Knesset panel calls on government to stop Har Harat building plans

The area, which is largely under the ownership of KKL-JNF, contains ecologically sensitive and serves as a green lung for the region.

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December 29, 2015 21:44
2 minute read.
Har Harat

View of Har Harat. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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The Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee called upon the Housing Cabinet to put an end to building plans they say will threaten the sanctity of the Jerusalem region’s Har Harat green space.

Environmental groups led by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael- Jewish National Fund, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Green Course have long protested the building program for Har Harat, which would bring thousands of apartment units to a 160-hectare space between Jerusalem and Mevaseret Zion. The area, which is largely under the ownership of KKL-JNF, serves as a green lung for the region, they have argued.

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Inbal Zarchin, a planner for KKL-JNF’s central region, said the building plans “threaten to harm unique natural features, ecosystems, landscapes and historic sites while completely ignoring the physical situation in the area and the existing planning foundation.”

The area, Zarchin explained, is completely owned and operated by KKLJNF and is thereby protected from development schemes.

“KKL-JNF in the past turned to planning authorities about the matter, demanding the immediate halt of any planning on the ground, and made it clear that any action in this regard would constitute a deviation of authority and even an infringement upon the proprietary rights of KKL-JNF,” she said.

The Har Harat plans were brought to the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee for an expedited discussion on Tuesday, at the behest of MKs Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Erel Margalit (Zionist Union), Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid) and Dov Henin (Joint List). At the meeting, the MKs demanded that the Housing Cabinet reach an agreement with the municipalities of Jerusalem and Mevaseret Zion immediately, and halt the plans.

“We must wage a battle without compromise against the intention to build on Har Harat, the only green lung around Jerusalem,” Levy said during the committee session.

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Margalit, meanwhile, accused the government’s planning bodies of failing to understand how to properly develop a city, stressing the importance of strengthening the municipality’s center over building in its outskirts.

Zandberg made similar remarks, adding that plenty of building reserves exist within the city proper.

“Suburban construction will not lower housing costs,” she said. “Jerusalem is a very scattered city that has room to be condensed. This project will empty Jerusalem of a strong population.”

Henin, who chairs the Knesset’s Social-Environmental Lobby, called the plans “outrageous” and “megalomaniac,” and contrary to public interests.

Green Course activist and Hebrew University student Tzeruya Yaari similarly spoke about how there are housing units all around Jerusalem waiting to be built, adding that “destruction of natural assets is irreversible.”

“What is taken now will not be returned to the world,” Yaari said.

Representatives from both the cities likewise emphasized that their municipalities have ample building plans of their own, and that constructing on Har Harat would be unnecessary.

On the opposing side, a representative of the Israel Lands Authority, which is promoting the plan, explained that the apartments would only be constructed on a former quarry located at the site, and could provide a new area of employment for Mevaseret.

MK Yoav Ben-Tzur (Shas), who was serving as acting committee chairman in place of MK David Amsalem (Likud) on Tuesday, concluded the meeting by emphasizing the importance of maintaining the region’s natural landscape.

“We urge the cabinet to find alternatives that all the organizations will agree upon,” Ben-Tzur said. “We hope to reach an understanding and, if not, we will join the struggle.

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