Hundreds protest ‘Holyland planning reform’

Demonstrators fear current form of measure won't prevent corruption.

Holyland 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Holyland 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
While the cabinet was meeting to debate the draft state budget on Thursday evening, hundreds of people gathered at the foot of the Holyland building complex in southern Jerusalem to protest against the proposed building and construction reform, promoted by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The demonstration, organized by the Society for the Protection of Nature Israel (SPNI) and the Responsible Planning Coalition, and running under the slogan “No to the Holyland state,” said that to prevent future corruption cases like the Holyland affair, the government must stop promoting the reform in its current form.
Seven busloads of SPNI activists arrived in Jerusalem from across the country to participate in the demonstration.
They were met there by lawmakers and representatives from environmental and social organizations and political parties.
Among the speakers at the event were Kadima MK and former Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, Labor MK Eitan Cabel, National Union MK Arye Eldad, Hadash MK Dov Henin, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Naomi Tzur and SPNI’s environmental protection director, Nir Papai.
Protesters carried signs and banners reading “Separate between planning and permitting,” “Stop the corruption” and “Quality of life: Not only for the wealthy.”
“Under the auspices of a reform in permit issuing, the prime minister is opening the door to a wave of corruption that will overflow us once the reform is passed,” Eldad said.
“We are in favor of a reform, we are in favor of increased efficiency, we are in favor of change, but what Netanyahu is proposing is ruin,” said Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz.
“I tip my hat to the hundreds of people who, despite the heat and the fact that we are into the weekend and the summer vacation, understand the threat that the reform, in its current form, presents to each and every one of us, and came to Jerusalem to express their concern,” said Papai. “The opposition to the reform as it is currently proposed is shared by a wide range of varied organizations, from political parties from across the spectrum, to teenagers and elderly citizens and to many thousands of people, from all across the country who signed the petition in favor of a different, more responsible reform. We call on the prime minister to listen to the public and promote a different reform that will be acceptable to everyone.”
After the speeches, representatives from 32 organizations approached the stage and signed a petition to be sent to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu calling on him to split the reform into two. The petition urged the government to aggressively pursue the parts of the reform that have to do with permit issuing, but put aside for further debate the part that has to do with longterm planning.
Earlier this week, 44 MKs from nine factions signed a petition against the reform.
Though most of the signers were opposition members, coalition MKs Amir Peretz from Labor and Moshe Gafni from United Torah Judaism also lent their support.
At the beginning of the month, the cabinet rejected the proposal to split the reform.
The building and construction reform has come under strong criticism from environmental and social organizations since it was first proposed in February.
While Netanyahu has said that the bill was designed to remove the bureaucratic impediments that have turned the planning and building process in Israel into one of the most complicated in the world, the plan’s opponents said it hands too much power to local authorities that don’t have the knowledge and resources to deal with external pressures, and warn of a rise in corruption and the disappearance of the nation’s open spaces if it is approved.
The reform’s opponents have even taken to calling it the “Holyland reform,” saying that its passage would bring about many similar corruption cases in the future.