The Jerusalem Hills are alive – but for how much longer?

Nature belongs to us all – hikers, bikers, families – whether religious, secular, old or young. We all have a right to demand that our voices be heard and we have the power to stop this atrocity.

EIN TAMAR, below Aminadav. (photo credit: ELAD BEN-CANAAN)
EIN TAMAR, below Aminadav.
(photo credit: ELAD BEN-CANAAN)
My name is Odelya. I have lived my entire life in Jerusalem, a city that has given me so much. Now I have the opportunity to give back to the city by helping save the beautiful nature that surrounds it.
A few weeks ago, a compelling WhatsApp message about the planned building projects in the Jerusalem Hills grabbed my attention. As an 11th grader in Adam High School, I was skeptical about the possibility of making a difference. I feared I would not be taken seriously and be seen as a mere tree-loving teenager who enjoys the Ein Lavan spring, particularly in the hours before Shabbat. But I realized that protecting the Jerusalem Hills is something that I can demand. And that empowered me.
HYRAX NEAR Shvil Hamaayonot.HYRAX NEAR Shvil Hamaayonot.
Nature belongs to us all – hikers, bikers, families – whether religious, secular, old or young. We all have a right to demand that our voices be heard and we have the power to stop this atrocity. Not only is this a right, but also an obligation to ourselves, to future generations and to the animals in danger of extinction that cannot make their voices heard.
I heard of the planned building in Reches Lavan, but like many others, I was fooled into thinking that it is a small bit of nature and might not be worth the amount of time and energy needed to attempt to save it. I was frightened to learn, however, that this building plan is only one of many that will follow. This battle is bigger than Reches Lavan, it is a battle to save all of the nature surrounding Jerusalem. Because while Reches Lavan is the most urgent, having already received approval from all but one committee, it is but the tip of the iceberg.
Due to the topography and geology of the hills, building a new neighborhood on Reches Lavan will be costly. The only way for it to be financially beneficial for the contractors, is if it is immediately followed by more building projects. We have alarming information of several other building plans that are already in advanced planning stages. The threatened areas are the forest below Aminadav, surrounding Hadassah, below Mevaseret and Mitzpe Naftoach. Once one neighborhood is completed, buildings will eat away at the nature of Jerusalem like wildfire.
MAPPING THE planned neighborhoods in the Jerusalem Hills (designated in black). (SPNI)MAPPING THE planned neighborhoods in the Jerusalem Hills (designated in black). (SPNI)
Being a city surrounded by nature is beneficial for all of us. Trees are the most efficient way of purifying polluted air. They absorb carbon dioxide and make the air we breathe healthier. Some cities in the world intentionally surround themselves with a ring of greenery. In addition, many studies prove that being surrounded by nature, even just seeing the color green, lowers rates of depression and mental illness. All the more reason to oppose these building plans and fight for our health!
During the building process, 11,000 trees will be cut down. When confronted, the building planners claim that they are taking environmental considerations into account, such as planting more trees than the amount that they will cut down. While we can appreciate this gesture, it does not take into consideration that the longstanding forest has a complex and rare ecological system that would be utterly destroyed. Urban greenery is not a substitute for wild nature and will not be able to serve the rich wildlife that is found within the forest. The countless natural springs that will be destroyed are the animals’ only water source. Some of these animals, such as deer and badgers that are native to the land, are in danger of becoming extinct. I have seen foxes, mongoose and jackals running free near the springs. The loss of their water source, together with the damage the building will inflict upon their homes, may cause their disappearance from Israel’s landscape. In an age of climate crisis, with forests burning, glaciers melting and desertification, we have to fight in order to protect every open and natural space.
I am proud to live in a city where nature is within close proximity. It is unique that such a peaceful haven exists alongside a noisy and crowded environment. It is embedded in Jerusalem’s culture. This is evident when visiting Ein Lavan on a Friday afternoon. Hikers, bikers, groups of religious girls making shakshuka, families on a picnic, and people just trying to escape the noise of the city join together in this idyllic place of coexistence.
GAZELLE jumping, Reches Lavan.GAZELLE jumping, Reches Lavan.
I remember when I first joined my youth movement in fifth grade and our counselors took us to Ein Sarig, one of the many springs in the Jerusalem Hills. We splashed in the water and sat in the giant fig tree, picking everything we could reach. Now I am a counselor in that same youth movement. I have the honor of passing that tradition on to the children in my group. It pains me to think that in just a few years they may not be able pass on these experiences to their charges. They will only be able to say: “See all those buildings over there? There used to be springs surrounded by trees there and people would gather by day to enjoy nature and animals would come to drink by night. But it’s all gone now.”
This doesn’t have to happen! There are other solutions for Jerusalem’s need to grow. I am aware of the housing shortage in the city. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel published a report in 2019 that reviewed the building opportunities within the city. We are deceived into thinking that the only way to promote urban renewal is by expanding Jerusalem outward. Pursuing building opportunities within the city will improve its development and save valuable open space.
This is not the first time that the Jerusalem Hills have been in danger. Some of you may remember the Safdie plan proposed in 1998. As a result of a public outcry, the plan was officially canceled in 2006. Now, less than 15 years later, we face the same threat. Our proposed solution is to have the Jerusalem Hills be declared a National Park that will protect our nature from destruction. This time we are hoping to ensure that our fight will be the last.
A FAMILY of gazelles, Reches Lavan.A FAMILY of gazelles, Reches Lavan.
I know there are politics involved. I discovered them first hand when I went to speak in front of the environmental committee of the municipality. Everyone seemed to be on our side but claimed their hands were tied and they were doing the best they can. But my hands are not tied and neither are yours. I am 16 and completely free to fight for a right cause. There are a lot of people that care, maybe even every one of Jerusalem’s near million residents, but they have not yet stepped over that threshold between knowledge and action. With the masses of everyone who cares, we can “loosen” the ties that are preventing the decision makers from doing what is good for us and future generations.
Please help me and hundreds of other activists save the Hills of Jerusalem by coming to the protest – June 25 at 3:30 p.m., in Givat Shaul.
For more information: savejerusalemhills@gmail.com