Ir Amim: Gov't helping with plan for another 750 Jewish residents in east Jerusalem

NGO reports plans for the creation of a continuous bloc of Jewish housing in neighborhoods that encircle the Old City.

ras el amud construction 248.88 (photo credit: Abe Selig)
ras el amud construction 248.88
(photo credit: Abe Selig)
Plans to move an additional 750 Jews into Arab areas of east Jerusalem have been advanced throughout the first half of 2009, though both private and governmental channels, according to a report released on Thursday by the Ir Amim NGO. The process of moving more Jews into such neighborhoods, where there are already about 2,000 Jewish residents, has been accelerated specifically for areas that "lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," according to Ir Amim, a non-profit group that engages Israeli-Palestinian issues in the capital. The document also reports plans for the creation of a continuous bloc of Jewish housing in neighborhoods that encircle the Old City, along with the placement of Jews inside the Muslim and Christian quarters, and the Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods. It goes on to state that the new projects are part of a strategy by various government ministries and the Jerusalem Municipality to prevent an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Jerusalem, the eastern section of which Palestinians want as the capital of a future state. Breaking down east Jerusalem by neighborhood, the report gives detailed information on the number of Jewish housing units in each area - both existing and pending - and examines plans for the construction of 150 new housing units. Additionally, plans for the construction of synagogues, mikvaot (ritual bath) and community centers for Jews in these "sensitive areas" are reported. While the increasing Jewish presence in Arab-populated neighborhoods has been no secret, the report also discusses a wide array of activities being initiated by private groups such as Elad and Ateret Cohanim, and by government authorities - including the municipality - which Ir Amim alleges have provided the private groups with "positive support," such as speedily approving building plans and "alertness" with regards to demolitions of Arab houses that lack building permits. "The plans that have been recently revealed and the evictions that have accompanied them are cause for exceptional worry," Ir Amim director-general Yehudit Oppenheimer said. "The addition of 150 housing units for settlers in areas that constitute the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to thwart all future opportunities for a political solution. In a number of cases, these settlements have dissected Palestinian neighborhoods, hurt the existing populations and are likely to incite this already sensitive area," she said. Aryeh King, an activist connected to building projects in east Jerusalem, dismissed the report as "false" and decried its details as "misinformation." "For them to say that these projects are going up in the heart of the Arab neighborhoods is simply untrue," King told The Jerusalem Post. "To get to the new housing project planned for Ras al-Amud, for example, you don't pass a single Arab home. This leads me to believe that this information was written by people who have never been to Ras al-Amud. They spout lies and the press buys everything they're selling - no matter if it's purposely unbalanced." Yet according to the report, about half of the Jewish residents in the Arab neighborhoods live in the Christian and Muslim quarters of the Old City. The report also said that 170 Jews live in A-Tur, 250 in Ras al-Amud, 280 in Silwan and 50 in Sheikh Jarrah, and hundreds reside in the new Nof Tzion neighborhood in the heart of the Jebl Mukaber neighborhood. The Jerusalem Municipality partially echoed King's remarks, saying in a written response requested by the Post that "the numbers reflected in the Ir Amim report are incorrect." "With regards to the project in Ras al-Amud, where the report alleges the municipality has advanced plans for the creation of 104 housing units, the opposite is true. The case is being discussed by professional staff at city hall, and has not been approved, because the project does not fit with the city's planning policy in the area." "Also in Wadi Hliweh," the statement continued, "the projects brought up by the report are still in the committee stage, and a decision has yet to be made on them." And at the Shepherd Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah, "a building permit has already been issued," the municipality said.