Itzhak Rabihiya hikes in the forest around his home in the Jerusalem suburb of
Har Adar nearly every morning, weaving through 50-year-old pine trees that were
planted by the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) to create
the Teachers Union Forest.
But the view of wildflowers and gazelles was
marred a week ago when he noticed large red “Xs” decorating the trunks of
hundreds of trees.
Residents began asking questions, and eventually
learned that national water company Mekorot is planning to construct an enormous
water reservoir in the forest between Har Adar and Mevaseret Zion, to bring
desalinated and treated water to the capital.
According to Rabihiya, who
initiated the “Saving Our Forest” public campaign and runs a public relations
agency, the reservoir will result in 800 pine, cypress and ancient oak trees
being cut down.
The reservoir will contain thousands of cubic meters of
water, at a height of 17 meters and diameter of 100 meters, he said. The
reservoir itself is roughly the size of a soccer field and with its high
location, will use gravity to carry the water to Jerusalem.
extending from both directions will be four meters wide, and each kilometer of
pipeline will require the clearing of 1 hectare (2.47 acres) of trees, according
to Rabihiya’s data. In addition to the new buildings, residents are worried
about the toll construction will take – since it will require that new roads be
cut into the forest to deliver supplies.
“This option destroys the entire
forest,” Rabihiya told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
“The moment they
start to build they need security and tractors, and this will destroy it all.
There are animals here, and the separation fence has already cut off a lot of
their habitat. There are about 50 gazelles, wild hogs, beautiful birds. The
trees are about 50 years old and there are amazing wildflowers. All of this will
While stressing that only KKL-JNF could address the issue
of cutting down trees, a Mekorot spokeswoman said that the plan to build the
reservoir and pipes received government authorization in January 2009. The
acceptance followed the project’s approval by the National Infrastructure
Committee under the framework of National Infrastructure Plan 24 – establishing
a fifth division of Jerusalem’s western region and separating pressured zones,
“This project is a national infrastructure project
approved by all relevant planning and building committees, as well as all other
relevant bodies involved with approving such a project,” the spokeswoman told
During the planning process, Mekorot examined various
alternatives to this site. But this option received approval from all landscape
and environmental perspectives – with the participation of bodies like KKL-JNF,
the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Environmental Protection Ministry and
a forum of green activists from the Jerusalem region, according to the
Meanwhile, an engineer from the Har Adar Council and
representatives from the community who attended a Mekorot-sponsored meeting also
received copies of the plan, the spokeswoman stressed.
“In order to
minimize the impact on the landscape and the environment, Mekorot has committed
to submerging the pool with the aim of downplaying the pool’s appearance above
ground, in addition to performing a massive landscape restoration,” she
The spokeswoman would not confirm the project’s size or costs –
which some reports put at NIS 2.5 billion.
At the time the plan was
approved, those who had authorized it were well aware of the need to cut and
shift many trees in the area, she added.
An Interior Ministry spokeswoman
said the project – to construct the fifth water system to supply Jerusalem and
surrounding communities, including to Har Adar – received approval on January
29, 2009. Many alternatives were under examination before this location was
selected, and no objections to the site were submitted during the public review
period, the ministry said.
Rabihiya, on the other hand, said that while
the relevant authorities may have published the plans in some form, none of the
residents of Har Adar or the surrounding neighborhoods were aware of the
project. They received no notice of the required period for filing public
oppositions, he added. The group has obtained a lawyer to determine whether it
can sue Mekorot for not sufficiently publicizing the plan. Their lawyer, Shmuel
Havilio, has also appealed to KKL-JNF’s Forestry branch, which must grant final
approval to cut down any trees.
The Saving Our Forest group insists that
there are other suitable locations near Mevaseret and Mount Eitan where Mekorot
could build a reservoir without deforesting large tracts of land. Rahabiya also
said archaeologists have recently discovered tombs from the Second Temple period
where Mekorot wants to build the reservoir, but that the Israel Antiquities
Authority has not yet surveyed the area.
IAA spokeswoman Yoli Schwartz
said the organization had recently received plans for the project and will need
to closely examine it to determine whether it will harm archeological relics.
Mekorot cannot start construction until they receive IAA approval, she
The resident activists are currently in the process of trying to
get Israel’s larger environmental groups on their side, starting with the
Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Adam Teva V’Din – Israel
Union for Environmental Defense.
“It will be very difficult and
unfortunately almost impossible to stop the damage to the forest because we are
talking about legal plans that were approved years ago,” Amit Bracha, executive
director of Adam Teva V’Din, told the Post. “Our work now is to minimize the
damage by looking closely at the permits for cutting down the trees and checking
if they follow the proper legal procedure, and also by trying to put pressure on
KKLJNF with the residents.”
The KKL-JNF responded that the organization
“has not yet received a request to cut the trees.”
Saving Our Forest is
holding a protest and activity day on Saturday morning at the planned
construction site to raise awareness about the danger posed to the forest by the