(photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Tuesday condemned a proposal by the government to build a large residential apartment complex on the capital’s Mitzpeh Naftoah nature park, located south of Ramot.
In an announcement on Monday, the Housing Ministry stated that the reserve represented a “priority area” for housing considerations, and would be rezoned to make room for some 1,400 apartments.
When Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabai said he supported the move after a blueprint was presented by the Israel lands Authority without Barkat’s knowledge, the mayor issued a strongly-worded statement accusing the authority of “crudely thumbing its nose at the municipality’s policy.”
“Mitzpeh Naftoah is one of the principal green lungs of the city, which according to experts, contains one of the unique natural sites in the world in terms of its wealth of biodiversity – including a wide range of local wildlife, such as the largest herd of gazelles in the Judean Hills and other animals,” he said.
“Now it is in danger of extinction… and I won’t allow them to revive construction plans in west Jerusalem that will bring serious harm to the city and the destruction of its green areas.”
Barkat’s anger was echoed by residents of the area and numerous environmental groups.
“Over 100 species of birds and a rich variety of animals inhabit the park, some of which are threatened with extinction,” the JNF’s Alon Tal told Walla! news.
“The tragedy,” he continued, “is that the government is doing this to try and lower the price of housing.”
The announcement comes three months after Gazelle Valley Urban Wildlife Park, located in the capital’s southwest, was opened to the public following an acrimonious 20-year legal battle against private developers over a sought after piece of land.
Featuring five ponds, two streams, bird-watching areas, a man-made island, and dozens of wild gazelles roaming free, Barkat heralded the park as an unparalleled victory for the municipality and the public over “the real estate tycoons” who sought to build high-rises on the land.