Several environmentalism organizations and local municipalities have joined forces Tuesday, after the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) published plans for a massive building project on open land in the Jerusalem area.
The ILA plans to build 40,000 units on 18,000 dunams (4,448 acres) of land, Walla! News reports Tuesday, allegedly as the answer to Israel's deepening housing crisis.
But that land includes natural springs, common trails and historical sites, and one of Israel's main water sources – the "Hill Aquifier" which runs from Zichron Yaakov to Be'er Sheva, opponents say.
As such, the Society for Environmental Protection, the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the Green Organization, the local Mevasseret Zion council and the Yehuda (Judea) Regional council have teamed up to force the ILA to cancel the plans, arguing that the move could do extensive damage to the Jerusalem countryside and the environment.
"There are many potential building sites in the area," a leader in the campaign against the ILA plan stated to the daily. "An answer to the housing crisis can be given without destroying the hills and open spaces surrounding the city."
"These programs should be scrapped and the city should be more built up from within," the source added.
The overarching ILA program includes three smaller plans – all of which threaten the region surrounding the Sataf spring, one of Israel's most popular hiking destinations.
Among other things, plans include 10,000 units slated to be built on Har Haret, over an area spanning 1,600 dunams (395 acres); the addition of an 8-km (4.9 mile) long and 30-40km (18-24 mile) road to connect with Route 1 and Route 39; a long bridge over Nahal Sorek to link the future neighborhood with Ramat Hadassah (nearby); an an additional neighborhood on that same hill.
Abraham Shaked, conservation coordinator of the Society for the Protection of Nature in the Judean Mountains, stated over the issue that the plans – if actualized – would cause irreversible damage to the Aquifier, which is Israel's most important underground reservoir. The construction would hinder the amount of water flowing into the basin, and the pollution from the addition of another urban space would seep into Jerusalem's main water source, he added.
Correspondence between several leaders of the campaign against the ILA's plans and ILA director Bentzi Liberman reveal that at least some of the land involved is defined as a national park, as well – and a large part of the land was due to be declared as a reserve. The campaign has demanded that the ILA reconsider in light of both.
"As needed to provide solutions to the economy and housing crisis, and sell land for construction, the Authority also operates in Jerusalem, which is in dire straits for planning and marketing living space for years to come," the ILA stated in response. "To meet the demand, we would need to build some 2,500 new housing units per year – that is, about 50 thousand housing units over the next two decades."
"The solution is clearing and construction, and urban renewal programs to replace old complexes with new ones," it continued. "This program is one that was promoted twenty years ago, when environmental sensitivity was relatively low."
"The parameters [for the program] are being tested according to the standards used today by the Environmental Planning Office, in coordination with the relevant authorities," it added. "The Interior Ministry's Planning Director should establish a position in relation to the plans only after the Lands Authority formally submits them."
The housing crisis has become one of the top topics of contention in Israel, and is one of the key issues during the 2015 Elections.
Housing Ministry figures revealed in October 2014 that the housing crisis has critically deepened over the past year - in no small part due to the "covert" building freeze in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria – and critics argue that a lift on the building freeze, not rampant building around Jerusalem, would provide a better and more sustainable solution.