Gazelle Valley: Park or reserve?

The Gazelle Park was originally conceived of and fought for through one of the city’s most successful and inspiring struggles of residents.

The Gazelle Valley looks peaceful and welcoming, yet the situation on the ground is not nearly as tranquil (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Gazelle Valley looks peaceful and welcoming, yet the situation on the ground is not nearly as tranquil
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
On a sunny Friday afternoon last month, a group of middle-aged women made their way to the Gazelle Park to celebrate a birthday over a tasty picnic while watching the graceful gazelles wandering across the woods.
At the entrance of the park, a team of instructors, inspectors and employees of the municipal park greeted them and provided them with a lot of information on the place, including a detailed and colorful map of the whole park. There were nicely arranged areas for picnics throughout the park, thoughtfully situated under shade trees, and even stones to secure a picnic tablecloth from the wind.
It all looked as peaceful and welcoming as possible, yet it turned out, a few days after that birthday picnic, that the situation on the ground was not so tranquil at all.
Being a city of many contrasts, Jerusalem last week won a prestigious prize for one of its leading projects, even though major issues regarding the project in question – such as its official direction and even its final identity – have not yet been resolved.
Chairman of the city’s tenders committee, Deputy Mayor Itzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism), last week rejected the proposal for the area that was submitted by of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the sole candidate to manage the place.
For Pindrus, it is above all a matter of identity. He wants to know what this area really is – a municipal park or a nature reserve – before he agrees to deposit responsibility for it in the hands of any agent. On Sunday Pindrus outlined his position.
“I have nothing against the SPNI, absolutely nothing. In fact, I even tend to prefer them over any other candidate for management of the park. It’s just that their offer doesn’t explicitly say how they are going to manage a place which is at the same time a municipal park and a nature reserve, and until I get that point clarified, I am holding back the tender.”
Former deputy mayor Tamir Nir, who was until last week deeply involved in the project, told In Jerusalem in a phone conversation from Dublin that he could not understand why Pindrus and city councilman Arieh King, also a member of the committee, were so strongly opposed to SPNI’s tender.
“It is strange to me that such an official and recognized organization, which was the only candidate for the tender, would be rejected. How could we give it to another body, while nobody beside the SPNI even submitted a proposal?” King clarified that he is not opposed to handing over the management of the park to the SPNI, but has reservations about the way it was presented to the committee members.
“I don’t feel comfortable handing over such a large plot of land, which belongs to the city, to a private society. As a result, there will be a very small – if any – possibility for the residents of this city to decide how this place will be managed. Even the contents of the educational programs planned there for youth will not be in the hands of the residents, not to mention the fact that if chosen, the SPNI will have total and free access to very important real estate – in addition to control over the energy, the water and everything else that comes with the management duties.”
Before making a decision, Pindrus seeks to clarify whether the place is a municipal park or a nature reserve – each has different tasks and rules – or whether it is to be a hybrid of both of them, divided in different areas of purpose.
The Gazelle Park was originally conceived of and fought for through one of the city’s most successful and inspiring struggles of residents. Once a large plot given by the government to the kibbutzim in the region, the 100+ hectare spread was on its way to becoming an ideal plot for real estate, with towers and luxurious buildings replacing the fruit trees, causing, as a result, the death and the extinction of the gazelles.
Unexpectedly strong grassroots opposition saved the area, uniting the residents of the Katamonim, Rassco and Givat Mordechai – not always the most natural partners. Despite the strong involvement of former mayor Ehud Olmert to turn the entire area into a paradise for real-estate sharks, the resolute stand of the residents, soon garnering additional support from environment associations and the local press, finally prevailed. By the time Uri Lupolianski succeeded Olmert, the valley and the gazelles were safe. What remained was to decide how best to change and handle the situation on the ground to make it a perfect place for families, while respecting the gazelles and their environment.
Thankfully, the park still exists and it is a real jewel for leisure time. What it needs now is the most appropriate management.
Pindrus is right – a nature reserve has different tasks and needs than a simple municipal park.
King might also be right – it is not certain that this entire large area should be handed over to a single organization. He emphasizes that the issue has nothing to do with his position on Shabbat issues.
“On that matter, I even tend to prefer the SPNI, since I know they are against allowing kiosks or coffee shops in the park that would probably ask to open on Shabbat; my hands are clean here.”
The matter might be resolved by the SPNI proposing a comprehensive management plan that would address the different tasks of a park and a reserve.
Meanwhile, the existing park structure has obtained a prize – the Israel Design Signal for 2016 – a prize the city obtained last year for the Mesila Park. The prize grants recognition to leading projects, even though the final identity and direction of the project in question have yet to be agreed upon.