By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – Scores of Jordanians took part in a sit-in on Thursday to protest against the construction of a military academy in Bergesh Forest, charging that the project “is executing one of Jordan’s few forests”.

Held in front of the Ministry of Agriculture, the sit-in is part of an ongoing campaign by environment activists and individuals opposing the project, which they say will entail uprooting several hundred forest trees in Bergesh, located 90 kilometres northwest of the capital in Ajloun Governorate.

“I’m here today to urge officials to rethink this decision, to tell them to heed their conscience before they cut down Bergesh Forest trees,” said Basma Dajani, one of the participants at yesterday’s sit-in.

Construction work on the military academy started in early January but was halted after several environmental NGOs and members of the Lower House objected to the original site of the academy, which would have entailed uprooting 2,200 centennial trees including oak, pistachio, hawthorn and strawberry.

Following deliberations between the Jordan Armed Forces and a Lower House committee probing the construction of the academy, the project was relocated to another site where the number of trees which will be cut down was reduced.

But environmental NGOs, activists and local residents do not want any trees at all to be cut down, as the Kingdom’s green cover is already limited and decreasing, and the country cannot afford to lose 300 forest trees.

“Forests in Jordan constitute less than one per cent of the country’s landscape, it is irrational to target the last remaining trees when the military academy can be built in a different location in Ajloun Governorate,” Muazaz Qasrawi, a participant, told The Jordan Times yesterday.

He underscored that forest trees in Jordan should be protected not only for their aesthetic value, but also for health and environmental reasons.

“Besides being one of Jordan’s amazing natural landscapes, the Bergesh Forest reduces air pollution and constitutes a natural habitat for several wildlife species,” Qasrawi noted.

The green cover in Bergesh is 90 per cent, according to the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), which noted that the forest represents an integrated ecosystem and is home to over 100 plant species, 13 per cent of them rare, 4 per cent locally and internationally threatened and 13 per cent with medicinal value.

Salem Zaitoun, a resident of Orjan in Ajloun, called on the government to halt construction of the project if it will entail uprooting trees.

“I am not against establishing the academy, but I am against cutting a single tree in the forest… I will protect the trees as if I planted them with my own hands,” the septuagenarian said during the sit-in.

The RSCN, Jordan’s main environment watchdog, issued a statement last week decrying the Lower House panel’s decision to approve the construction of the military academy in the Bergesh Forest although the site has been relocated.

In the statement, the RSCN pointed out at the project is in clear violation to agriculture and environment laws.

“We are in favour of socio-economic development in Ajloun Governorate as long as it is sustainable… The uprooting of hundreds of trees for the construction of the military academy violates local laws as well as international conventions to which Jordan is signatory,” Omar Shoshan, head of RSCN’s environmental policies section, told The Jordan Times yesterday.

If the project continues, it will be in clear violation of Article 35, paragraph B of the Agriculture Law, which forbids uprooting, damaging or violating any centennial or rare forest trees and threatened wild plants, according to the RSCN.

Ramzi Ghazawi, one of the sit-in organisers, said that efforts to relocate the project will continue until decision makers change the blueprints to ensure that not even one tree has to be cut down.