Israel Environment Bulletin Spring 1997-5757, Vol. 20, No. 2


Protecting natural resources and open space landscapes in the face of development is a difficult task anywhere. In Israel, where land scarcity is coupled with unprecedented population and economic growth, the problem is especially acute.

In order to help secure the biodiversity and the visual resources of this country, an interdisciplinary "think tank" was organized by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) in 1991 to formulate a new approach to development in open space landscapes which have not yet been designated as protected areas. This new approach seeks to direct development, both in terms of siting and features, to appropriate areas in ways which will not destroy the ecosystem, the wildlife and the landscape features of each of the small but diverse landscape units in Israel.

In December 1994, catalyzed by the growing threat to Israel’s open space landscapes, the SPNI helped form the Public Council for the Protection of Land and Landscape Resources. The Council, with the aid of hundreds of members from all sectors of Israel’s society and economy, has committed itself to changing the attitudes of decision makers toward open space protection, promoting legislation aimed at protecting land resources and formulating and implementing a national land resource protection policy which integrates development needs with nature and landscape conservation.

As part of its effort, the Council has published a proposal for a national policy which integrates development with landscape preservation. Following is a short summary of the salient points included in the 1996 publication entitled Sustainable Land and Open Space Development.

Open Spaces in Israel: Status and Trends

According to Israel 2020, Israel’s master plan for the 21st century, the main challenge of coming years will be the preservation of the country’s scarce land resources. Some 92% of Israel’s population currently resides in about 40% of the land area of the countrynorth of Beersheba. By the year 2020, Israel’s population will grow to 8 million (as opposed to 5.5 million today) and its built-up space will treble. If present trends continue, the future will see the conversion of the Haifa, Tel Aviv and Central districts into a continuous urban sprawl. Experts believe that this nightmarish vision of a country covered by asphalt and concrete can still be changedbut only if action is taken today to promote a policy of sustainable land development which integrates development needs with open space preservation.

Open spaces are defined as unbuilt areas which have not been designated for building in an approved detailed plan. Israel’s open spaces fall into three categories:

Open spaces which are protected by law which have been declared as nature reserves and national parks under the National Parks, Nature Reserves, Memorial Sites and National Sites Law.

Open spaces protected within the framework of approved plans including forested areas, seacoasts, nature reserves and national parks which are approved in national or district master plans under the Planning and Building Law but have not yet been declared as protected.

Unprotected open spaces including agricultural lands, river banks and natural open spaces outside the boundaries of built areas. Large portions of these open spaces serve as military training grounds.

The following tables presents the current status of Israel’s open spaces in the areas north and south of Beersheba:

 Table 1: Open Spaces north of Beersheba, According to their Protection Level                    Open Space   Open Space  Unprotected                   Protected    Protected   Open Space                   by Law       in Plans  Nature Reserves   485   137 National Parks    140     8 Groves & Forests              1253 Seacoasts                       18 Agricultural Land                          3222 Pasture, Rocky &  Uncultivated Land                         1243  Total             625  1416  4465    Table 2:  Open Spaces in the Beersheba Region, According to their Protection Level                    Open Space   Open Space  Unprotected                   Protected    Protected   Open Space                   by Law       in Plans  Nature Reserves   2986  700 National Parks      12    2 Groves & Forests               380 Agricultural Land                          1028 Pasture, Rocky &  Uncultivated Land                         7316  Total             2998 1082  8344 

Principles for Sustainable Open Space Development

In order to protect its vital open space resources from urban and industrial encroachment, Israel will have to formulate and implement a national sustainable development policy which will assure the continued existence of its unique nature, landscape and heritage resources, on the one hand, while recognizing vital development needs, on the other hand. Following are the main principles which should be incorporated in such a policy:

Protection of Open Spaces

Classification of Open Spaces: Open space landscapes in Israel should be classified according to their value, importance and sensitivity. For this purpose, areas should be divided into characteristic landscape units according to a set of criteria which relate to the gamut of characteristics and functions of each landscape unit, including: ecological function, cultural and historical importance, rarity, regeneration capacity, landscape and aesthetic function and potential for leisure and recreation activities. On the basis of these criteria, the level of development which each area can sustain, without damaging its unique value and characteristic image, should be determined.

Classification will designate different levels of protected spaces, open space landscapes, controlled development areas and building and development areas. Guidelines for planning and land use based on the carrying capacity for development of each area will be defined for each category of preservation/development.

Statutory Protection within the Planning Framework: Open spaces which are classified as areas worthy of preservation should be granted statutory protection within the framework of a national master plan which will guide national planning and the spatial distribution of future development. The declared aim of the master plan will be to prevent uncontrolled development in open spaces and to direct development to suitable areas. The principles of the national master plan will be incorporated in regional and local plans.

