J’lem committee to discuss Silwan tourism center

Also on the agenda: 130 housing units in Gilo and renovations to another building in City of David.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
December 28, 2011 02:22
3 minute read.
City of David Archeological site in Jlem's Silwan

City of David Silwan Archeological site 311 R. (photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen / Reuters)

 
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Jerusalem’s Local Planning and Building Committee will discuss three new projects in areas of Jerusalem over the 1967 Green Line on Wednesday.

Two buildings in the City of David archeological park will come up for discussion: renovations to one building that is located near the Gihon spring and a plan to build a large tourism complex at the site of the old Givati parking lot. The complex will have a museum, offices, auditoriums, a visitor’s center and 250 parking spots.

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The committee will also discuss a larger project in Gilo, where 130 units will be built in the northeastern part of the neighborhood, close to Beit Safafa.

The new tourism building at the City of David park drew criticism from activists who claim that the park concentrates too heavily on the Jewish history of the area while ignoring the Arab history.

“This will very much damage the neighborhood of Silwan; they want to make part of Silwan into a Jewish neighborhood,” said city councilor Pepe Alalu (Meretz), who sits on the planning committee.

But City of David spokesman Udi Ragones said the new tourism center would provide sorely needed parking as well as a chance to highlight some of the important archeological discoveries in the area. The Givati parking lot is currently a large dig, and dozens of students and archeologists have years to go before the area is completely excavated. The excavation is so deep that the massive building will be more than three stories tall but only come up to the height of the current road, thereby not disrupting any views of the Old City or the Aksa mosque. There will also be underground access to the Western Wall plaza, which is also considering a massive underground tourism center, and the City of David archeological center.

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“There is nothing provocative here; it is already land that belongs to Jews. There is no plan for houses and nothing new here,” said Ragones.

“I welcome Jewish building in City of David and Silwan; it is very important that we enlarge the presence in the eastern part of the city,” said city councilor Elisha Peleg (Likud), who also sits on the planning committee.

“We’ll also be giving good assistance to the residents and tourists that come to visit, while guarding our heritage,” he added.

Alalu slammed the new tourism center as an obstacle to negotiations or a future two-state solution.

“Every time there’s a little quiet, they again start to fan the flames,” he said. “Two weeks ago, there was the [issues relating to the notion of demolishing the] Mugrabi Bridge, and that almost lit the fire.”

The project in Gilo for 130 housing units are controversial not for their location, but for their height: the buildings are planned for up to 12 stories, which will destroy some of the view of the rolling hills of Jerusalem. Peleg said that with such a severe shortage of apartments and little available land, the city had no choice but to build upwards.

“We can’t be spoiled, not everyone gets a villa or a cottage with a yard,” he said.

Despite opposition, all three of the projects are expected to pass the first stage of the approval process on Wednesday. The approval process usually takes years, and includes approval from the Interior Ministry’s District Committee.

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