MKs in Silwan 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
MK Uri Ariel (National Union) vowed to support the construction of a park in the
heart of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on Thursday during a meeting
of the Knesset State Control Committee.
Ariel, who chairs the committee,
also promised to investigate why no illegal buildings have been demolished in
Al- Bustan despite the fact that the courts have approved dozens of
Right-wing activists from the B’tzedek organization – which
supports Jewish initiatives in majority Arab neighborhoods – initiated the
discussion, claiming that illegal building is unchecked in the neighborhood and
the municipality has done nothing to further the King’s Garden project in the
Al- Bustan area of Silwan.
The project, known as Gan Hamelech (King’s
Garden), calls for the demolition of 22 of 88 residential buildings in the
neighborhood in order to recreate the historical green area that could have
housed King Solomon’s gardens or vineyards.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat
has adopted the King’s Garden plan as one of his pet projects.
includes an overhaul of the neighborhood with improved infrastructure and
community buildings, as well as retroactive legalization of 75% of the
“This area looks like a slum and acts like a slum,” Barkat said
on Thursday. “We have an amazing opportunity to take areas that look like slums
and develop them, not just for tourists, but for the benefit of the
Residents of Al-Bustan are vehemently opposed to the King’s
Garden plan. When the plan passed the Local Planning and Building Committee in
June 2010, there were eight days of riots that injured 10 security guards and
dozens of residents as local leaders called for a “Day of Rage” to
For two years, there have been no advancements with the project
and the area has been relatively quiet.
Shmuel Golan of the State
Comptroller’s Office – which monitors illegal building in east Jerusalem for its
annual reports – said that the pace of new illegal construction had slowed
almost to a stop in that specific neighborhood, but the city still needed to
find a solution to the legally dubious status of most of the buildings in the
area. According to the city’s legal adviser Amnon Merhav, the city has issued 35
house demolition orders and an additional 24 buildings have been served with
indictments to begin the court process to determine their legal
The last demolition in Al- Bustan was four years
Barkat has said he will not allow any demolitions to go forward
because he is waiting for the final approval of the master plan for the area,
which will retroactively legalize 66 buildings. The master plan still needs
approval from the Interior Ministry’s District Planning and Building
Barkat also said that the municipality cannot enforce zoning
laws in the neighborhood because their inspectors cannot make rounds without
police accompaniment. He said the police are repeatedly denied requests to
escort municipality inspectors. A municipality spokesman said the police, in
turn, must receive approval from the Public Security Ministry to escort
“Why are we living in a reality where inspectors
need police accompaniment to work in parts of Israel?” Ariel yelled during the
meeting. “This is not a use of our sovereignty!” Barkat replied that inspectors
had been wounded in the past in east Jerusalem and he could not send them to
dangerous areas without proper protection.
MK Dov Henin (Hadash) slammed
the municipality and the government for refusing to address the giant gaps
between east and west Jerusalem.
“The planning process is being used as a
way to keep Arabs back, and to keep their neighborhoods from developing,” he
said. “The planning process is being used as a tool of war.”
Oshrat Maimon from the left-wing Ir Amim group called the plan racist and said
there is no need for another monument in the city. She urged the municipality
“not to celebrate the past at the expense of the present.”