Legal Protection: Areas deemed suitable for preservation as open spaces will be protected within the framework of the National Parks, Nature Reserves, Memorial Sites and National Sites Law. The law should be amended to provide protection to open spaces which are not included in it today. Agricultural areas should be protected as open rural landscapes in addition to their designation as lands producing agricultural crops.

Guiding Development to High Carrying Capacity Areas

Increased Building in the Beersheba and Northern Negev Area: The highest potential for population absorption in terms of land reserves, sensitivity and carrying capacity exists in the Beersheba metropolitan area and in the northern Negev. Resources should be directed toward making this area more attractive to potential residents, increasing job opportunities and improving access to the center of the country.

Preventing New Settlements in the Center and North of the Country: About half of Israel’s population is concentrated along the densely-populated coastal strip, a hydrologically-sensitive area which is already plagued by severe scarcity of open spaces. The addition of new population centers will transform Israel’s entire central region into a continuous urban blocklacking in identity, empty of "green lungs." Furthermore, the Jerusalem and northern regions of the country are characterized by unique mountainous expanses, with high sensitivity in terms of natural assets and landscape resources. The establishment of new settlements in these areas threatens to damage their unique natural features.

Efficient Use of Developed Land

The intensification of land utilization in developed areas in a way which will prevent the overspill of development into open spaces is a prerequisite for open landscape preservation.

Urban Sector: The following measures should be taken to increase land use efficiency in the urban sector:

Saturation of Building in Existing and Planned Settlements: Despite the high level of building density in urban areas, density level, when measured in terms of number of people per square meter, remains relatively low. Building capacity in cities can be significantly increased by saturating construction in suitable areas (i.e., through tall buildings) while preserving the historic fabric, quality of life and open public spaces of the area. Calculations have shown that 55,000 dwelling units can immediately be added to the municipality of Tel Aviv without any overspill into open spaces.

Infrastructure Improvement and Neighborhood Renewal: The dilapidation of city centers has led to a dwindling in population. Low infrastructure quality and building disintegration frequently prevent new residents from middle and high socio-economic levels to move in, thus encouraging infiltration by workshops and small industry. Such occurrences transform city centers into low-income areas or ghost-towns by night and into pollution and noise-ridden areas by day. Urban renewal and infrastructure improvement, coupled with the eviction of small industry outside residential areas, will allow such neighborhoods to be reused as residential areas, will prevent social disintegration and will decrease the social polarity between city centers and expensive suburbs.

Concentration of Building and Development: Building and development should be concentrated in such a way as to leave open spaces around the built area which may also serve as large urban parks. Such areas may be allowed to penetrate into the city through green "fingers." Rivers flowing through cities and their environs may serve as parks and corridors linking the city to the surrounding open space.

Multi-Purpose Land Utilization: Building rights below and above ground should be fully utilizedabove-ground for office and commercial buildings and underground for parking lots, shopping centers, movie theaters and other temporary uses which do not require natural light and air. Concomitantly, multi-purpose use of the same structure (e.g., public buildings or sport centers) during different times of the day should be encouraged.

Non-Wasteful Allocation of Areas for Public Buildings: Special care should be taken when allocating space for public buildings which are not fully utilized during most of the day. The space thus saved should be allocated for gardens, parks and open public areas for the welfare of the population.

Rural Sector: Demand for one-story residential building should be directed to existing rural and communal settlements on the stipulation that their rural character is preserved. The current trend of allowing suburban and urban neighborhoods to be built on open agricultural land while low density housing continues to be the norm within the built areas of rural areas should be discouraged. Rural settlements interested in suburbanization should be allowed to add building units to the designated built area but should refrain from infiltrating into agricultural areas.

Transportation Infrastructure: Efforts should be concentrated on the accelerated development of public transportation, both rail and motor, as an alternative to further road construction. Concomitantly, guidelines for the economical planning of transportation infrastructures should be established. Roads are notorious "land gobblers" which disrupt the continuity of open space landscapes, encourage wasteful suburban development and increase private car use.

Priority to Public Transportation: Current transportation policy is based on the massive development of roads at the expense of public transportation. Transportation priorities should be reversed so as to reduce infrastructure development for private cars use while accelerating the development of public transportation and a mass transport system. Economical Planning of Roads and Railways: Economical planning of roads and railways should be reflected in the following measures: minimization of the road strip; use of tunnels and bridges in roads and interchanges; use of cement in the construction of support walls; and integrated use of infrastructures in road corridors for water, sewage. electricity, energy and communication lines.

Employment Infrastructures: The concentration of employment in large centers, in the vicinity of large residential areas and mass transport systems, will benefit land use conservation in two ways: it will halt the dispersion of employment centers and prevent the fragmentation of open space landscapes and it will facilitating the operation of affordable and convenient mass transport systems between employment and residential areas.

