Government vote to save Jerusalem forests

Monday, October 16, 2006 |  by Staff Writer
It has come down to this. The Israeli government is due to vote on Tuesday on the highly controversial housing development project which will encroach deep into the forests west of Jerusalem, destroying acres of natural wooded lands and recreation areas enjoyed by many local residents.

The plan, backed by the municipality of Jerusalem, dubbed the Safdie Plan, named after renowned architect Moshe Safdie who designed the project, calls for the construction of 20,000 housing units expanding 16 square miles (26 kilometers) deep into Jerusalem’s forests, effectively destroying natural habitat, as well as recreation areas used for picnicking, hiking, horseback riding and many other outdoor activities.

The outcry against the project has been massive ever since it was first proposed over a decade ago. Several national and local organizations from all reaches of the political and social spectrum have joined forces to protest against the project. These organizations include The Forum for the Future of Jerusalem, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the entire Sustainable Jerusalem Coalition, which includes near fifty member organizations.

In addition to theses organizations, a group of 50 Knesset Members have also joined forces to oppose the planned project. MK Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad), who heads the Knesset's environmental lobby, said that “we have to understand that we are talking about territory that is the biggest and last lung for all of central Israel and not just the residents of Jerusalem."

The pressure to build housing projects west of the city, rather than east, is largely due to international pressure from the United States and the European Union who have sharply opposed any expansion of Jerusalem to the east mainly because it is considered by them as building on occupied land.

Despite these international pressures, the groups opposing the project believe the consequences of expanding the city further west could be devastating. If the city’s plans follow through, Jerusalem would suffer economically as upper class residents would leave the city, in addition to the irreversible ecological damage it would cause.

"The plan will cause irreparable damage, and is an urban death sentence to the city of Jerusalem," said Naomi Tsur, the director of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, at a public symposium on the issue organized by environmental groups in Jerusalem last month.

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