he regional committee for planning and construction recently decided to reduce the size of the land allocated to the Eden Hills luxury housing project to allow for a wildlife corridor. As reported in In Jerusalem ("Trouble in Paradise," December 30), the security fence is blocking off the eco-corridor in two points, says Michelle Levine of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), which contested the project. "Eden Hills would be the final stima [obstruction]." Eden Hills, the brainchild of US immigrant and entrepreneur Jake Leibowitz, is planned as an "eco-community" located southeast of Beit Shemesh and is being marketed primarily to Anglo Jews. Levine considers the decision an environmental victory, "not because the number of homes is being reduced, but because we want to preserve the wildlife corridor." According to an Environmental Impact report, she says, the wildlife corridor "has to be preserved for all time or it would be like the draining of the Hula swamp, which stopped animals migrating." The SPNI has worked with the Jewish National Fund, Adam Teva V'din, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Lands Administration to preserve the corridor. Leibowitz would prefer to relocate the homes within the allocated area rather than eliminate them, but he has not yet ascertained if this is feasible. Levine maintains the government should have followed the guidelines of "Israel 2020," a plan that recommends that no new communities be built but rather that existing ones be "reinforced and strengthened." She believes that the allocation of land - which she says the SPNI was trying to preserve before the construction project came into the picture - to Eden Hills was the fault of the government and not Leibowitz. But, she says, "To say you're building an eco-community and to not consult the environmentalists from the get-go - only consulting us after we objected - it doesn't say much about your ecological intentions." Leibowitz, on the other hand, believes it is "very peculiar" that an environmental group has opposed an ecological project. "It's very suspicious that an environmental group who supposedly cares about the environment is challenging it [Eden Hills]," he says. "The damage they're trying to do is manifesting itself in environmental damage. The more profitable the project is, the more money that will go to ecological projects." In the wake of the decision, work permits have been granted for the project. If the SPNI does not appeal the decision, Leibowitz says, construction will begin shortly.

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