Zafrir Rinat 12.05.2020

Activists protest agricultural work being done during animals’ birthing season, while Parks Authority says work not done within reserve and is covered by permit setting conditions to prevent damage

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and environmentalists in Jerusalem are accusing the Israel Nature and Parks Authority of abandoning the next generation of gazelles at Mitzpeh Naftoah by permitting agricultural work to take place there during the animals’ birthing season.

The authority says that the work, which is being carried out by Moshav Kisalon, is not taking place in the nature reserve and is covered by a permit that sets conditions for preventing damage to nature.

The work began last week on land in a part of Mitzpeh Naftoah where the moshav used to grow olives and now wants to plant a vineyard. Mitzpeh Naftoah, between Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood and the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, is considered one of Jerusalem’s most important nature spots, and has one of the largest concentrations of gazelles in the area. In recent years Ramot residents have battled against construction plans for the area, which are still pending before the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Commission.

At issue are dozens of dunams that were once cultivated but haven’t been for several years, and which have become an integral part of the area’s nature reserve. Plants have sprung up there, including a number of protected species that serve the local gazelle population. Last week gazelles were spotted in the area where the work is being done. Area residents contacted the Parks Authority to warn them about damage that could be done to the gazelles and the vegetation in the area.

The work is being done under a permit issued by the authority when agricultural or infrastructure work is done adjacent to but not within a nature reserve, and stipulates what features can or cannot be harmed. In the case of Mitzpeh Naftoah, the permit says that no mature trees can be uprooted, no natural features can be destroyed nor can roads be paved. Residents say that a road has been built and terraces and various plants have been damaged.

On Sunday the SPNI contacted the authority and asked for the work to be stopped. “We wonder how the authority responsible for protecting wildlife gives permits to expose land at the height of the gazelle birthing season,” the society wrote. They noted that the natural vegetation in the area is meant to provide shelter for the fawns.

The Nature and Parks Authority said in response: “At issue is agricultural land that is in Moshav Kisalon’s possession and whose crop is being changed, based on a moshav decision, from olives to vineyards. The land is not part of a declared nature reserve or national park. The authority gave a permit to do the work subject to proportional and localized harm to the hyssop, and to not harm other natural or landscape features like ancient agricultural terraces or protected flora or fauna. In such cases, authority inspectors conduct regular inspections and speak directly to the people responsible for the work to prevent harm to natural features.”

The SPNI is also concerned about the consequences of fencing off the new vineyards, since such fences block the mobility of wildlife, including gazelles. The Parks Authority said the permit states that Moshav Kisalon must coordinate its fencing plan with the authority.