Lawmakers launch Knesset lobby to save Jerusalem hills from construction projects

Cross-party group, led by MK Alon Tal, will seek to keep all residential construction within city boundaries, as planners delay decision on controversial road

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Reches Lavan, or White Ridge, west of Jerusalem. (Dov Greenblat, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel)
Reches Lavan, or White Ridge, west of Jerusalem. (Dov Greenblat, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel)

A cross-party group of lawmakers met Monday in pastoral Sataf, near Jerusalem, to launch a Knesset lobby to save the hills around Jerusalem from urban development.

Alon Tal (Blue and White) will lead the lobby, composed of Yorai Lahav-Hertzano (Blue and White), Mossi Raz (Meretz), Moshe Tur-Paz (Yesh Atid), and Amichai Chikli (Yamina).

The launch ceremony was held in the presence of Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, some 200 concerned Jerusalemites, and the Society for the Protection of Nature, which has been at the forefront of campaigns to preserve the hills.

The lobby aims at ensuring that all construction for the capital’s residents takes place within the city’s boundaries.

The Jerusalem Municipality has tried to build on several hills to the capital’s west over the years, despite research by the SPNI showing that the city’s housing goals can be met without digging up the local countryside.

The council is currently forging ahead with plans to construct 5,250 residential units, in buildings of 5-12 stories, on Reches Lavan (White Ridge), a popular nature spot among Jerusalemites, near the Jerusalem Zoo. The plan also includes 300 hotel rooms and commercial space.

Reches Lavan, or White Ridge, east of Jerusalem. (Dov Greenblat, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel)

Opponents lost a final appeal to planning authorities in June, but still hope to scupper the project by getting a four-lane highway canceled. The road has been planned to provide access to the new development at Reches Lavan and form part of a western ring road, along which opponents fear more communities will be built in the future.

Artist’s rendering of the new neighborhood of Reches Lavan and the two-tier transportation system being proposed. (YouTube screenshot)

On Monday, the National Planning Council met to discuss the highway, and asked to receive further engineering information before reaching a final decision.

Around half of the plots on Reches Lavan are to be offered as part of a package to lure developers to carry out urban renewal on the notoriously run-down Nurit and Stern streets of Ir Ganim, near Kiryat Hayovel, where the profit margins are low.

This “complementary land” idea, being offered countrywide, forms part of an agreement reached between the Jerusalem Municipality, currently under Mayor Moshe Lion, the Finance and Housing ministries, and the Israel Lands Authority. The government is unwilling to offer financial incentives such as grants, subsidies, or tax relief instead.

Naomi Tzur, the founder of the Jerusalem Green Fund and chairwoman of the Sustainable Jerusalem Lobby, welcomed the establishment of the Knesset lobby.

Naomi Tzur looks on (far right) as Knesset Speaker, Mickey Levy, presides over the launch of the Knesset Lobby for the Jerusalem HIlls, Sataf, near Jerusalem, December 13, 2021. Standing to his right is MK Alon Tal, who will lead the lobby. Seated far left is Iris Hahn, CEO of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. (Dov Greenblat, SPNI)

“The preservation of Reches Lavan, Mitzpe Naftoach (in the city’s Ramot neighborhood), and the Jerusalem Forest and the natural rehabilitation of the abandoned mine at Herat Hill are the highest priorities for the 70 organizations belonging to the Sustainable Jerusalem Lobby,” she said.

“The lobby’s organizations, among them community councils, civil society organizations, businesses, and institutions, understand that Jerusalem can only be sustainable if nature within and around the city is preserved for future generations. We need nature and not its opposite.”

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