As someone who lives in Jerusalem and is politically active, I have sat far too
long watching the media’s and politicians’ new punching bag, Mayor Nir Barkat.
It is important for me to explain, because before we harshly judge the mayor of
Jerusalem for his Gan Hamelech plan in Silwan, we may want to recall some
“trivial” details and acknowledge his courageous concern for this crazy
Building in Gan Hamelech is prohibited by the laws of the state.
Not by municipal laws, not by the decisions of one committee or another, but by
the laws of the state. And despite this prohibition, there are 88 illegal homes
in Gan Hamelech, currently under court demolition orders.
It was a judge
who ruled to demolish them, not the mayor. Does anyone care to remember
simple fact before he or she gleefully continues to attack the man who
finally determined to bring order to this city? It seems not.
But let us
continue. In these illegal houses, families live under very difficult
conditions. Some of the houses were built without suitable foundations,
water, electricity or sewage infrastructure.
Other houses were built
directly atop sewage pipelines. Most of them can tumble upon the heads
inhabitants any day.
I have a feeling that if this should happen, the
State of Israel will decide to appoint an official committee of inquiry.
have a feeling that this committee will resolve to bring about some
offer a plan that will be rather close to what Barkat is offering today.
perhaps this is only my feeling.
For the first time in the history of
Jerusalem, a mayor is suggesting an unprecedented possibility to
legalize 66 of the houses already on the eastern part of the site, while
inhabitants of 22 homes on the western section of the site will be
legally build their houses in the open areas on the eastern side.
important to note that the local committee that made the decision was
the public and acted with full transparency, allowing the representative
residents to voice their opinion, along with numerous meetings the mayor
representatives held with the residents, who, as it happens, support
The people who oppose it are members of the actual neighborhood
Silwan – i.e., Hamas of eastern Jerusalem and several other red-bearded
Abu Tirs who decide for the residents what is good and bad for them. We
let them decide for us as well. Aren’t we refusing to talk to Hamas?
three options for handling this. The first is to clear the entire area,
the 88 illegal homes according to the urban building plan and obey court
without giving it another thought. If Barkat were the extreme right-wing
pyromaniac that he is being made out to be, it would be much easier to
this option. But knowing Barkat, he never takes the easy path, but
The second option is to continue what has become the custom
of Israeli governments and the Jerusalem Municipality over generations:
one’s head in the sand and comprehensively legalize 100 percent of the
building violations in the area.
If Pepe Alalo (former deputy mayor and
Meretz city council member whose party resigned from the coalition) were
instead of Nir Barkat, perhaps that is what he would do. Barkat
honestly chose a third option, which balances the various needs of the
This option allows the unprecedented legalization of 75 percent of the
already there, permitting the construction of more while building an
infrastructure for the first time in the lives of these unfortunate
It is important to remember that since the entire area is
designated to be an open public space by law, and since the houses were
illegally built, it was never, in fact, developed. Barkat is offering to
normalize – for the first time – the municipal infrastructure, including
upgrading the road infrastructure, sewage, electricity and other local
Moreover, there have never been public buildings on the site,
and Barkat is providing solutions for this as well. He is offering
2,000 square meters of public areas, classrooms, kindergartens, a gym, a
health center, an underground parking area and many other services that
residents of Silwan have never even known, and will probably never know
continue to bury our heads in the sand.
Barkat’s plan legalizes the
existing houses on the eastern side. In addition, he will approve the
of restaurants, souvenir and art shops for the benefit of the residents,
to make the place a worldwide tourist attraction. Barkat has termed this
classic win-win situation. In addition, the western part will become
space,” as originally intended, where the magical orchards will be
IF THE State of Israel were as courageous as Nir Barkat,
the man we all love to hate, it would understand what the residents of
already understand and are afraid to admit: This plan is the best thing
could have happened to the neighborhood and its residents, the same
all forgot ever existed. In our hypocrisy, we suddenly remembered these
who live in disgraceful poverty on the most important piece of real
I write these words with a genuine belief in their veracity, out
of an understanding that this plan is truly a good plan, from the stance
left-wing-center person who leads the Labor Party in Jerusalem. It is
take off our populist masks once and for all and stop saying what
to hear, stop blaming the person so easily blamed, and look at the truth
call it by name.
The writer is head of the Labor Party in Jerusalem and a
member of the City Council.