Editorial | Save Israel’s Green Lungs Haaretz Editorial Feb. 20, 2022

Nofarim Pool in Yarkon National Park, April 2021.
Nofarim Pool in Yarkon National Park, April 2021.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Last week, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked decided to prevent construction in the Peace Valley nature reserve by annexing it to the nearby town of Yokne’am. The decision is specific, but it has broad implications for the future of construction in Israel, as there are many cities whose green lungs are under the threat of bulldozers. 

In Ashdod, there is a plan to expand construction at the expense of the sand dunes; near Ramat Hasharon and Herzliya, there are plans for extensive building on the site of a former Israel Military Industries factory. In Rehovot, construction is encroaching on an open area east of the city that serves as a green lung. In Sderot, the Construction and Housing Ministry is advancing massive building plans that will damage areas of great ecological and aesthetic significance. This is just a partial list. Such building plans are supposed to mitigate the housing crisis and ensure that cities have land reserved for construction ahead of 2040. The housing crisis must be solved, of course – but Israel has additional needs that must be taken into consideration.

Israel’s green lungs are national infrastructure no less important than any other vital resource. In addition to preserving nature, they give all residents of densely populated cities a space for leisure and recreation. They also absorb rainfall, which prevents flooding and helps to regulate temperature and air pollution. Their importance will only increase in the coming decades alongside Israel’s predicted population growth, which will further reduce open spaces while at the same time increasing the demand to enjoy their benefits. As far as the climate crisis goes, these areas serve as natural plant reservoirs that absorb carbon and moderate floods. 

The planning authorities must direct all resources into plans for making cities denser and into urban renewal. These are complex processes that require cooperation with residents of older neighborhoods and transparent, fair management by the companies chosen to carry out the renewal projects. Sadly, these conditions are not always met, and this situation must change quickly so that housing solutions can be provided and open spaces preserved.

Today, we have several examples of at least partially successful preservation projects: the city of Modi’in has decided to preserve the hills to it’s south rather than designate them for construction, near Nes Tziona, a large area was reserved for a metropolitan recreational area, and construction plans were drastically curtailed.

All other construction plans must be reviewed in order to guarantee that as many open spaces with high environmental and recreational value can remain so in the future.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.


Israel Suspends Plan to Build on Northern Nature Site

The interior minister rejected the expansion of Yokne’am into Hashalom Valley, home to a host of wildlife species

Zafrir Rinat Feb. 16, 2022

Hashalom Valley, near Yokne'am.
Hashalom Valley, near Yokne’am.Credit: Rami Shllush

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Wednesday that she will not allow the annexation of an important nature site to the town of Yokne’am so that thousands of homes may be built on it.

The area, located in the Megiddo Regional Council, is known as Hashalom Valley. The minister said she would examine alternative areas that could be added to the town for this purpose. In recent months, area residents have voiced their objection to construction in the valley.

Shaked toured the area earlier this week with Yokne’am Mayor Shimon Alfasi and Megiddo Regional Council head Itzik Holavsky. In a post on Facebook, Shaked said there must be housing to accommodate the population growth of Yokne’am, but that it is also important to preserve agricultural and natural areas.

Behind Shaked’s decision are recommendations made last year by a committee that examined the boundaries between Yokne’am and the adjacent regional council. The committee, headed by Amram Kalaji, a former director general of the Interior Ministry, determined that empty areas must be annexed to Yokne’am, including this valley, which has great ecological and scenic value. The authority to carry out these recommendations lies with the interior minister.

Shaked’s decision accords with a recent move promoted by the Ministry of Construction and Housing. The ministry presented to the Israel Land Authority a host of plans it wishes to promote across the country. In the case of Yokne’am, they proposed several alternatives to Hashalom Valley, one of which included the annexation of an area southeast of the city, near the moshav of Elyakim.

These alternatives have their own problems. Some of them entail using areas belonging to nearby agricultural communities. One alternative would cut off a newly built area from Yokne’am due to the adjacent national road system.

Alfasi rejects the option of increasing the city’s density by building up, rather than expanding outwards. He says that evacuating people and rebuilding their houses will require building a large number of units in order to be profitable. The city’s entrances will not suffice for coping with the growth in population, he says.

According to the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel, the area slated for annexation in Hashalom Valley includes an important ecological corridor that is vital for the nesting of the red falcon, a small predatory bird that is at risk of extinction. The area is also a habitat for low bushes and extensive blooming of cyclamens, anemones, tulips and irises. It is also home to many types of animals, including gazelles, which take advantage of the corridor. Such areas are shrinking across Israel due to development projects.

Following Shaked’s decision, the SPNI said, “This was an important and positive statement. We began the fight over this valley a year and a half ago. We’ll continue to work towards finding better alternatives.” The campaign headquarters of Yoknea’m and Megiddo residents fighting the annexation said, “This was a correct and just decision that will enable a million Israelis from all walks of life to continue touring one of the most beautiful areas in the country for free.”