Following a 20-year battle, Jerusalem’s Gazelle Valley Urban Wildlife Park opened last week. Thousands of Israelis and tourists flocked to the park during Passover to enjoy the country’s first urban wildlife reserve.
A coalition of local residents and social justice activists – assisted by Shatil and NIF grantee Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights – fought to keep the land out of the hands of real estate developers. Additionally, they defeated plans by former Jerusalem Mayor (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Olmert, who was allied with developers pushing new building development instead of urban green space.
The coalition finally succeeded in convincing the municipality to preserve a 64 acre stretch of untouched wilderness in the middle of Jerusalem. The nearby Holyland apartment complex, another contentious Olmert project, serves as a sobering reminder of what happens when real estate developers are given carte blanche to run roughshod over the best practices of urban planning.
The activists also promoted a project to repopulate the valley’s near-extinct gazelle herd. Amir Balaban, urban nature coordinator at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which was also at the forefront of the struggle, said that the Israeli gazelle, “…is the archetype of all gazelles. It’s the biblical gazelle, the one mentioned in Psalms and the Song of Songs. It has beauty and strength. Jerusalem and gazelles always went together.”