Activists worry that road army plans in preparation for conflict with Hezbollah could badly damage reserve that is home to many mammal species and rare plants
Zafrir Rinat | Mar. 9, 2020

The army is planning to build a road for heavy vehicles in the Galilee’s Nahal Keziv nature reserve, one of many new roads it plans to build in preparation for future conflict with Hezbollah along the Lebanese border.

Local environmentalists and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel have urged the army to consider alternative routes. They fear that the road through Keziv will badly damage the reserve, one of the most important in the Upper Galilee.

According to information obtained by SPNI, the road will go through the part of the reserve near Abirim, east of the city of Ma’alot-Tarshiha. Judging by maps of the area and tours of the site, the organization said in a position paper, building it will require digging up the ground, uprooting trees and building a bridge across the stream. This will result in widespread damage to the landscape.

Moreover, it said, the road will be expensive to build and to maintain and will probably have to be widened and paved at some point.

Nahal Keziv, the stream that runs through the reserve, is largely fed by natural springs. Even though the reserve is surrounded by communities and farmland, it has the diverse ecosystem characteristic of a Mediterranean forest.

It is home to many species of mammals, including fallow deer that were reintroduced to nature over the past two decades, as well as badgers, martens, foxes, jackals and wolves.

It also contains many rare plants, including the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum), Campanula sidoniensis (a species that exists only in Israel and Lebanon) and an especially rare species called the Caesarean mullein (Verbascum caesareum), whose best hope for survival is thought to be the Keziv reserve.

In addition, Keziv is an important ecological corridor that enables animals to move between the Eastern Galilee and the Western Galilee. And it’s one of the most popular hiking spots for school trips and youth groups.

SPNI staff members met with officers from the Northern Command of the Israel Defense Forces to present alternative routes that would not hurt the nature reserve, but the army rejected them all, the organization said.

Area residents have also joined the fight and are trying to recruit support for the SPNI’s proposal on social media.

The Spokesperson’s Unit of the IDF said in a statement that as part of the army’s preparations for war, it has been doing extensive infrastructure work in the north, including in areas that are not normally used for security purposes.

However, the statement added, the army is currently examining alternatives to the planned work in the Western Galilee, in conjunction with the relevant civilian bodies. Planning for this area began only recently, and the plans have not been finalized or approved.

In all such projects, the statement continued, various considerations are weighed. Security considerations are given primacy, but other considerations, including minimizing harm to nature and the environment, are also taken into account.

A similar environmental battle took place in recent months near Kibbutz Hanita, where the army planed to build a road through the nature reserve east of the kibbutz. That battle eventually bore fruit, when residents managed to persuade the army to use an alterantive route. But by the time that decision was made, the army had already damaged the reserve’s natural forest and cut down hundreds of trees.

During that battle, Liron Shapira of SPNI noted that it’s hard for environmental groups to fight the army, because its plans are approved by a special planning committee for defense facilities whose discussions are classified and can’t be appealed. On that committee, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has observer status only.