Arab vendors fume over planned new east J'lem hotel

Left-wing group: Proposal "undermines the city's stability."

Rockerfeller museum 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy of Gila Brand )
Rockerfeller museum 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy of Gila Brand )
A day after the Interior Ministry tentatively approved a municipal plan to construct a new hotel in east Jerusalem, local Arab vendors at the proposed site on Wednesday blasted the city for trying to replace them with Jews, and predicted that the decade-old plan would never get off the ground. The proposed 200-room hotel behind the Rockefeller Museum in the Wadi Joz neighborhood would see the demolition of 14 dilapidated Arab-owned stores and a local kindergarten, which would all be relocated in a new commercial center adjacent to the hotel, Israeli officials said. But the Arab merchants at the rat-infested market were not buying the Israeli plan, even though it includes building them new quarters. "They are trying to drive us out," said Bassam Ramlawi, 50, who heads the market workers committee and runs a produce store at the site, which he said his family has owned for the last half century. "I have no faith in the municipality," he added, dismissing the planned hotel at the site as a "settlement." "They only want to bring in Jews, and the Arabs have nowhere to live," he said. The Jerusalem Municipality said that the 12-year-old plan to build the hotel on city-owned land was coordinated with local residents, and that it would greatly improve their lives and economic standing. But Ramlawi said that the first he heard of the plan was from journalists. "We received no word, no letter, nothing," he said. "The last time I had faith in the city was when Teddy Kollek was mayor," he said, standing amid piles of watermelons. "Now we will have to wait and see what happens with the new mayor." "I don't think it will happen because people have been working here for many, many years," said Bilal Zquyer, 45, a fellow vendor, who said that he, too, is the third generation in his family to work at the shop. The fruit vendor said that he was not interested in being relocated to a new store, even at the state's expense. "I want to stay in my store, not another store," Zquyer said. The planned new east Jerusalem commercial center would include the new stores, two kindergartens and a welfare office, said Dalit Zilber, district planner for the Interior Ministry. The planned hotel, which overlooks the Kidron Valley, would be built on the slopes of a hill and its rooftop would double as a public square. "This proposal is part of our plans to encourage tourism in the city," Zilber said. A record three million tourists visited Israel last year. Two hotels are currently under construction elsewhere in the city, which, Tourism Ministry officials say, does not have enough hotel rooms to accommodate many more tourists. Following the Interior Ministry's District Planning Commission's tentative authorization of the project Tuesday, opponents of the building plan have 60 days to register their objections, which will then be heard and deliberated by the committee. The plan was immediately condemned by the Ir Amim group, which advocates for Palestinian rights in Jerusalem, which said the proposal "undermined the city's stability. "This is another example of the Jerusalem Municipality and government of Israel subjugating the true public interest to the interests of parties close to the settlers, in order to build a 'biblical kingdom' in the Holy Basin of the Old City," said Ir Amim founder Daniel Seidmann, whose group is heavily funded by the EU.