On a typical summer weekend it is almost impossible to find a free picnic table in the Jerusalem forests without a family or a group of friends sitting around it.
They come mainly from Jerusalem, but also from Beit Shemesh, Tel-Aviv, Beer-Sheva, Kiryat Shmona and Toronto. These majestic hills of forests and natural springs, sometimes taken for granted, are one of our most unique retreats, with a special feeling that exists nowhere else on the globe- the air of Jerusalem.
Tomorrow the National committee for planning and building will take a final vote between two options- handing these hills to private hands as the "Safdi program" suggests, or keeping them in the hands of the public and mother nature. Extensive construction and infrastructure projects such as highways, 20,000 apartments and sewage lines will cause irreversible ecological damage to the Jerusalem Hills.
But loosing the hills is not the only reason for which we cannot agree with this program.
Jerusalem has been weakened in various ways in recent years, and the economically strong sectors of the population are gradually leaving. Investment in the development of the hills to the west of Jerusalem will physically harm the uniqueness of the city - and the residents themselves - by diverting funds inappropriately.
The trend of negative emigration from the city is a cause for national concern. Development of the Jerusalem hills for housing and industry will not bring new residents from the coastal plain but will rather lead to a further exodus of middle to upper class residents from the city, aggravating the already negative trend. Development of the hills to the west of Jerusalem will inflict a deathblow to the city.
Alternatives exist- according to the experts, land for potential building and development exists within the current build perimeters of the city. There is sufficient land to meet the demand for housing, which is caused by natural growth and new and returning residents seeking to settle permanently in Jerusalem.
An alternative program planned by architect Uri Bar-Sheshet found that 58,000 housing units can be built in the city in the next 15 years without building in the forest.
Instead of saving Jerusalem, we are building an alternative city, while leaving the old one to diminish. We took responsibility for the well being of this city that is in the hearts of so many people. Realizing this program will be irreversible. It will irresponsible to go on with it.
The writer is an activist in Greencourse.