The plan to build 570 residential units is being contested in a rare alliance between nature conservationists and the residents of Wadi Fukin

An irrigation pool in Wadi Fukin, June 2020.
An irrigation pool in Wadi Fukin, June 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Zafrir Rinat 10.11.2020

A plan to build a new neighborhood in the town of Tzur Hadassah, southwest of Jerusalem, is threatening the flow of water into springs used by farmers from the Palestinian village of Wadi Fukin, which is located nearby on the other side of the Green Line.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel has begun a legal battle against the plan. The villagers are afraid that executing the plan would lead to a decline in the amount of water reaching the farmers.

Wadi Fukin is famous for its traditional agriculture based on irrigation pools, which are fed by springs in the region. Construction in Tsur Hadassah has expanded in recent years, as has the settlement of Beitar Illit, adjacent to the village. There is a fear that the construction has already interfered with the flow of water to the springs due to the reduction in the area via which rainwater can infiltrate the ground and flow to the them.

The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved the plan about four months ago, but it is not yet final. It calls for the construction of 570 residential units in Tzur Hadassah in the form of two- to six-story houses and buildings.

“We’re very worried about that, because it could interfere with the flow of water to the springs,” explained a resident of Wadi Fukin. “Our springs begin in the hills, where they want to build. The problem is not only the buildings but also preparing the infrastructure and the movement of heavy vehicles.” He said that no planning organization spoke with the residents and asked about their opinion or their fears.

The Society for the Protection of Nature announced that it opposed the plan, but the planning committee rejected the organization’s requests. Two weeks ago, the group petitioned the Jerusalem District Court to freeze the approval process and enable an appeal to the National Planning and Building Committee. The court is expected to discuss the petition, but meanwhile the plan is progressing.

According to the petition, the regional committee did not take steps to prevent damaging the springs, including a comprehensive hydro-geological study to understand the consequences of construction. The study includes a test that demonstrates the hydrological connection between the flow of the springs and the area slated for construction.

The petition included an opinion from Prof. Rehav Rubin of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who studies how human activity affects the landscape in the Judean Hills. Rubin said that Wadi Fukin is one of the few places still practicing the traditional agricultural typical of the Judean Hills area, and has an exceptional concentration of gushing springs.

Rubin believes that the planned construction would harm the flow of water to the springs, and if the water that does flow isn’t drained properly, it would flood and erode agricultural areas. His concern is based on experience from similar sites in the Jerusalem Hills, where several important spring sites have already dried up due to nearby construction activity.

In a response to the petition, the Jerusalem District prosecution said that the regional committee had taken the possible damage to the springs into account. Therefore it conditioned the project on having a team of experts accompany the construction in order to prevent damage to the springs as much as possible. The committee also said that the Housing Ministry had conducted a hydro-geological survey for the entire area designated for construction in Tzur Hadassah and its conclusions were taken into account.