Work halted on King Hussein's old summer villa in J'lem

Illegal renovations include fencing in property; Keep Jerusalem CEO: Builders "trying to remove Jewish connections."

By MELANIE LIDMAN
August 14, 2011 18:14
2 minute read.
King Hussein’s partially built summer villa

King Hussein’s partially built summer villa 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Illegal renovations of the late Jordanian King Hussein’s partially built summer villa, whose concrete shell was abandoned following the Six Day War, were halted after workers began building a fence around the building last week.

The site, located north of Jerusalem and believed to be the site of King Saul’s ancient palace and the capital of the tribe of Benjamin, is an archeological park that belongs to the Israel Lands Authority. Like other politically sensitive sites, no work has been done on the site since 1967, to honor the delicate status quo.

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Chaim Silberstein, CEO and founder of Keep Jerusalem, notified the police and the Jerusalem municipality when he saw tractors and workers pouring cement at the site on Thursday. Silberstein regularly brings groups to the site for an educational tour of the Jerusalem boundaries.

“I went up to the manager, and I asked him what they were doing, and he said, ‘I work for the Wakf, this is our property, it’s too dangerous and we’re fencing it in,’” Silberstein told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

The Wakf Islamic trust, which is overseen and financed by the Jordanian government, has retained control over some Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, such as Al-Aksa Mosque plaza.

King Hussein of Jordan decided to build a summer villa on the site in the 1960s, owing to the site’s spectacular views of the rolling Jerusalem hills, making it a very strategic location.

After the Six Day War, construction was halted, and the building has remained an empty concrete structure for more than 40 years. Over the decades, the area has been used by prostitutes and drug dealers, and the building is crumbling.

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Any renovation work on the building would require a permit from the municipality. The municipality told the media they had not issued any permits for the building.

“This is the site of the ancient Givat Shaul, it’s the second most important archeological site in Jerusalem after the City of David,” Silberstein said. “They are trying to remove Jewish connections and exert Palestinian sovereignty in east Jerusalem, and that’s not something we want,” he said.

Repeated attempts to contact the Wakf were unsuccessful.

According to Silberstein, who notified a bevy of right-wing activists and Knesset members of the illegal renovations, the renovation work was halted at the end of last week. Silberstein said in the future he wanted to see the area renovated for tourists and archeologists.

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