Elad can continue to operate City of David, court finds

Minor changes to contract allow continued management operations by private group; Parks Authority to be responsible for all major decisions.

City of David 521 (photo credit: Courtesy City of David)
City of David 521
(photo credit: Courtesy City of David)
The City of David Foundation (Elad) can continue to operate the City of David Archaeological Park in Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, the High Court of Justice decided on Wednesday.
The left-wing group Ir Amim filed a petition in July 2010 to challenge the private organization’s right to manage a national park, as well as an allegedly secret contract between the National Parks Authority and Elad, a right-wing organization that supports Jewish residents in the predominantly Arab neighborhood of Silwan.
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Ir Amim charged that Elad’s political agenda was ignoring the Arab history of the site and creating a conflict of interest.
The City of David Park, which holds archeological ruins from the First Temple Period, has long been a source of tension between Elad and the Arab residents of Silwan, who accuse the park of encroaching on their land.
The court found that the contract between the National Parks Authority and Elad could continue with some changes. Elad and the NPA are due to sign a new contract in March 2012.
The court also clarified that while Elad is in charge of the day-to-day operation of the park, the site’s administration, including major decisions, remained the responsibility of the National Parks Authority.
Ir Amim hailed the ruling as an important step. “Of course I’d want to go further and have the courts decide if Elad really needs to be there at all, but the way we’re living now, Elad had unchecked power,” said Yudith Oppenheimer, the director of Ir Amim. She added that the courts sent a clear message that public assets, such as national parks, “belong in the hands of the public.”
If a draft of the new contract, which makes changes such as officially allowing guides not associated with Elad to lead tours in the park, meets the courts’ approval in January, then the petition will be dismissed.
The contract between Elad and the NPA had been secret but it was revealed as a result of the court case, said Oppenheimer, clarifying the relationship between the NPA and Elad.
Elad spokesman Udi Ragones said he was also satisfied with the decision, and that representatives from the municipality, the Environmental Defense Ministry, the NPA, and the Israel Antiquities Authority, supported Elad’s continued operation of the site. “All of the important groups agreed that it’s important that Elad continue, because only with Elad can the site continue to develop as it has,” said Ragones.
“The site has really succeeded and gone from a neglected site to a really big tourism attraction… Even Ir Amim said it was the second most important place in Jerusalem,” said Ragones. “Twenty years ago, no one said that.”
The City of David Park hosts around 450,000 visitors a year, up from 2,000 visitors in 2001.