Plan for Israeli tourist centre in E. Jerusalem slammed for ‘lethal potential’
In this post: 1) Akiva Eldar deplores the council’s decision to give planning permission to El’ad; 2) i24 says it will exacerbate local tensions; 3) 2012 Haaretz report on the first planning decision; 4) Notes and links on the organisations involved and the archaeological principles of Emek Shaveh.
Above, the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif seen from the south. The western wall is on the left. The planned edifice for El’ad (which wants all of Jerusalem for the Jews) would stand seven storeys high and cover four acres of the Silwan neighbourhood, south of the walled enclosure and the heart of the Palestinian quarter.
Palestinians have not reacted to the wave of plans approved lately by Jerusalem’s planning committee to build rabbinical colleges and a Jewish visitor centre at the heart of East Jerusalem
By Akiva Eldar, trans.Ruti Sinai, Al Monitor
April 16, 2014
In the shadow of the crisis in negotiations with the Palestinians, and at the height of the storm about the conviction of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a dramatic decision was made in Jerusalem. This decision could bring about the collapse of the diplomatic process that’s hanging by a thread. The decision made on March 27 by Jerusalem’s District Planning and Building Committee makes the tender published several days later for the construction of 708 housing units in the city’s Gilo neighborhood look like a confidence-building measure.
The committee gave a settlers’ organization permission to erect a grandiose edifice in the upper part of the Arab Silwan neighborhood, adjacent to the walls of the Old City — in the heart of one of the most explosive sites in the world. A narrow road is the only dividing line between the complex, designed to serve as a “visitor center” for the El’ad Association and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif. Despite the fact that since the days of the British mandate, through the zoning plans drawn up under Israeli rule, the city’s planning principles forbade new construction within 75 meters (250 feet) of the wall, the committee approved a massive, tall building within 20 meters (65 feet) of the wall.
The building to be erected a stone’s throw away from the Western Wall would stand seven stories high. The ground floor would be spread out over 16,600 square meters (4 acres), three times the area in the original plan submitted some four years ago. As far as the Palestinians and the entire Muslim world are concerned, the erection of this building would be tantamount to sticking a Star of David on top of a mosque. Unlike organizations that approach the idea of erecting the third temple, El’ad has proven over the years that it does more than talking. Nothing stands in its the way of carrying out the plan to turn the Holy Basin into the central branch of the HaBayit HaYehudi Party (literally, “The Jewish Home”).
Prior to granting approval for the plan, with only a few restrictions, the committee members heard opponents from among the residents and a host of architects, archaeologists and public figures. In advance of the debate, David Kroyanker, a Jerusalem architect, expert of the city and recipient of the city’s Yakir Yerushalayim (worthy citizen of Jerusalem) award, was sharply critical of the plan. “I have known Jerusalem planning up close for 45 years, and I have never come across a plan of such arrogance and lethal potential as this one. I hope this plan finds its way to the rubbish bin of history.” Writer David Grossman, poets Haim Gouri and Agi Mishol as well as Israel Prize laureates and some professors appended their names to the list of opponents.
A review of newspaper archives reveals a common denominator between the timing of the district committee’s decision approving the plan and the timing of the announcement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gideon Saar about its submission: Both events overlap dates of planned prisoner releases accompanied by threats on the part of HaBayit HaYehudi to dismantle the coalition. The announcement by Netanyahu and Saar about the plan’s submission was made in October 2013 — on the night that the previous (third) batch of Palestinian prisoners was released, provoking an outcry from the right wing. The decision by the District Committee was taken on the eve of the fourth stage of prisoner release — which was postponed at the last moment.
The site, called the Kedem Center, is not the only bone stuck these days in the throats of the Palestinians. Just two months ago, on Feb. 12, Jerusalem’s Local Planning and Building Committee approved the construction of the Or Sameah rabbinical college in the Sheikh Jarrah Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem. That building, too, would be an expansive, nine-story edifice. That complex, too, is not intended for use by the Palestinian residents or by pilgrims. Here, too, experts submitted their opposition (in that case it was the city’s planning policy department itself), but they were struck down by the automatic majority of the right-wing municipal coalition.
