Beit Safafa residents demonstrate against highway

Over 200 residents, activists protest against planned extension of Begin Highway that will divide J'lem neighborhood.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
February 26, 2013 20:55
3 minute read.
Beit Safafa

Beit Safafa 311. (photo credit: Michael Green)

 
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More than 200 residents of Jerusalem’s Beit Safafa and left-wing activists demonstrated on Tuesday evening against a planned extension of the Begin Highway that will run through the neighborhood.

“This is a continuation of the settlement policy, and we’re not going to pay the price of connecting the settlements to Tel Aviv,” said 33-year-old Beit Safafa resident Dareen Khattab.

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The highway will provide high-speed access for commuters from the Gush Etzion settlements to Jerusalem and beyond.

Beit Safafa activist Duaa Subhi said the highway, which will be six lanes wide at some points, is located too close to homes for this type of highspeed intercity road. Two houses are located 3 meters away from the planned road, and more than 25 homes are less than 20 meters away.

The municipality needs specific permits from national planning committees to locate highways so close to residential areas.

Additionally, the highway will run straight through the middle class Arab neighborhood, forcing residents to drive far out of their way to get to the other side of the neighborhood, and will disrupt daily life, said Subhi.

Residents also claim that the city did not get the proper permits for the construction and did not sufficiently notify the residents. Sixteen residents, including Subhi, petitioned the courts to stop the construction, which began three months ago.

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On February 10, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the municipality’s building plan for the area, designed in 1990, is a valid planning document, and there is a road plan marked for the same spot where the municipality wants to build the Highway 50/Begin Extension.

On Monday, the residents filed a petition with the High Court of Justice and requested a temporary stop work order while the negotiations continue.

That case will be heard on Thursday.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, who holds the urban planning portfolio, said the residents are taking advantage of the political situation to turn a local concern into an international story.

“When the residents of Beit Hakerem conducted their fight over their part of Begin Highway, the international media wasn’t interested,” she said. “This is simply a residents’ fight against its municipality for better compensations and better infrastructure, and it’s a perfectly justifiable fight and part of democracy,” she said.

Tsur said the municipality is holding ongoing negotiations with the residents despite the court actions, and has agreed to cover 180 meters of the 1.5-kilometer section that runs through Beit Safafa. Covering the highway would creating a public park with areas for cars to cross, which would eliminate noise and pollution from that section of the highway. The residents have asked for 300 meters of covered highway, which would provide continuous access to homes and neighborhoods in the most problematic part of the project.

However, Tsur said 180 meters is the maximum amount the municipality can offer without resubmitting the plans for approval, a process which would cost millions of shekels. She stressed that the Begin Extension is part of a transportation master plan to ease access into and around the capital, before extending the light rail in the next decade.

Despite the feverish pace of bulldozers, which are progressing quickly on the highway, residents vowed that they would not give up their fight.

“This highway isn’t connected just to Beit Safafa, it’s a struggle for Jerusalem and all the Arabs of Jerusalem,” said Kholoud Subhi, Duaa’s sister.

“Show me another place in the country where they’re building a highway so close to people’s homes,” said Houida, a 40-year-old mother from Beit Safafa. “You open your door and are on the highway.”

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