Grounds for concern

For Shalom Friedman, the choice to put down a deposit on a new home in Eden Hills was a simple one. "Are you kidding? Just look at this place," he says. Gazing across the Elah Valley's rolling hills, checkered with green vineyards and the golden stubble of the arable fields, it's not difficult to see why Anglo olim like Friedman are reaching for their checkbooks. "This place is beautiful and quiet. I've got a 100-square-meter apartment in Rehavia and two active kids; we're waiting to move in," says Friedman, who adds that the stunning esthetics are one of Eden Hills's major draws for potential residents. The Eden Hills development is described as a "celebration for ecology and Zionism," boasting environmentally friendly innovations including solar power, geothermal technology and water purification." But can building on pristine open space in a tiny country like Israeli really be described as "ecological"? Environmentalists beg to differ. "No new community can call itself an 'environmental' community," asserts Michelle Levine, spokesperson for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI). "We have gone past the point where we can build more communities. There's only so much green space we can take up in Israel." Friedman, meanwhile, says he thinks "the whole project is very ecological." The current plan for Eden Hills represents a downsize from developer Jake Leibowitz's original vision, following a decision by the regional committee for planning and construction to reduce the amount of land allocated to the community to preserve the wildlife sector that runs through the area. "There is an ecological corridor passing not far from here, an area where animals and vegetation migrate, which is very narrow. We tried to design the plan with lots of open spaces so that animals and vegetation can move from side to side between the valleys," says ornithologist Dr. Yossi Leshem, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University. He believes that as it stands, the development is "acceptable" and represents a "compromise between the development and the ecological system." While the ecological corridor is invisible to the untrained eye, Israel's West Bank security barrier, which runs nearby, is visible from the Eden Hills model home. Not only does it slice into the otherwise pristine hillside, but it also blocks the passage of wildlife through the corridor. "If the fence weren't there, maybe Eden Hills wouldn't be such an ecological catastrophe," says Levine. She predicts that, like any new community, Eden Hills will grow, necessitating further infrastructure that will enlarge its ecological footprint. "Even with the best of intentions, it will branch out. That's just what happens."