalem in the not-so-distant future, if the plans to expand the city go ahead.

The city was that was joined with another city and a moshav and another suburban settlement, and spread all over across town and the hill - that could be the description given by visitors to Jerusalem in the not-so-distant future, if the plans to expand the city go ahead. A few weeks ago, the recommendations were published of a commission of inquiry into the boundaries of jurisdiction of Jerusalem, the Matteh Yehuda regional council and the suburb of Mevasseret Tzion. The commission was set up two years ago under the chairmanship of Maj. Gen. (res.) Moshe Nativ. Its central recommendations are to expand Jerusalem substantially toward the west and to consider annexing to Jerusalem suburban localities such as Tzur Hadassah, Motza, Motza Illit and Mevasseret Tzion. These recommendations have wide support in both the government and in the Jerusalem municipality.

One of the reasons for the recommendations is that their implementation will create more housing possibilities, that will be suitable for a range of population groups and also help strengthen the city economically. However, the major premise on which the recommendations are based is that it is essential to maintain a 70-30 population ratio between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, with clear preference given to enlarging the Jewish population even beyond this.

The subordination of urban policy to ethnic considerations is problematic in itself and raises serious doubts about declarations that purport to treat the residents of East Jerusalem as citizens with equal rights. This policy is also totally contradictory to the master plan of East Jerusalem, which is now being drawn up, based on the principle that all the city's population sectors have to be strengthened.

Still, the expansion of Jerusalem westward will have serious consequences for the city and its surroundings, irrespective of attaining a demographic-ethnic goal. One of the main problems in Jerusalem today is the migration of city residents, especially the established population, to the surrounding areas. Whether this population group will remain in the city depends in large measure on whether the municipal services improve and commercial activites increase, as well as whether a solution can be found to the housing crunch. The authors of the master plan note that housing demand in the city stems mainly from the established population and that it can be provided on the basis of the existing available land.

Expanding Jerusalem westward will constitute a serious blow to any effort to strengthen the city center. It will entail the diversion of resources to other areas at the expense of the center and will encourage alternative housing solutions. Established and educated groups will encounter a reality in which their housing and services in the city center are of substandard quality, while at the same time alluring possibilities beckon in the newly built-up areas in the westward-expanding city. In addition, expanding the city toward the west and turning Tzur Hadassah into an urban settlement will cause serious environmental damage in the form of suburban sprawl. Areas of private housing will develop and the model of suburban settlement will spread all over. The use of large tracts of land for each housing unit, and the need for a dense network of roads, commercial centers and infrastructure facilities will inevitably cause the disappearance of open areas that still exist in significant scale in the area. The commission of inquiry recommended that open areas and forests be preserved, but this recommendation is of little value if extensive areas receive urban status and it becomes legitimate to develop them. The devastation that will be caused to the nature and landscape of the Judean Hills will be a mortal environmental blow. This area is one the last in central Israel in which there is a significant continuity of natural and landscape features that are unbroken by roads or not buried under new cities.

A detailed description could be given of the great importance of these open areas in terms of their contribution to leisure activity, enrichment of groundwater and preservation of elements of the country's historical heritage. Instead, it is worth heeding what botanists say about this area. They define it as one of the richest in the world in species of flowers. This measure of beauty and quality cannot be quantified in the face of real estate values, but it cannot be ignored.

The district master plan also sets forth another direction, which is not perfect in terms of protecting open areas, but does make it possible to preserve a significant part of them and also strengthens the existing urban center. The plan states that building in Jerusalem can be extended to the first ridgeline to the west of the city, which is already within the city's boundaries. According to the plan, it will be possible to create housing reserves that will be as closely linked as possible to existing urban patterns or within them, and also to encourage the development of the city of Beit Shemesh, which lies west of Jerusalem and contains large land reserves. Building in the rural settlements will take place only within the settlements and will not slide into the agricultural areas around them.

The Jewish population in Jerusalem would then likely be strengthened (and not at the expense of the Arab population), because it might have better reasons to remain in the existing historical city and not in the new monster urban entity.