Creating facts on the ground?

A guide to the network of parks in east Jerusalem that critics claim is politically motivated.

east Jerusalem 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
east Jerusalem 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
National parks in east Jerusalem are the latest flashpoint for activists, who claim that the Israel Nature and Parks Authority is creating a network of parks in east Jerusalem aimed at stopping expansion of Arab neighborhoods in the area.
In a scathing report released at the beginning of the month, Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights slammed the plan to create a series of parks in east Jerusalem as an attempt at “green settlement,” intended to prohibit the natural expansion of Arab neighborhoods. But the Jerusalem Development Authority, which is overseeing the plan to implement the parks, argues that creating protected green space is the only way to save the small number of open areas left in east Jerusalem.
“We don’t get involved in politics,” Elad Kandl, the director of the Old City projects at the Jerusalem Development Authority, said last month. “When you make it a national park, you keep the status quo, so that you can’t damage the area.”
The proposed parks are located in the Kidron Valley outside the Old City walls, one of the most politically sensitive areas in Jerusalem due to its proximity to the Temple Mount, the so-called “Holy Basin.” But it’s also one of the most popular tourist attractions, with important Christian sites including the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. Almost three million tourists visit Jerusalem annually, 65 percent of whom are Christian, according to the Tourism Ministry. The JDA wants to preserve this area as close to the New Testament panorama as possible in order to protect an important tourism resource.
But activists question whether designating the areas as national parks is the best way to accomplish these objectives. Avraham Shaked, who sits on the Interior Ministry’s Jerusalem District Committee as an environmental representative, says there are no important ecological aspects in the area of the proposed national park.
“This is definitely a political process,” he says.
“Every open area is important. If it’s possible to develop the area for the good of the public it’s a positive thing,” he said. “But this is not important as a nature reserve.”
The plan for the “Slopes of Mount Scopus Park,” a national park now in the planning stages, is expected to be discussed by the Interior Ministry in three to four months. Some of the proposed parks are already completed, while others are to be administered by the city, not the INPA.
In total, the parks will comprise some three square kilometers of land, broken down as follows: City of David (Jerusalem Walls) National Park This is the oldest and most well-known park in the network. It encompasses about 274 acres and was declared in 1974. It includes a small strip of land encircling the Old City in addition to the City of David archeological park and areas of the Wadi Hilwe neighborhood in Silwan. Since 1990, the park has been developed and managed by the Ir David Foundation, better known by its Hebrew acronym, Elad. Activists have accused Elad of concentrating too heavily on the Jewish history of the area and ignoring Arab history.
The Tzurim Valley National Park
This park encompasses about 50 acres, and was declared a national park in June 2000. This small parcel of land is surrounded by major highways and heavily built-up areas. It connects the City of David Park and the Slopes of Mount Scopus Park.
National park on the Mount of Olives
This green area encompasses about 116 acres, mostly north of the Mount of Olives cemetery. There is no official name for the park, though it was marked on the Jerusalem 2000 master plan, the working document for city planning. Since 2008, the Jerusalem Development Authority and the INPA have extensively cleaned the area, removing tons of construction debris, reconstructed ancient agricultural terraces and replanted olive trees.
Slopes of Mount Scopus Park (in planning)
The Slopes of Mount Scopus Park is the one that touched off the most recent round of controversy. It was deposited for public review in November and is going through the review period. The park as planned encompasses about 185 acres.
King’s Garden (Gan Hamelech) Park (in planning)
This is a controversial project that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is pushing, aiming to recreate some of the original gardens from the Second Temple period. This approximately 12-acre green area, located in the Al Bustan neighborhood, will not be a national park. The plan is to retroactively legalize 66 residential buildings, and demolish and rebuild 22 residential buildings.
The park is to be created in the area where the demolished buildings stood. The plan has been approved by the Local Planning and Building Committee but has not been discussed by the Interior Ministry’s District Committee.
Sheikh Jarrah and Bab e-Zahara (potential parks)
According to Bimkom, the Bab e-Zahara park is marked on the national parks version of the Jerusalem 2000 plan. The approximately 10-acre park includes the grounds of the Rockefeller Museum and a small neighborhood garden. The Sheikh Jarrah park is also mentioned in the parks version of the Jerusalem 2000 plan. This park is located next to the tomb of Simon the Just, and in parts of the orchards that once belonged to the Shepherd Hotel and is in the middle of a heavily developed area in Sheikh Jarrah and Wadi Joz.
Ben-Hinnom Valley (in planning)
 The Jerusalem Development Authority is developing and cleaning the park between Silwan and the Jerusalem Cinematheque. It will not be a national park, but rather designated as a municipal open area.