Committee okays building of 5,000 units on Jerusalem’s pastoral White Ridge

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

An appeals committee approves plans to build some 5,000 residential units at Reches Lavan, a popular site of agricultural terraces and springs just west of Jerusalem.

Reches Lavan (White Ridge) — named for its light, chalky rock — is located near the Jerusalem Zoo and the southwest neighborhoods of Kiryat Hayovel, Givat Masua and Ein Kerem, and Moshav Ora just outside the city.

Home to Mediterranean vegetation and large mammals such as mountain gazelle and hyena, the whole area, with its natural springs and spring-fed pools, serves as a green backyard for Jerusalemites.

Activists are now pledging to take their case to the courts. They fear that the planners will start with construction on Reches Lavan before moving on to build on other hills — Mount Harat, Mitzpe Naftoah in Ramot, the slopes of Moshav Ora and a spur near Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem, one ridge at a time.

Agriculture Minister Alon Schuster reiterates that he will not approve the uprooting of 11,000 trees necessary to build the new neighborhood. It remains unclear whether he will be able to stop the entire project from going ahead.

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

While allowing the plans to go forward, the appeals subcommittee of the National Planning Council orders that towers designed for a commercial area just outside Moshav Ora be reduced to a maximum of 15 stories.

The subcommittee rejected claims that the project will damage area springs.

Plans call for construction of 5,250 residential units, in buildings of five to 12 stories, along with 300 hotel rooms and commercial space, on the ridge. Planners are also already at work on a four-lane highway that will cut through the area, forming part of a western ring road.

Fifteen thousand Israelis have signed a petition opposing construction on Reches Lavan.

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