Modi’in residents protest Titora building project

Mayor Bibas pledges to preserve possible ancient site ahead of a decisive district housing committee meeting on Monday.

Titora Hill in Modi’in 370 (photo credit: Rimonah Traub)
Titora Hill in Modi’in 370
(photo credit: Rimonah Traub)
A group of Modi’in residents have banded together to protest a prospective housing project on their botanical oasis of Titora Hill, ahead of a decisive district housing committee meeting on Monday.
The residents launched a petition on the website Atzuma on Sunday, calling for supporters to write letters to Mayor Haim Bibas, in support of a municipal plan to transform the area into a protected archeological site, rather than a 775- unit housing complex. Possibly inhabited since the Chalcolithic period between 4,000 and 3,150 BCE, Mount Titora may be the home of ancient Modi’in, where the Hashmonaim rebellion against King Antiochus took place in about 165 BCE, the petition explains. Meanwhile, in addition to the archeological remains from Byzantine through British occupation periods that pepper the site, its lands are filled with more than 80 types of wildflowers and over 180 ancient water cisterns, according to residents.
“Titora is very important to the people of Modi’in and should be of national importance,” said Rimonah Traub, the resident who initiated the petition. “This has been a long and protracted struggle and is now an imminent threat, as the building contractors usually win.”
For Kate Berkowitz Stern, Titora represents an essentially undisturbed “oasis” within a city that strives to be “modern and progressive.
“I love to take my kids there for a few reasons: First of all, it’s so close – literally in town,” Berkowitz Stern told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s an opportunity to get out into the sunshine and to have a [hike] but requires zero preparation. Homework’s done and it’s a nice day? Take a water bottle and let’s go.”
Because Titora is small, only the size of a few city blocks, she also described the site as a “manageable” place where she can allow her children to run freely without risking getting lost in the thick of a forest.
“Third, I think it’s an amazing mashup of Israel in microcosm,” Berkowitz Stern said. “There are pottery shards and water cisterns, you can see the Jerusalem hills, you have seasonal flowers that come and go every year.”
Having moved to Israel herself in 2009 from Riverdale, New York, when her children were of kindergarten age, Berkowitz Stern said she appreciates how so many of the flowers that adorn Titora show up in the children’s song “Come to Life,” which she and her family continue to sing.
There are so many other spaces in Modi’in – some of which seem easier to handle, topographically speaking – that are slated for development in the future, so it seems a shame that this relatively small area can’t be left in peace.” she added.
For another resident, Debbie Zimelman, Titora is a natural space within five minutes walking distance of her home, covered in wildflowers and archeological remains. Mountain biking groups, people walking their dogs and children constantly populate the area, she explained.
“You can see half of Israel from the top – especially when you climb the remains of the castle,” Zimelman said.
Nearly two-thirds of the original Titora has already been built upon, and what remains must be preserved in its natural state, according to another resident, Marion Stone. Despite the fact that more than a decade ago, the then-mayor of Modi’in vowed to turn the hill into an archeological park, two mayors later this promise still has not been fulfilled, Stone stressed.
While she acknowledged that Bibas and his staff support the preservation of Titora in theory, she also noted that “action, or rather non-action, seems to speak louder than words.
“Very little remains today of the ecological corridor that once existed in this area,” Stone said. “It is a place of nature in the city, enjoyed by many, not only locals, but also for people all over the country.”
In response to the petition, the Modi’in-Maccabim- Re’ut Municipality stressed that there is a consensus among the residents and city officials that a construction site cannot crop up on this mountain.
“The discussion scheduled in the district committee is part of a long process that the city is leading toward statutory changes in the Mount Titora area for the cancellation of 775 housing units that are planned to be built there in the city’s original construction plans, and instead, preserve the area as an archeological heritage park,” a Modi’in spokesman told the Post.
“In the previous discussion Mayor Haim Bibas appeared before the committee and informed committee members that while he is in office, not a single housing unit will be built on Mount Titora.”