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Anchoring a better future in our shared past

The preservation of the ancient Titora site is a lesson for how Israel should anchor its future in a shared past

The recent agreement between the Modiin Municipality and the Israel Land Administration to preserve the city’s popular historic beauty spot at Titora Hill may have passed many people by. Those who don’t live in Modiin would reasonably assume that it’s a purely local matter, a mere detail of municipal planning. Naturally, it is an issue primarily of concern to the local Modiin community, which cares deeply about the future of Titora Hill as an integral part of our city’s heritage and landscape. However, the decision to preserve the site as a natural, green reserve holds a symbolic value that stretches way beyond the confines of Modiin. It illustrates the clear vision that we must have to build strong communities throughout Israel and the need for national leaders to dedicate themselves to working in the public interest.

Until last week, the protracted saga of Titora Hill had remained unresolved for several years, its future hanging very much in the balance. With the city of Modiin growing and expanding at a rapid pace, plans were put forward to build 770 housing units at Titora Hill. There is no doubt that the city is in acute need of more housing, but a large and vocal number of Modiin residents who value the site as an important recreational spot rightly voiced their objections to the plan.

Titora Hill is after all, of enormous historic value, with evidence of ancient settlements dating back six thousand years. Archaeologists have found artןfacts from the First Temple period while further remains discovered at Titora indicate that the Hasmoneans lived on this hilltop. There is also evidence that it was used as a hideout during the time of Bar Kochba. In short, Titora has huge national historic significance which I passionately believe must be cherished and preserved. Our shared heritage is an anchor which bonds the diverse Modiin community and as such it must surely far outweigh the economic advantages of new housing.

Crusaders fort at Titora (photo: CC-BY Avishai Teicher, Wikipedia)
Crusaders fort at Titora (photo: CC-BY Avishai Teicher, Wikipedia)

This is not to say that sentimentality must stand in the way of progress. That is why I reached an agreement with the district director of the Israel Land Administration to build the proposed housing in two separate plots elsewhere in Modiin. However, the fact remains that our history is the reason why we are here in the land of Israel. It is the foundation on which we have built a state and serves as an inspiration for our future. For example, when it was decided to build a new, dynamic city in the heart of Israel in the early 1990s, the area of Modiin was the obvious location, as the cradle of the Maccabees and all that their heroism represents.

Underscoring the importance of our national roots by preserving Titora Hill is not just about benefiting Modiin though. It is a microcosm of how we must seek to build our society. We are living in a reality where the need for social justice is more apparent than at any point in Israel’s recent past and where the danger of damaging divisions between religious and secular, rich and poor is particularly threatening. As a result, we must pay increased attention to the many commonalities shared by Israelis in order to build a better, more harmonious future. Developing public spaces which celebrate our shared past, such as Titora Hill, is an excellent place to begin.

It is also clear to me that the preservation of Titora Hill is without doubt in the interests of the general public. I myself regularly stroll to the hilltop to take in the natural beauty of this green haven in our busy city. Containing a huge variety of wild flowers and vibrant wildlife, Titora Hill is a rare botanical oasis enjoyed regularly by a large number of Modiin residents. As such, it is vital that it remains a recreational site accessible to all, giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy its beauty. The conservation of Titora Hill is therefore unquestionably of greater public good than the addition of a limited number of housing units and the benefits it would bring to a select few. Once again, this calculation is instructive for our wider society. The spotlight of public discourse has been placed firmly on a fairer distribution of our country’s resources. Whether it means redressing the economic balance between Israel’s wealthy elite and the rest of the population or ensuring a more equal sharing of the country’s military burden, there is a demand to replace the prosperity of the few with the shared success of all. The preservation of Titora Hill is a reminder that this can become reality.

Titora Hill (photo: CC-BY Zachi Evenor, Wikipedia)
Titora Hill (photo: CC-BY Zachi Evenor, Wikipedia)

It is for all these reasons and more that I have pledged not a single housing unit will be built on Titora Hill on my watch. While Titora Hill may seem to be a small detail on the map, it is not only of huge importance to Modiin, it represents far more than that. It symbolizes a rich heritage which we must share and celebrate if we are to build a future of prosperity for all our citizens.

About the Author
Haim Bibas is the Mayor of the City of Modi'in Maccabim-Reut. (Author photo by Reuven Kapuchinski)