The settlement of Modi’in Illit is pressing to pave a new road to improve its connection to the city of Modi’in. Approval of the plan will gravely damage an important ecological corridor

Credit: Yuval Dax

Zafrir Rinat Jul 2, 2022

Despite its small size and dense population, Israel manages to sustain islands of nature teeming with flora and fauna. But these pockets, too, are under incessant threat, as demonstrated by the case of a small valley hidden east of the city of Modi’in, known as Deer Valley (Emek Hatzva’im), so known because at most times it contains more deer than humans. Plans for a new road to bisect it, for an Electric Company facility to be built on part of it, and for a planned expansion of neighboring municipalities threaten to gravely harm this slice of nature.

Binoculars are all it takes to make the acquaintance of the valley’s denizens. Deer wander the slopes, and suddenly a fox runs by, unidentified prey in its mouth. Patrolling from above is a bird of prey – a short-toed snake eagle, nesting in the area. Atop the nearby separation barrier, a redheaded shrike, on the lookout, can be spotted. The barrier has had an unplanned effect on the area’s wildlife: It provides them with protection from the widespread hunting practiced by Palestinian villagers on the other side.

Yuval Dax
Yuval Dax
Credit: Yuval Dax

The ecosystem of which Deer Valley is part has been paying the price for the area’s distortions in terms of planning and the Israeli occupation. The first planning problem was the creation of the city of Modi’in on open space, rather than by condensing and expanding existing cities in the area. The establishment of the city and its surrounding infrastructure have taken a significant bite out of the size and contiguity of open spaces. In addition, the West Bank settlement of Modi’in Illit was created as part of Israel’s takeover of land that used to partly belong to Palestinian villages.

The rapid growth of the settlement, now home to 80,000 people, has led to demands for transportation solutions. Thus, Modi’in Illit is pressing to approve plans for a new road, 4431, meant to bisect Deer Valley on both sides of the Green Line and connect Modi’in Illit southward. The part of the road beyond the Green Line was discussed at the Civil Administration’s planning board, where it was decided to advance the plan to the deposit stage (where objections are filed). The Central District’s planning and building committee is soon slated to discuss the portion of the road within Israel.

Wildlife in Modi'in Illit.
Credit: Yuval Dax

In addition to the road, an Electric Company substation is planned at the expense of a patch of forest in the south of Deer Valley. And there are also expansion plans for Modi’in Illit and Kfar Oranim, not yet fully approved. Their execution would see construction expand into the valley.

The consequences for building in Deer Valley would not merely be local. The valley is at the heart of an important national north-south ecological corridor that serves as an important route for wildlife movement. Construction of Modi’in and neighboring municipalities has already blocked part of the corridor, and further development will clog it even more. The deer, specifically, might disappear completely if this important habitat is harmed.

Opponents of these plans have offered alternatives to residents’ issues: expanding the existing road that connects the settlement with the Israeli city, and placing the substation on land that already houses a smaller Electric Company facility.

Wildlife in Modi'in threatened by new construction plans.
Credit: Yuval Dax

Modi’in Illit Mayor Yaakov Gutterman addressed the road issue at a joint hearing of the Knesset Interior and Environmental Protection committees, where he admitted that the settlement’s problems stem from the manner of its construction. “This city was never planned, and was built like patchwork,” he said. Gutterman opposes the idea of adding lanes to the existing road, arguing that an accident could still block all traffic between the cities, and that a new road is the solution “recommended by the professionals.”

Architect and urban planner Motti Kaplan, hired by the residents who oppose the plans, advocates declaring Deer Valley a national park due to its nature and antiquities attractions. This solution has already saved the hills south of Modi’in.