My eldest daughter’s class is called ‘Kita Anafa’, meaning ‘Class Heron’. You may find it strange that the class even has a name, yet all classes at Urim Waldorf School are named after nature. The name ‘Anafa’ was inspired by their weekly hikes in the nearby grassy field, where the children would often see a flock of wild herons swooping in the trees near a temporary winter pond. Yet, sadly these majestic herons (more accurately ‘white egrets’) are soon to be made homeless.
Just this week the inevitable happened – the bulldozers and diggers came in and flattened the whole field. It’s all part of the plan to build a new neighbourhood here that property developers have called ‘Neve Gan Tzafon’.
Located east of the Ayalon Highway and west of the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery, this new neighbourhood will include 3,100 housing units in ‘ultra-luxury, ultra-ugly towers. It also happens to be my backyard. Not literally. But for the past few years this nearby field has been where I go running, take my dog for a walk, and where my kids can climb trees. Some of the older classes of the school even built tree houses here with swings made from old tyres and rope.
But the free treehouses will soon be replaced by unaffordable apartment blocks. That’s development, right? We know that people need houses and land is scarce in Israel. But all this ‘Development’ brings with it the other ‘D’s of Death, Destruction, and Desertification.
This may sound dramatic, so let me unpack this a little. Even though building of ‘Neve Gan Tzafon’ hasn’t even started, this initial digging has already caused the death of wildlife, the destruction of natural habitats, and created a desert-like dustbowl. The damage has been done.
In just one week a few trucks have turned a field filled with rare flowers into a fenced-off building site.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking — you’re just ranting because they’ve taken away your backyard. And you’re absolutely right. I know this kind of thing happens all over the country and all over the world. I’ve read environmental campaigns to stop fracking in the UK, the controversial Dakota pipeline in the USA, and the deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil. And although I’m concerned by these stories, nothing hits home like an environmental disaster on your doorstep. As they say, you don’t really care until it affects you directly.
Located on the border of Tel Aviv and Ramat HaSharon, this field was a green oasis in the urban sprawl of the Gush Dan region. In places, the field felt like a small forest with an outcrop of pecan and eucalyptus trees. In spring, it was home to red anemones (kalaniot) and yellow sunflowers. On our walks with the children, we’d often see centipedes, fluffy caterpillars, ladybugs, butterflies, and bright green parakeets. It was also home to some bad guys too like wild jackals (yes, jackals) and snakes in the grass (though I never saw one). But that’s all part of nature —a partly beautiful, partly mysterious and dangerous.
According to the plans, the new neighbourhood will include a large green strip in the middle of the complex. In the architect pictures, it looks like there’ll be pretty landscaped gardens around a large pond. All very nice. But the point is, it’s not wild. It’s not as nature intended. We are discovering all over the world just how important biodiversity is to the planet’s and our own wellbeing. Minute organisms, insects and even the soil, all play a part in our ecosystem.
But aside from the science, I can’t help but feel slightly emotional. My kid’s backyard has been demolished. Their school trips will have to be taken somewhere else. The treehouses will be torn down. And the herons will need to find another home in a land where nature is shrinking.
For more info on preserving rural areas, visit Israel’s environment watchdog, Adam Teva V’Din: https://www.adamteva.org.il/en/