Panel approves tourism center in Silwan

Complex to have parking, shops, museums and cafeteria; Activists worry that project will ignore Arab history.

City of David Silwan Archeological site 311 R (photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen / Reuters)
City of David Silwan Archeological site 311 R
(photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen / Reuters)
The Interior Ministry’s Jerusalem District Committee gave initial approval on Monday to a large tourism center in the Silwan neighborhood, across the street from the City of David archeological park.
The 9,000-square meter Kedem Center, located on the site of the old Givati parking lot, will include several levels of underground parking, an event hall, a cafeteria, exhibition areas, stores, public bathrooms and other services for tourists.
The building will be built on stilts so that the public will still be able to view the archeological remains. The project was approved by the Local Planning and Building Committee last month. On Monday the Interior Ministry approved it for deposit, the first step in a long process.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat welcomed the initial approval from the ministry.
“The Jerusalem Municipality places great importance on the development of tourism and archeology sites in the Old City and its environs, which are visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors and tourists each year,” a municipal spokeswoman said. The Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority are collaborating with the municipality and the Ir David Foundation on the project.
According to the plan, the Givati parking lot, a 0.55-hectare (1.36-acre) area located across the street from the Dung Gate, will eventually become part of the Walls Around the Old City National Park. Currently, the area is a giant hole as teams of archeologists and students have excavated it to more than 20 meters deep. Teams also cleaned ancient drainage pipes that lead under the Old City Walls to the Davidson Archeological Park next to the Western Wall Plaza.
During the excavations, archeologists discovered artifacts from the Roman, Late Byzantine and Second Temple period, including a 2,000-year-old intact carving of Cupid made of blue onyx dating from the Roman period.
Left-wing activists condemned the project, fearing it will focus exclusively on Jewish history, and for its location in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan. Silwan is the site of frequent clashes between Arab residents and a number of Jewish residents who are supported by the Ir David Foundation.
“We need to remember the balance between past and present,” said Yonathan Mizrachi, the head of Emek Shaveh, an activist archeology organization that promotes the Arab history of the area. “This archeological site is part of Silwan, and part of building this complex is to ignore how [the City of David Park] has impacted the residents and their lives,” he said.
Also on Monday, across the street from the Givati parking lot, the tent outside Silwan’s Madaa community center and the Wadi Hilweh Information Center were demolished along with a small stable because they were illegal structures, residents said. Jawad Siyam, the director of the center, said they did not receive any demolition notices before the demolition of the tent, which resembled a Beduin tent with couches and meeting areas.
“It was a place for children, so they can play and have a safe area,” Siyam said. “They say children are throwing stones, but [by demolishing this tent] they are asking them to go to the streets to throw stones.”
Siyam vowed to rebuild the tent outside the center.