If anyone buys one of the 20,000 proposed housing units in the Jerusalem hills, they’d be stabbing the eternal city in the back, said lawyer Shraga Biran, one of the opponents of a controversial development plan.
Biran spoke at a symposium against the Safdie Plan, named after internationally acclaimed architect Moshe Safdie. Set in motion 10 years ago while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem, the plan calls for the construction of 20,000 housing units on more than 16 square miles (26 kilometers) of natural woodlands and forests west of Jerusalem. Currently the rolling green hills are filled with tree-lined trails, picnic sites and parks, just minutes from the congested center of town.
At least 50 parliament members, spanning religious and political persuasions, oppose Jerusalem’s largest-ever construction project. The plan is set for final approval on Oct. 17 by the Interior Ministry’s National Planning and Building Committee.
“We should instead be focusing on the center of the city, because it’s the heart of the city,” said Rabbi Michael Melchior, Knesset member and head of the Knesset’s environmental lobby. “If we abandon the center, there is no Jerusalem.”
Several of the plans opponents said the city should first focus on investing into the poor neighborhoods within the city before new neighborhoods are built.
“The plan will cause irreparable damage, and is an urban death sentence to the city of Jerusalem,” said Naomi Tsur, director of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
The plan’s advocates include Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski who argue that expansion is needed to accommodate the city’s growth. The westward expansion gained strength when the government froze plans to expand the city eastward, caving to American pressure not to build in the West Bank.
In Photo: The sign on the left, "Olmert gives Jerusalem away to the rich", is next to a coffin symbolizing the forests intended for destruction.