Calm presides over Silwan

24 hours of peace as city political battle heats up over new project.

Silwan 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Silwan 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A shaky calm returned to the streets and narrow alleyways of Silwan on Tuesday, after large-scale rioting that shook the southeast Jerusalem neighborhood late Sunday night injured 10 security personnel and dozens of residents.
The riots caused severe damage to homes and vehicles throughout the area.
In a conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed that the previous day marked the first time Silwan had seen 24 hours of calm since a municipal plan involving 22 house demolitions in the El-Bustan (King’s Garden) section of the neighborhood passed an initial Local Planning and Construction hearing on June 21.
After the plan received preliminary approval, rock-throwing incidents and attacks on Border Police patrols in the area – which were not uncommon before last week – increased to every day incidents, and police and security officials begun bracing for wider violence in a lead-up to Sunday night.
Despite the current calm, Rosenfeld said that “things can change very quickly and rapidly” and that Silwan was still “the main area in which patrols are being carried out.”
Members of the city council’s Meretz faction, all of whom resigned from the municipal coalition last week in protest against Mayor Nir Barkat’s plan for the redevelopment of El- Bustan, told the Post they would continue fighting the initiative as members of the opposition, and had already sent a letter to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein officially notifying him of more than 200 “defects” found in the plan.
“In my opinion and in the opinion of many professional bodies that have seen the plan, it’s not ready,” Meretz faction chairman Pepe Alalu, who had been one of Barkat’s deputy mayors before resigning, told the Post.
“When a plan goes to the committee for a hearing, there are certain conditions and criteria that it must meet for it to move forward and be considered,” he said. ”And I do not believe that the plan meets those criteria. It was only brought to the committee, and hastily so, for political reasons.
“A plan of this size takes two or three years to prepare, not months,” he said.
Alalu said that Barkat – who has been working on the plan for almost a year – “forced” coalition members to vote in favor of it at the risk of being thrown out of the coalition if they did not.
“[Barkat] got everyone to vote together,” Alalu said. “He said that whoever doesn’t vote in favor is out of the coalition, and that’s forbidden, you’re not allowed to do that.”
In that vein, Alalu repeated that the plan was now “being checked by the the attorney-general” for potential problems.
The mayor’s spokesman Stephan Miller told the Post the Meretz opposition to the plan was part of the approval process, the second phase of which was specifically geared toward hearing critiques of the proposal.
“After the first phase of approval, the plan is now open to criticisms from the public, just like any other plan in the city,” Miller said. “We welcome the criticisms of residents and city council members alike, and all critiques are brought to the committee over an allotted period of time. It’s the next step in the process of the plan.”
A statement from city hall stressed that “the municipality sees the plan for Silwan as a pilot project for redesigning an area with multiple existing building violations.
“This is doubly challenging, because the standards in the area are significantly different from other places in the city. For example, there is no proof of land ownership, no infrastructure, no street parking – standards that have manifested into an unreasonable situation.
“Out of a desire to promote such municipal programs for the local residents,” the statement continued, “the municipality has worked quickly and with different means.”
Addressing the Meretz letter, the city hall statement added that “many of the problems mentioned within it are small technical items that can be fixed quickly.