Peace Now tries to halt Silwan building

115,000-sq. m. structure is to include up to 5 stories of underground parking, according to petition.

east jerusalem 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
east jerusalem 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Elad, a religious nationalist movement calling for Jewish settlement and development in Silwan, outside Jerusalem's Old City, plans to build a huge building where construction is currently prohibited, a recent petition to the High Court of Justice states. The 115,000-sq. m. building is to include up to five stories of underground parking, according to the petition, which was filed by village residents and Peace Now. The petition also names the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is conducting massive archeological excavations on the site, the Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, which is in charge of administering and protecting the land, and the Jerusalem Municipality, which is responsible for granting building permits and preventing illegal construction. The Palestinian petitioners live adjacent to the site and complained that the excavations, which have been dug to depth of about 14 meters, have undermined the foundations of their houses and threaten to topple them. They also charge that the excavations are being carried out without a permit from the city and that the urban plan designates the area as part of the national park surrounding the Old City. The plot is located 30 meters from the Old City walls, while the planning scheme prohibits building within 75 meters of the wall. Until the excavations began, the plot, owned by the city, had been used as a parking lot. Six years ago, a small part of the land was fenced off and excavations started. A few months ago, the fence was extended to include almost the entire plot and heavy machinery was brought in to assist in the work. Attorney Sami Ershied, who represents the petitioners, wrote that his clients "became suspicious during September, when heavy machinery, including gigantic drilling equipment, arrived at the site in the dead of night. "As is known, archeological excavations are conducted carefully, with delicate instruments, in order to uncover artifacts, and not with heavy mechanical equipment which digs out and destroys all the layers along the way. "The work involves drilling, including many holes which are 15 meters deep, inserting iron constructions into the shafts and preparing castings for pillars. The petitioners believe that this work is in preparation for building foundations and support walls and not for archeological excavations." Elad is paying for this excavation, as it has done for several other sites in Silwan. Attorney Yoram Bar-Sela, representing the Antiquities Authority, confirmed that Elad planned to build a building "of some sort" on the site. However, the authority will oppose Elad's plan to ask for a rezoning of the site until after it finishes its "salvage" excavation. By law, in cases where entrepreneurs want to build structures on land where there may be archeological findings, the Antiquities Authority carries out such rescue digs to preserve findings worth saving. In this case, wrote Bar-Sela, the salvage excavations are being carried out before there is a building permit because of the uniqueness and archeological wealth of the site, which is the site of the City of David. Bar-Sela added that the heavy machinery was only used to reinforce support walls in the excavation hole to shore up the Ophel road, which skirts the northern boundary of the site. As the hole grew deeper, the authority needed more support walls to prevent the other sides of the hole from caving in. Bar-Sela denied that the work had caused the cracks in the houses of the neighbors, adding that these houses had been built without permits and without proper engineering oversight. The municipality wrote to the court that while the excavation itself did not require a special permit, the Antiquities Authority could not build support walls without a permit. Elad did not reply to inquiries from The Jerusalem Post regarding its response to the petition. The petition was filed on November 4. High Court Justice Edna Arbel gave the respondents five days to file preliminary responses but later extended the deadline. She also wrote that the hearing on the petitioner's request for an interim injunction to suspend the work on the site while the petition was being considered would be held soon.