Despite a number of protests over the past two months, the Jerusalem District Court rejected a petition on Sunday from residents of an east Jerusalem neighborhood to stop the construction of a highway through their neighborhood.
Residents of Beit Safafa, located in southeast Jerusalem near Gilo, oppose the extension of the Begin Highway towards the Tunnel Road that leads to Gush Etzion because the highway cuts through the middle of their neighborhood and effectively slices it in two.
Construction started on the road three months ago.
“We woke up and saw there was a fence blocking off the construction area,” said 25- year-old Beit Safafa resident Duaa Subhi, who is one of the 16 people petitioning the courts to stop the construction.
“They didn’t let us know about it and they didn’t let us object,” she said. “They don’t have the right permits for the work, we believe that it’s illegal.”
After losing the petition to the district court on Sunday, the residents plan to bring their case to the High Court of Justice in the coming weeks.
Subhi said the highway, which will be six lanes wide at some points, is located too close to homes for this type of high-speed intercity road. Two houses are located three meters away from the planned road, and more than 25 homes are less than 20 meters away. The municipality needs specific permits from national planning committees to locate highways so close to residential areas.
Additionally, the highway will run straight through the middle-class Arab neighborhood, forcing the residents to drive far out of their way to get to the other side of the neighborhood, Subhi said.
On Sunday, the district court ruled that the municipality’s building plan for the area, designed in 1990, is a valid planning document, and there is a road plan marked for the same spot where the municipality wants to build the Highway 50/Begin Extension.
Residents argue that the road on the 1990 plan was designed for a local, urban road, not a major highway, and that the municipality should go through the regular planning approval process allowing time for public objections from residents and environmental groups.
The municipality stressed that extending Begin Highway with high-speed roads was of “great economic importance.”
“Negotiations with the residents went on for many years and included meetings with professional planners,” the municipality said.
The court decision echoed the municipality’s position that the residents were aware of the plan. “Not only did the residents understand the nature of the planned road and the period for filing oppositions to the plan, but they also cooperated fully in the licensing process over their years and their opinions were considered.
The result of this is that a significant part of their requests were accepted, including allocating many resources that were not planned amounting to tens of millions.”
In response to the residents’ requests, the municipality is building 180 meters of “flyovers” for cars and pedestrians to cross the 1.8-km. highway.
Subhi said the neighborhood needed at least double that to maintain residents’ current ease of access.
She denounced the city for starting construction in Beit Safafa before the legal matter with the old plan was sorted.
On Tuesday evening, Balad MKs Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas met with activists to determine plans for the coming weeks to stop the road’s construction.