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 demolitions.

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.

It includes an overhaul of the neighborhood with improved infrastructure and community buildings, as well as retroactive legalization of 75% of the building.

“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.”

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 protest.

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 status.

The last demolition in Al- Bustan was four years ago.

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 Commission.

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 municipality inspectors.

“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.”

Lawyer 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.”

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