A view of the Jerusalem Forest from Yad Vashem..
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
After controversial plans to construct an IDF military college atop Mount Scopus were abruptly shelved earlier this month amid speculation of pronounced US pressure, new criticism has arisen over talk this week of alternately building the complex in the Jerusalem Forrest.
The proposed 42,000-square-meter college – initially planned beyond the Green Line between the Arab neighborhood of A-Tur and the Hebrew University – was approved by the Interior Ministry, Jerusalem Municipality and other relevant governing bodies nearly two years ago but immediately engendered controversy.
Indeed, when the proposal was brought to a vote by the Jerusalem Municipality’s Local and District Planning and Building Committees in 2013, Deputy Mayor Pepe Alalu (Meretz) vocally dismissed the project as politically motivated and divisive.
“Building an army college, especially over the 1967 Green Line, is very problematic,” Alalu said at the time.
Additionally, Peace Now dismissed the project as “a really stupid idea” and warned of dire international implications after the complex was approved.
Still, it garnered far-reaching support from Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who championed it, as well as many right-wing hardliners.
“We see bringing the IDF colleges to the city as a strategic step for the city’s future, the strengthening of its Zionist sector and young families,” the mayor said in a statement.
City Councilor Yair Gabbay (National Religious Party), who sat on both municipal committees, said the plan “strengthens us and our sovereignty in east Jerusalem.”
Meanwhile, alternate plans announced this week by the municipality and IDF to build the complex in the Jerusalem Forest also have resulted in controversy.
According to opponents – including environmentalists from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, area residents and the Jewish National Fund – such a project would destroy an invaluable nature reserve and limit leisure activities in the forest.
Alternately, critics have suggested building the complex at an abandoned army base in the Beit Zayit area or Givat Ram, near the Hebrew University, despite the fact that those locations have been rejected previously.
The National Defense College is currently located at the Glilot junction in Herzliya, next to the central military intelligence base.
The move is part of an initiative to free up land for housing in the Gush Dan region, while bringing military infrastructure to economically depressed areas in the periphery and Jerusalem.