Jabel Mukaber, east Jerusalem .
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In the face of strong political opposition, the Jerusalem Municipality’s Planning and Building Committee has approved construction of a controversial residential building in eastern Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, purchased for Jewish families by a right-wing NGO.
The three-story structure, located in the Batan al-Hawa section of the primarily Arab community outside the Old City, was sold by the government to Ateret Cohanim in 2005.
It will be built near Beit Yonatan, another controversial Jewish residential building procured by the organization, which houses 10 families.
The move follows several years of delays due to concerns by government officials and activists of the far-reaching implications surrounding the structure’s approval.
Daniel Lauria, a spokesman for Ateret Cohanim, lauded the development as a victory for the Jews who were violently expelled from the neighborhood during the British Mandate.
“We congratulate the committee and the municipality for approving the building in the old Yemenite building of Shiloah [Silwan],” he said on Wednesday.
“In our minds, this is very clearly historic justice after the Jews were driven out by Arabs, and then the last remaining families were taken out by the British authorities with the promise they can return.
Many of the homes were destroyed and pulled apart.”
However, critics decried the decision as an underhanded effort to change facts on the ground in the contested neighborhood.
“Ateret Cohanim got this piece of land practically for free – for a few thousand dollars from the General Custodian – without a tender for the land parcel,” said Anat Ben- Nun, of the left-wing human rights organization Peace Now, “and they are attempting to bring into this neighborhood around 100 settler families, and to evict around 100 Palestinian families. The settlers and Ateret Cohanim are trying to change the status quo in the neighborhood, and by doing so making compromise in Jerusalem much more difficult.
“In Jerusalem, there is clearly no possibility for a two-state solution, and what they are doing is basically trying to take over a very large area in Silwan and other neighborhoods in close proximity to the Old City in order to Israelize Palestinian neighborhoods.”
Lauria dismissed Ben-Nun’s allegation against Ateret Cohanim of attempting to evict Arab families as baseless.
“It’s absurd to say that, because no one is living on the property, which is an empty block of land,” he said.
“There is no issue, God forbid, of anyone being evicted.
Ateret Cohanim is not in the business of evicting any single person – Arab or Jew. We work with one purpose in mind: Jews and Arabs living side by side under Jewish sovereignty, under a united Jerusalem.”
Former east Jerusalem portfolio head and Meretz City Councilman Dr. Meir Margalit described the timing of the decision during Ramadan as provocative and dangerous.
“To put the building in such a sensitive place during Ramadan will create a very dangerous and explosive situation that all of us will pay for in the future,” he said.
While Margalit emphasized that he does not object to Jews and Palestinians living side by side, he claimed that the approval is part of a right-wing agenda to expel Arab families from the area.
“Someone in the municipality is trying to put the Palestinians in a corner, and this will be bad for both Jews and Palestinians,” he said.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Jerusalem Municipality said building permits are never approved based on race or religion, adding that it will continue to build in all areas of the city to continue its growth.