Entrance to the Sour Baher neighborhood in east Jerusalem.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Jerusalem Local Planning and Construction Committee approved on Wednesday a master plan for the Arab neighborhood of Sur Bahir in east Jerusalem and the neighboring villages of Umm Lisan and Umm Touba. The plan includes regulating the current illegal buildings and the construction of 5,200 new housing units, with the option to increase the number of new housing units to 9,300 in the future.
The municipality said there was a lack of proper planning in the past, and the current plan is intended to solve the problem.
It focuses on a variety of infrastructures, including housing units, roads, a commercial area, public institutions and open public spaces, which is rare in east Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Jerusalem City Councilman Itai Gutler (Yerushalemim) praised the move, saying it is an indication that effective cooperation between municipal authorities and local leadership can benefit the residents.
This specific case could lead to more master plans for other Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, he said.
“There are enormous gaps between east Jerusalem to west Jerusalem when it comes to planning and construction, and it is about time to narrow them,” Gutler said.
“A lack of regulated city policy – a situation that characterizes most of the east Jerusalem neighborhoods – is damaging the possibility to maintain a fair quality of life, and it prevents the residents from receiving elementary municipal services. The residents of Sur Bahir are equal citizens in Jerusalem, and it is about time that the municipality treats them this way.”
However, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was criticized by right-wing members of the City Council, which blamed him for advancing construction for Arab residents instead of Jews.
City Councilman Arieh King, head of the right-wing NGO the Israel Land Fund, said ahead of the approval: “While Nir Barkat is proud of approving a private plan for Jews, which has less than 200 housing units, he now asks to approve 4,100 housing units for Arabs in Sur Bahir, which is another anti-Zionist move of him,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
The municipality dismissed King’s remarks, saying the master plan will prevent illegal construction that will harm sovereignty and the rule of law in Jerusalem.
“It will also allow the residents to submit construction plans according to the law and urban planning, and it will regulate that supervision and law enforcement, which will prevent illegal construction and taking over city property,” the municipality said a statement sent to The Jerusalem Post