Paving the way for disaster?

The Beit Safafa road is not the first plan to cause problems for Jerusalemites. But Jewish residents have never put the focus on the confiscation of land.

Beit Safafa 311 (photo credit: Michael Green)
Beit Safafa 311
(photo credit: Michael Green)
Beit Safafa has a history of separation and partition.
First in 1949, the armistice line cut through it, with one part inside the new State of Israel and the other on the Jordanian side.
The reunification of Jerusalem following the Six Day War in 1967 gave the area a sense of bringing things back to normal, but that was soon replaced by a series of urban-planning decisions that led to more divisions.
While some of the village’s residents have Israeli IDs, those who were under Jordanian rule for 19 years have only residents’ cards and are not full citizens of Israel. Most of the original residents of Beit Safafa (who have been joined by many Israeli Arabs from the Galilee over the years) belong to the Alian clan.
The decision to build Gilo – for which part of Beit Safafa’s land was required – was the first blow.
What’s more, the remote houses of the village were surrounded by the new buildings in Gilo. Then in the early 1990s, a road was constructed to connect Malha and its environs to Talpiot and the new neighborhood of Homat Shmuel on one side and to Gilo on the other, which obviously required additional plots of the village’s land. The residents of Beit Safafa opposed the road, fearing that it would once again split up their neighborhood and cut community ties and put their children at risk, as no bridge was planned to protect the pedestrians.
Their protest succeeded partly – a segment of the new road (near the Pat neighborhood) was replanned as a detour so that it wouldn’t traverse the center of the village.
By then, most of the village’s residents probably believed that they had paid their share of the public’s needs. But at the local neighborhood council, they knew about another imminent threat – the southern part of the Begin Highway project. This last part of the major transportation plan was approved by the local and the district planning and construction committees and awaited the mayor to initiate its implementation. For years, that didn’t happen, neither during Uri Lupolianski’s term nor in Nir Barkat’s first four years. However, Kobi Kahlon, deputy mayor and chairman of the local planning committee, decided it was time.
Kahlon obtained a release of the government’s budget – NIS 1 billion (90 percent state money, 10% municipality money) and launched the preliminary road work. This part of the Begin Highway connects Golda Avenue, which leads from the city entrance to Ramot, and from there to Givat Ze’ev on one side, to Gilo and the Tunnel Junction leading to Gush Etzion in the south, crossing the heart of Beit Safafa. But this time, it is not a simple road inside the city but a six-lane highway, “a nightmare,” admits a high-ranking official at Safra Square.
For the past few weeks, residents of Beit Safafa have been protesting – meetings, demonstrations, petitions, etc. Some of their local leaders are aware that Islamic groups are trying to hitch a ride on their protest and turn it from a local urban civil issue into part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The local leadership is very careful not to allow it, but a combination of sincere but very political support from the left-wing parties and organizations, together with some ill-advised statements in the media, have taken the issue dangerously close to a political struggle. One of the reasons is probably the language used by the residents of Beit Safafa, which adds to the confusion.
In the past, there have been many cases of urban plans that caused the residents of various neighborhoods a lot of problems. In no instance, however, have the Jewish residents ever put the focus on the confiscation of land incurred by large construction projects. In Beit Safafa, this is the terminology used, whether as a result of the bad experiences of the past or as a cultural expression.
But the bottom line is that Beit Safafa residents talk about road construction that will not only deprive them of their land but also damage their quality of life. And that adds to the political nature of this issue.
Whether it is connected or not, rumors of Saudi Arabia’s sending money to turn the road into a tunnel road is spreading, and the foreign media are reporting almost daily about the heavy blow to the Palestinians, mostly disregarding the urban aspect.