Two gazelles rest at the newly opened Gazelle Valley Urban Wildlife Park.
(photo credit: JERUSALEM MUNICIPALITY)
Less than one year after it opened to the public, the future of Jerusalem’s Gazelle Valley Urban Wildlife Park – the country’s first urban nature park – is in jeopardy due to political infighting at the municipality over issuing a tender for the site’s ongoing management.
Located between the neighborhoods of Patt and Givat Mordechai, the park features five ponds, two streams, bird-watching areas, a manmade island accessible by wooden bridges, and dozens of wild gazelles roaming free on over 25 hectares.
Following an acrimonious 20-year legal battle against private developers over the sought-after land, which cost NIS 90 million to develop, more than 150,000 visitors have visited the park since its inauguration a year ago.
While Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat hailed the completion of the park as an unparalleled victory for the municipality and the public over “the real estate tycoons,” a City Council battle over issuing a tender to manage the area has imperiled its future.
Built in coordination with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Jerusalem Foundation, the SPNI managed the park during its first year, and was the sole entity to issue a tender to continue managing the land.
However, ultra-Orthodox members of the tenders committee voted against approving the bid, citing a lack of competition and unsubstantiated religious objections, including sales of souvenirs and plans to open a café during Shabbat, thus leaving management of the park in limbo.
In response, Deputy Mayor Tamir Nir of the Yerushalmim faction told Israeli media that the ultra-Orthodox are denying SPNI the tender to “take over activity in Gazelle Valley” in an attempt to make it more lucrative.
While the municipality acknowledged that the bid was not approved because of a purported conflict of interest, it issued a statement noting that it will continue the tender process “in accordance with the law and the municipal legal advisor’s position.”
In the meantime, it said the SPNI will continue to manage the park until a tender is approved.