Municipality pressured to restore east Jerusalem playground

Move comes a year after city removes damaged equipment from playground, leaving site completely barren.

playground 224 88 (photo credit: Rita Yurkovich)
playground 224 88
(photo credit: Rita Yurkovich)
Amid pressure from a city council member and residents of the Issawiya neighborhood, the Jerusalem Municipality said Wednesday that it will replace a small playground in the east Jerusalem neighborhood which has been repeatedly vandalized by local residents in recent years. The move comes a year after the city removed the damaged equipment from the playground, leaving the site completely barren. The issue also reignited longstanding charges by left-leaning critics of the municipality that it is discriminatory in its policies toward the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. The now desolate play area, which was set up by the city at the entrance to the neighborhood several years ago at the cost of hundreds of thousands of shekels, was the only playground in the neighborhood which is home to 12,000 people. "Today the children of the village have no place to play so they play in the street," said Hani A. Esawi, a member of the neighborhood's residents committee. Esawi said that residents have not asked foreign groups to rebuild the site since they would require city construction permits anyway. "Regrettably, the play area suffers from repeat acts of vandalism which have damaged the playground and its equipment," Jerusalem municipal spokesman Gidi Schmerling said in a written response. He said that city officials had removed the equipment from the playground after it became dangerous due to vandalism, but noted that it would be replaced as part of the city's "annual work plan." The city spokesman declined to say exactly when the playground would be replaced. Like other east Jerusalem neighborhoods, Issawiya, which is located adjacent to Mount Scopus and the Jewish neighborhood of French Hill, lags behind the areas of West Jerusalem in terms of infrastructure and sanitation, despite efforts by the municipality over the last decade to improve living conditions in east Jerusalem. A left-leaning city council member and a human rights organization said that the municipality's decision to remove the damaged equipment from the playground for over a year and still not replace it, amounts to discrimination. "This is nothing short of collective punishment," said Pepe Alalo, a city councilman from the far-left Meretz Party, who has served as an intermediary between neighborhood residents and city officials on the issue. "This is an immoral punishment for vandalism which amounts to retribution," said Tali Nir, an attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, adding that it was part of a pattern of municipal neglect of east Jerusalem. "It is not for the municipality to take revenge on residents," she said. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he was willing to cede at least six outlying Arab neighborhoods - including Issawiya - in a final peace treaty with the Palestinians. Palestinians demand all of east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.