“Preserving these areas is clearly in the public interest because they serve the Israeli public, significantly reduce air pollution and serve as the green lungs of the country.”
Claiming the National Council for Planning and Building intends to destroy the country’s open spaces by advancing certain construction programs, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund has submitted a petition against the body to the High Court of Justice.

The petition, which focuses on but is not limited to the “Jerusalem Hills” region just west of the capital, is part of a larger battle that KKL-JNF and other organizations have been waging against building plans in the region. A key factor responsible for the threats to open spaces is the country’s National Master Plan 1 (TAMA 1), which aims to consolidate other national master plans, but in doing so leaves previously protected areas vulnerable, the petition argues.

“Preserving these areas is clearly in the public interest because they serve the Israeli public, significantly reduce air pollution and serve as the green lungs of the country,” said KKL-JNF chairman Danny Atar. “There are alternatives for these areas where it is possible to build and we must use them before harming nature in such a severe manner.”

Atar pledged that KKL-JNF would “stand as a barrier against any attempt to damage natural spaces in an irresponsible manner.”

Last February, environmental groups led by KKL-JNF, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Green Course launched “The Covenant to Strengthen Jerusalem,” which aims to combat eight different building programs they claimed devastate the Jerusalem Hills.

At the time, the plans they cited as potentially destructive included a housing program for Har Harat, the Bat Harim project in Tzur Hadassah, the Western Ring Road from Motza to Nahal Refaim, building in the Reches Lavan area, an extension of the Ora moshav, an expansion of the Hadassah Ein Kerem complex, apartments at Mitzpe Naftoah and the Hamagresa program next to Har Harat.

Just three weeks ago, the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee called upon the Housing Cabinet to specifically put an end to the Har Harat building plans, which were slated to bring thousands of apartment units to a 160-hectare (395 acres) space between Jerusalem and Mevasseret Zion.

In the High Court petition, the writers looked in detail at the evolution of TAMA- 1, launched in 2012 as a mode of consolidating other national master plans in the building sector. A section of TAMA-1 that deals with open spaces unites the subjects covered by the National Master Plan for Forests and Afforestation (TAMA-22) and the National Master Plan for National Parks, Nature Reserves and Landscapes (TAMA-8), the petition explained.

The authors accuse the National Council for Planning and Building of straying from its authority by using this change to “transform TAMA-1 into a device to remove protected areas from TAMA-22 and TAMA-8.” In doing so, they continue, the planning body is able to “circumvent orderly procedures prescribed in TAMA-22 and TAMA-8 for the removal of protected areas so as to enable the Israel Lands Authority and/or the Construction Ministry ‘to steal open spaces’ that they see as reserves for future development.”

Citing a 2010 government decision, the writers stress that the country’s planning institutions received the green light to generate a consolidated master plan, but without changing programs that were already implemented.

KKL-JNF has a direct interest in some of the lands in question since TAMA-22 stipulates that “the designation of forest areas will not be changed without consulting with KKL-JNF,” according to the petition. The foundation also owns some of the spaces officially slated for development, such as Har Harat – which TAMA-8 defines as a national park – and Reches Lavan – which TAMA-22 defines as a forest, the authors explain.

At these sites, the National Council for Planning and Building “purports to discuss removing some of the areas from TAMA-1’s blueprint of protected spaces,” the petition says. Regarding Reches Lavan specifically, however, the authors acknowledge that development plans were frozen temporarily on August 5.

The writers also discuss building plans for Ramat Hadassah and Mitzpe Naftoah, which they say the National Council decided to define as “building reserves” without approved plans for rezoning.

On November 11, the Committee for Preferred Housing Projects (the Vatmal) authorized the “deposit” of the Mitzpe Naftoah project, an Israel Lands Authority program for the construction of 1,638 housing units just south of Ramot – plans that environmental organizations and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat vehemently oppose.

The petitioners also pointed out how some of the open spaces now slated to undergo construction were part of previously canceled development plans for the Jerusalem Hills region, the authors argue. Namely, they refer to the Safdie plan, a controversial building project that the National Council ultimately rejected in 2007.

In response to the petition, a statement from the Finance Ministry – which houses the National Council for Planning and Building – said the office “learned about the KKL-JNF petition from media outlets.”

“We will reply to the petition with suitable legal proceedings when it will be received,” the statement said.