J'lem court halts Silwan construction

Judge Noam Sohlberg orders halt to the projects in response to claims made by residents of Wadi Hilweh.

silwan anti demolition protest 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
silwan anti demolition protest 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court this week ordered a halt to a number of construction projects in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, after residents and two local NGOs filed a petition claiming the projects were illegal. Judge Noam Sohlberg ordered a halt to the projects on Tuesday in response to claims made by a number of residents of the Wadi Hilweh section of Silwan, together with The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights, who asserted that the construction was not meant for the 7,000 Arab residents of the neighborhood but for the Elad organization, which owns extensive properties in the area, and for tourists who visit the nearby City of David archeological park. According to the court's ruling, the Jerusalem Municipality was ordered to stop work on the construction, which was initiated by Elad and carried out by the East Jerusalem Development Company - work on parking lots, sidewalks, facade renovations and the local electricity grid, totaling some NIS 30 million - because the projects lacked the proper building permits. The verdict also elaborated on the neighborhood's planning status, saying that there were no detailed blueprints for most of the area. Such blueprints serve as the only legal basis on which construction permits can be issued. "There is no logical reason to make shortcuts and facilitate permits, in violation of the legal requirements, precisely where the opposite had been explicitly established," Sohlberg said in his ruling. "Construction works in the neighborhood, therefore, must be based on permits as required by law." At the same time, however, Sohlberg ruled that other construction projects in the neighborhood, such as the improvement of sewage, drainage and communications infrastructure, were legal, and would be permitted to continue. While the Jerusalem Municipality responded to the ruling in a positive light, saying that the judge had ruled most of the work to be legal, representatives from the Association for Civil Rights and Bimkom said they viewed the ruling as a reversal of what they called "discrimination" against the Arab residents of east Jerusalem. "We welcome the court's decision to end this scandal, in which the chief culprit is the Jerusalem Municipality, which discriminates blatantly against Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem in planning and demolition throughout Jerusalem, imposing policies on them that it is not willing to uphold itself," said Tali Nir, a lawyer for The Association for Civil Rights. "The rejection of the plan clears the way for the authorities to do their duty and produce blueprint plans for the neighborhood, so that its development can accurately reflect the needs of its residents: schools, public gardens, public toilets, and other civil services," Nir said. "It is a good thing that the court established that the Jerusalem Municipality and even the Elad Association must follow the law, including the Construction and Planning Act," said Efrat Cohen-Bar of Bimkom, echoing Nir's statements. "We hope that this verdict is a first step toward minimizing the planning discrimination against the Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem," he said. On the other hand, a source close to the Elad organization told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the decision to halt the construction, especially in regard to the sidewalk, would only harm all residents in the neighborhood, both Jewish and Arab. "They can't have their cake and eat it to," the source said. "NGOs and Arab residents of east Jerusalem often say they're neglected by the municipality, and while maybe it's too bad that they had to wait until Jews started moving into the neighborhood to get sidewalks, it seems counterproductive to now petition against the construction of those sidewalks, when they would serve the entire community."