Land-Intensive Areas: The principles for land use conservation and concentration of development and building should be applied to the following sectors as well: mining and quarrying; military training areas; beach and shore installations; solid and liquid waste disposal and treatment areas; and energy and water infrastructures.

Policy Implementation

The principles of sustainable open space development should be adopted by Israel’s Cabinet and Knesset and should be anchored in legislation which recognizes the importance of land reserves and open spaces alongside Israel’s development needs. These policy principles should be implemented in planning, legislation and resource allocation and should guide the activities of the relevant authorities.

Comprehensive Long Term Planning

Open Space Master Plans: Master plans on the national, regional and local levels should be prepared for the classification of open spaces and the designation of permitted and prohibited uses based on their carrying capacity for development. Such plans, which reflect national policy and enable supervision over development initiatives, are prerequisites for open space protection.

Integrated Long Term Planning: Development and protection of land and open space resources should be guided by an integrated national master plan. This plan will be continue the national master plan for building, development and immigrant absorption (1992-1997) on the medium term and will be completed for the long term on the basis of Israel’s long-range master planIsrael 2020.

Land-Use Planning Prior to Marketing: State-owned land should only be marketed after going through all planning processes and after compliance with sustainable open land policy has been reviewed. The practice of issuing tenders for the marketing of land for construction prior to planning should be stopped in order to free the planning process from political and economic pressures for development.

Minimal Levels of Building Density: Based on a preliminary survey and in consultation with local government, a national density map should be developed which will define minimal building density for different regions of the country and for different types of settlements. These levels will be set according to visual, economic and landscape considerations which take into account the maximal preservation of open space resources. Plans for the expansion of settlements outside designated building areas should not be approved if the minimal density level has not been reached. Integration of Urban and Transport Planning: Roads, railways and public transport systems should be integrated with urban building and development in such a way as to assure concentration of building, proximity to transportation networks and mass transport systems and preservation of open areas. Transport planning should constitute an integral part of construction planning.

Rules and Guidelines to Planning Committees: Policy principles should be incorporated in a system of rules and guidelines for local and district planning commissions. Such guidelines will include criteria on efficient land use which must be considered when reviewing and approving plans.


National Policy: Policy on sustainable development and open space conservation should be anchored in legislation.

Amendment to the Planning and Building Law: Agricultural land and open space preservation should be strengthened by amending the Planning and Building Law to grant agricultural areas statutory recognition as open spaces within the context of the law. The responsibility of the Committee on Agricultural Lands and Open Spaces to protect open spaces should be specifically defined in the law and suitable representation should be given to environmentalists on this and on the appeals committee.

Legislation to Promote Policy Implementation: This may include establishment of differential tax rates for lands and buildings based on the efficiency of land use, a requirement to submit a land-use efficiency statement prior to approval of the plan and an increase in the number of representatives of nature and environmental groups in planning committees on all levels.

Existing Legislation: Policy implementation will require the review, updating and revitalization of existing legislation which encourages efficient land use and the establishment of the necessary enforcement tools.

Allocation of Resources

Resources for development should be allocated according to principles set in the national policy. The Cabinet and Knesset should grant preference and budgetary priority to activities and plans which accord with the aims of the policy including the development of public transportation, the development of the Beersheba-Kiryat Gat area, and the rehabilitation and improvement of existing and new urban infrastructures which are necessary for building saturation.

Development and Encouragement of Public Transportation: Resources should be allocated to develop infrastructures for advanced public transport systems. Incentives and disincentives should be used to encourage the use of public transport and to discourage the use of private transportation

(including government and company vehicles), respectively.

Development of the Beersheba-Kiryat Gat Area: While it is neither possible nor desirable to stop development in the center of the country, it is both possible and desirable to attract the population to the south of the country by creating an attractive region with convenient access. Substantial government allocations are required for this purpose, especially with respect to the development of a rail system which will reduce travel time to the center of the country and the provision of grants and incentives to education and cultural activities.

Rehabilitation and Improvement of New and Existing Urban Infrastructures: Government assistance should be directed to urban renewal and rehabilitation and to infrastructure development for the purpose of building saturation.

Future Perspectives

Despite the above efforts, open spaces are still exposed to degradation and continued threats. Steadfastness, commitment and continued education are needed in order to effect a major change from today’s wasteful land use to a highly efficient land use policy based on sustainable development principles. Hopefully, the current campaign which is aimed at heightening the awareness of decision makers, planners and the general public to the importance and limited quantity of land and open space resources in Israel will indeed help promote a national policy on open space development for the benefit of all the residents and visitors to this unique country.