Court rejects NGO petition to halt Silwan planning scheme

Elad organization rejects claims that it is serving its own interests instead of those of Palestinians.

The Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday rejected a petition filed by the Ir Amim group, which had requested that a municipality planning scheme for the Wadi Hilweh section of Silwan be shelved because it “served the interests of the Elad organization and not the neighborhood’s Palestinian residents.”
Ir Amim also alleged that Elad, which runs the City of David archeological park inside the neighborhood, had bribed city planning officials to ensure their organization’s interests were safeguarded in the plan.
Elad categorically rejected Ir Amim’s claims, telling The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the planning scheme is not only overwhelmingly beneficial to Silwan’s Arab residents, but that such residents had voiced anger over Ir Amim’s moves to try and stop it.
The plan itself is a municipal effort to begin regulating construction in the Wadi Hilweh section of neighborhood, which begins at the entrance to Silwan from Derech Ha’ofel Road, along the southern wall of Jerusalem’s Old City, and descends down the hill overlooking the Kidron Valley to the east.
While the plan does not call for the demolition of illegally constructed homes in the neighborhood – of which there are many – it does present zoning codes regarding where construction can or cannot commence, and would be the neighborhood’s first set of such regulations.
According to Elad, the planning scheme allots 85 percent of the neighborhood’s construction for its Palestinian residents, while 15% is set out for Jewish residents.
Ir Amim spokeswoman Orly Noy, however, said that the plan, as it stands now, “offers more opportunities to the Jewish residents of Silwan and far less to the Palestinians.”
Additionally, Noy said, “We think that an organization with both economic and political interests in this area should not be deciding on a municipal plan that affects the local residents. We see it as a conflict of interest.
“Financially, Elad’s interests include the Givati Parking Lot [at the entrance to the neighborhood], which they own and plan on turning into some kind of visitor center,” she said. “Politically, Elad is attempting to Judaize east Jerusalem, and especially Silwan.
“So if these are their interests, then it’s certainly going to affect the Palestinian residents and the regulation of building there, as Elad aims to change the entire character of the neighborhood from Palestinian to Jewish-Israeli. It cannot be for the benefit of the residents.”
Additionally, she said, Elad had agreed to finance part of the plan, which according to Noy, “raised great suspicions of bribery.”
Noy added that Ir Amim did not view their petition as having been rejected, but that the judge had told them it was “premature” and asked them to withdraw the petition and pursue the matter through different bodies, namely the police.
“In the case of the bribery claims,” Noy said. “The police have now been notified of that.”
Udi Ragones, a spokesman for Elad, told the Post on Thursday that Ir Amim’s bribery claims were “completely false” and were disconnected from the planning scheme.
Ragones explained that the municipality had requested Elad’s involvement because of the organization’s involvement in the neighborhood –  including its administration of the City of David archeological park.
Additionally, Ragones said, it was Ir Amim’s actions, not Elad’s, which were detrimental to the neighborhood’s Palestinian residents.
“Ir Amim is attempting to prevent any development in the neighborhood, as that would undermine their political agenda,” Ragones said. “The Arab residents have told us they were glad the petition was rejected, and that they didn’t understand why Ir Amim was interfering here.”
Indeed, Abu Jameel Siyam, the mukhtar, or tribal leader, of Silwan, told the Post on Thursday that Ragones was correct.
“It’s true,” Siyam said, regarding Silwan residents’ apparent dismay over Ir Amim’s court petition.
“We have said that there are good aspects of the plan and there are badaspects of the plan, we’re still working it all out. But to come andsay that the whole plan is bad, and to ask that it be done away with,then what have you accomplished? Nothing.
“Today in Silwan, nothing is devoid of politics,” Siyam added. “Andthat’s all this is. But at the end of the day, whatever ends uphappening here is up to the residents. They will decide, and asmukhtar, I will support it.”