Rising tempers

Residents are opposing Mordot Masua, a construction plan in the Refaim Valley, which they claim would destroy a natural resource, disrupt the view of neighbors in Givat Masua.

A view of where Mordot Mesua is planned to be built 521 (photo credit: Sharon Udasin)
A view of where Mordot Mesua is planned to be built 521
(photo credit: Sharon Udasin)
Squatting in the grass of the already flowering Refaim Valley, Givat Masua resident Dan Amir painstakingly squeezes silicone gel from a tube in attempt to piece back together a large stone plaque that has split into many pieces.
After a few tries, he successfully assembles the pieces and balances the whole fixture against some rocks, sighing at the fact that no one has bothered to fix it. “March of the Living Grove,” etched in the stone, now stands back in its proper place amid the late winter foliage, much of which has been planted by Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael volunteers.
“We think this should be part of a nature park,” Amir says.
The rocky green slope, home to the occasional wandering gazelle, birds and small trees, may soon feature 482 new apartment units in high-rise buildings, unless the opposition of Givat Masua residents living on the ridge above convinces the Jerusalem regional planning committee otherwise.
Objectors have until March 8 to voice their opinions about the new Refaim Valley neighborhood – slated to be called Mordot Masua – to both the regional and local planning committees, and 400 people have already done so, according to Amir, who is coordinating the local protest efforts. By the deadline, he expects to have 500 oppositions filed, he tells In Jerusalem during a tour of the area on Monday morning.
“We are talking about an area that is still open space,” says Amir, who is one of the managers of the Community Park Administration that oversees maintenance in the local parks of Givat Masua, Ir Ganim and Kiryat Menahem.
“We think it should remain like this because of the nature and the history of the place,” he adds, noting that the area harbored Jerusalem’s main food supply during biblical times. “It’s very important to leave this for the next generation.”
For many years, young Israeli and American volunteers had come to the slope to plant trees for JNF-KKL, and March of the Living trips often ended their journeys with tree-planting ventures in the area, Amir explains. Some of the trees, no longer taken care of, have died, but others still remain and cover the hills that are “connected to the open spaces outside of the city,” according to Amir.
“They are still monuments and stones commemorating people who died and in whose memory trees were planted – even people who died in the Holocaust,” he says.
If the new neighborhood does rise, it may rise so high – to between eight and 10 stories – that the top portions of the new buildings throughout the slope will block the views from the balconies of Givat Masua apartments.
“People came and bought apartments because of the view,” Amir says, gesturing downward into the valley from an outlook in the neighborhood. “You don’t have this – not in Netanya, not in Rehovot, not in Herzliya.”
The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, also situated in the Refaim Valley, is surrounded by a relatively natural environment that is to the benefit of its resident animals, who would probably suffer from the noise and lights of an adjacent neighborhood and the expanded highway that would likely accompany it, according to Amir. Likewise, the new residents of the Mordot Masua neighborhood would likely not appreciate the smells and sounds that come along with zoo animals, he says.
The area already contains enough of a “corridor of infrastructure,” including a main sewage line running below it as well as a high-tension electricity line above it, and builders are currently constructing a large expanded parking lot outside the zoo, Amir explains.
Across the valley on the slope opposite what may be Mordot Masua, a border fence still under construction juts through the agricultural terraces that separate Jerusalem from Walaja but also further limits the open space for biodiversity, according to Amir.
Establishing a new neighborhood would just restrict these plants and animals even more, he said.
The same type of terraces that bulge out of the Refaim Valley hills protrude from the adjacent Kiryat Menahem neighborhood’s lush Lavan Valley – another place in danger of disappearance and currently under protest. Through the Lavan Valley, where farmers and wine cultivators harvested much of Jerusalem’s crops during ancient times, the city has planned to construct a road that will connect Givat Masua to Ora Junction and the Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem, according to Amir. A private citizen has filed a complaint with the High Court about this decision, and a discussion will take place shortly about the fate of the valley, which Amir says looks like a “carpet of flowers” during springtime.
“We all have the same feeling – there should be someone from an organized group that does the job, like SPNI [the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel], but they don’t,” Amir says.
In response, an SPNI spokesman says that the environmental organization does not oppose the plans because it considers Mordot Masua to be an expansion of Givat Masua.
“The plan is to expand an existing neighborhood, in accordance with national planning policy, and the consolidation and strengthening of existing neighborhoods, which prevent the need for establishing new neighborhoods, are policies that SPNI supports,” the spokesman said.
Rather than construct what they feel is a new neighborhood, however, Amir and his colleagues are now proposing a nearby alternative to the Mordot Masua project.
“If you really look you would find space that doesn’t hurt anybody – on the contrary,” he says.
Specifically, they advocate rehabilitating and renovating local impoverished areas and offering upgraded, subsidized housing – on streets such as Stern, Costa Rica and Hanurit. Not only would this improve current residents’ lifestyles, but it would also save the city the huge expense of developing new high-rises along a steep slope, Amir argues. “The municipality should go for this,” he says. “But they are just going for the easy way, and the easy way is not the right way or the good way. They are going against the interests of the public.”
If their objections do not strike a chord with the city’s planners, many of those whom live atop the Givat Masua cliff may not remain in their homes for much longer, the residents warn.
“Many people told me they will just sell and go – they will leave the city,” Amir says. •