Protecting Open Spaces

by Michelle Levine

The building of new communities one hundred years ago determined the very physical nature of what was to become the State of Israel. Fifty years ago they determined its borders. And today? Attitudes toward new communities have changed. The physical, environmental and social needs of Israel at present are recognized to be different than they were fifty or a hundred years ago. In July 2002 the Israeli Government decided on the establishment of 13 new communities. Today, most of these have either been rejected or frozen by the planning authorities. This reflects a radical change in policy towards what is known as the most conspicuous physical element of Zionism. 
In the early 90s Israel's land use policy was thoroughly examined in an unprecedented project called Israel 2020, in which all official and scientific experts in the country participated. The fundamentals underlying the project were that Israel's most vital resource is land, and the state cannot develop it in a wasteful manner because any land development is irreversible. 
Projections showed that if Israel continued in the "business as usual" scenario, the built area in Israel would double within 25 years, leaving insufficient open spaces in the near future, for both man and nature. 
In 2000 about 15% of the country's land was covered by concrete and asphalt.

Most of the Negev is not and will not be developed due to military training needs. This leaves a very small parcel of land to sustain a country. 
Thus the planning administration prepared an alternative policy to develop the state, which was approved by the government in the mid 1990s. One of the plan's components included a complete halt to building new communities and concluded that additional building will be implemented in or as supplement to existing communities. SPNI's environmental interest in this policy lies in the fact that it will result in larger areas of natural open spaces.
Yet this issue, like others in Israel's public policy, continues to be debated. Some, like the Israel Land Authority, regional planning councils, and the Ministry of Agriculture, continue to support and promote new communities, in blatant disregard of the new policy. Therefore, environmental organizations, like the SPNI, find themselves in conflict with various government agencies EPD (Environmental Protection Department) works to ensure that the policy materializes. Although SPNI has been successful in many instances, there are always proposed new communities and unsustainable development projects under deliberation. Thus EPD serves as the watchdog of the nation's remaining open spaces.