The Elah Valley. Beautiful rolling hills, a patchwork of gold, green and brown with fields, orchards and pasture steeped in biblical tales: Who wouldn’t want to live here?
Thanks to developer Jake Leibowitz, hundreds of new immigrants, mostly from North America, will soon be able to move into the luxury Eden Hills development after 18 years of delays and setbacks. The developers describe the community as a “celebration for ecology and Zionism”, succeeding in settling Jewish olim as well as incorporating green innovations including solar power, geothermal technology and water purification.
But the congenial mezuzah-fixing ceremony attended by Minister of Housing Zeev Boim recently glossed-over the bitter quarrel between the developers and environmentalists who sought to stop the new 1,000 dunam town dead in its tracks. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel’s (SPNI) Michelle Levine describes the development as an “environmental catastrophe” and told Green Prophet that it “is in essence a bigger disaster to the environment than their gray water and solar power schemes could ever hope to rectify”.
Why? Because it’s being built close to Israel’s primary wildlife corridor, a natural migratory path for flora and fauna (although planning authorities eventually ordered the size of settlement to be reduced to safeguard the corridor).
Regardless of its size, Levine believes that Eden Hills, just south of Beit Shemesh, should never have been given the go-ahead in the first place, following the Israel 2020 master plan which recommends that existing urban centres should strengthened instead of building new yishuvim [settlements] in order to preserve open spaces in the tiny country. “No new community period can call itself an ‘environmental’ community,” says Levine.
We have gone past the point where we can build more communities. There’s only so much green space we can take up in Israel.
It’s a positive sign of the times that Israeli property developers are investing in ecologically-sound buildings (like REAL Housing in the Negev), but perhaps they should give more thought to where they put them…
Photo: Michael Green.