Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz says proposal, which would hem in two East Jerusalem neighborhoods, has no ‘particularly sensitive natural value.’
By Nir Hasson |

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz on Wednesday froze a plan to create a new national park on the slopes of Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus, saying the area has no “particularly sensitive natural value.”

The controversial plan is being pushed by both the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Jerusalem municipality. But left-wing groups and Palestinians charge that the real purpose is to block the development of two nearby Palestinian neighborhoods, Issawiyeh and A-Tur. As proof, they note that the area has no special natural or archaeological value.

The area slated for the park is the only space into which Issawiyeh and A-Tur can expand, and a few years ago both neighborhoods submitted plans to do so. But the planning authorities rejected these proposals and declared the area a national park. The park won initial approval from the regional planning committee almost two years ago but has made little progress since then – possibly due to fear of international pressure.

Over the recent Sukkot holiday, an employee of the parks authority was recorded admitting that the park’s main purpose was to prevent construction there.

“There is no doubt that this is an area with important natural value; it is the gateway to Jerusalem from the Judean Desert and therefore constitutes a link between areas with a desert climate to the east and a Mediterranean climate to the west,” Peretz wrote in his letter ordering the parks authority to freeze the plan.

“Nevertheless, I wish to inform you that I do not intend to support the continuation of this process until we have held additional discussions to examine the implications for natural values, as well as the national and international ramifications.”

In a press statement, however, Peretz said he made the decision after consultations with both ministry and legal experts had convinced him that the area was “devoid of particularly sensitive natural value or unique archaeological remains that justify turning it into a natural park.”


Nature conservation – the continuation of the occupation by other means – HAARETZ EDITORIAL

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz should seize the opportunity to reevaluate a decision to turn an unimpressive area in East Jerusalem into a national park – which is aimed at preventing the expansion of adjacent Palestinian neighborhoods.
Haaretz Editorial | Oct. 2, 2013

Walking through the area designated for the Mount Scopus Slopes National Park in East Jerusalem, the question immediately arises: Why turn these unspectacular slopes into a national park? The answer was supplied last week by a staff member of the Nature and Parks Authority, who told visitors the main reason for the park’s establishment is to prevent construction. (Nir Hasson, September 30.)

Looking around, it’s easy to see whose construction the park is meant to prevent; to the south lies A-Tur, to the north, Issawiya. These two Palestinian neighborhoods, like most Arab neighborhoods, suffer from long-term neglect, overcrowding, absence of development plans, and illegal construction due to the fact that building permits simply aren’t granted.

Nature and Parks Authority officials say the purpose of the national park, like any other, is to prevent development and protect open space. Still, the Mount Scopus Slopes National Park has several unique characteristics: First, it is to be the most modest of all national parks in terms of valuable natural or archaeological elements worthy of protection. Second, the nature authority already made itself suspect in the eyes of Palestinians when its officials gave the name “They Won’t Know and Won’t Understand, 2012” to an operation to demolish residents’ houses and remove the rubble. Third, as opposed to other residential areas bordering national parks, Issawiya and A-Tur have no other option for development – the separation barrier, roads, Hebrew University and Jewish neighborhoods enclose it from all sides.

The residents prepared their own development plan that took into consideration their needs for expansion as well as the environment, but it was rejected by Israeli authorities in favor of the plan for the national park. It must be added that nobody dreamed of declaring the area a national park before the new road to Ma’aleh Adumim cut it in two.

Since 1967, Israel has expropriated more than 20,000 dunams of Palestinian land, a third of the land annexed to the city. It was used to construct tens of thousands of apartments in the Jewish neighborhoods fronting the city on the east. During this period not even one new Palestinian neighborhood was built, while no effort was spared to stifle development in the existing ones. The area allocated for the new national park is the proverbial poor man’s lamb. It must be planned for the residents’ benefit while respecting nature and scenery.

Former Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan was an avid supporter of the national park. Before the final determination is made, the current minister, Amir Peretz, has an opportunity to reevaluate the decision, only this time with the neighbors taken into consideration.