And that’s not all. About a month ago, Ateret Cohanim, another settlers’ association active in the city, announced the acquisition of part of a building located at a central intersection in the heart of East Jerusalem. This is “a very large and strategic building,” bragged the organization’s director, Daniel Lurie, adding that “this is the first acquisition of its kind in an area that’s at the heart of the commercial Arab district of Jerusalem.” In a letter to potential donors, asking for their help in turning the place into a preparatory army academy, he said, “The work is being carried out quietly, under the radar.”
The leader of HaBayit HaYehudi, Naftali Bennett, saw fit to ridicule the Palestinians’ demand that the Kerry framework document include a commitment that East Jerusalem will be recognized as their capital. On his Facebook page he asked: “You wanted a commitment? Here you go, East Jerusalem will never be your capital.”
The three right-wing organizations, just like Housing Minister Uri Ariel of HaBayit HaYehudi, are making it clear to the Palestinians that as far as Jerusalem goes, the “Bibennett” government is not content with declarations. There is a complete coherence between what it says and what it means, as well as what its hand signs — the same hand that signs building plans and checks.
The publication of a tender for the construction of new apartments in the Jewish Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, across the Green Line, one of the neighborhoods that the Palestinians agree will remain in Israeli hands within the framework of land swaps, prompted a great uproar. It is hard to understand how three new outposts being planned in the heart of Arab neighborhoods have evaded the American radar. No less strange is the gap between the commotion by the Palestinian leadership over the Gilo project, and their restraint over the facts on the ground that Israel is creating in neighborhoods that they claim for their capital.
Putting up grandiose buildings in the eye of the storm, and populating East Jerusalem with Jewish rabbinical college students — all with full and official permission — are part of the city’s “Hebronization.” Just as in the “City Of the Patriarchs,” a government comes and a government goes, and settlers conquer another lot in an Arab neighborhood. A peace initiative is born, a peace initiative dies, and the right-wing activists laugh all the way to the bank account of another generous American donor. The “poof” (remark before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 8) uttered by US Secretary of State John Kerry was no more than a slight wisp of air tickling their ears.
Opponents of planned visitor center in east Jerusalem say project will exacerbate local tensions
April 04, 2014
Israel has approved a controversial archaeology project in east Jerusalem, the interior ministry said Friday, in a move likely to compound tensions threatening to scupper peace talks with the Palestinians.
The ministry “heard objections” from the Palestinians and from residents to the plans to build a visitor center just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan, a statement said.
However it granted approval to the project on grounds that it “will show important archaeological discoveries to the public”.
“As a tourist attraction, this will contribute to the development of the city of Jerusalem,” the ministry added.
The Silwan neighborhood, where the 1,200 square meter (13,000 square foot) complex is to be built, is already home to dozens of Jewish settler families who live under heavy guard among their Arab neighbors.
Arab residents charge that the new visitor center fails to take account of their needs and is an attempt to further strengthen the Jewish presence in Silwan.
The controversial project, known as the Kedem project, has stirred anger among Israeli archaeologists, Palestinians and peace activists.
The Jerusalem municipality said it viewed construction of the complex as very important because the number of tourists is growing, and is set to reach around 20 million each year.
But opponents are concerned that the building could exacerbate the tensions already surrounding the City of David archaeological project in Silwan, often the site of home demolitions contested by the local Arab population.
Jerusalem architect and scholar David Kroyanker told Haaretz: “I know Jerusalem planning for 45 years now and have never encountered a plan with such temerity and such fatal potential as this plan.”
A Jerusalem municipality crane destroying a community centre built by Silwan residents, on Monday [February 2012]. Photo by Wadi Hilweh Information Centre
The Elad organization, which operates the park in Jerusalem, is promoting the plan for the center, which will enable visitors to view recently discovered archaeological findings.
By Nir Hasson, Ha’aretz
February 14, 2012
A playground, community center and cafe built by Silwan residents were razed Monday morning to make way for a new visitors center at the City of David National Park, after construction of the center was approved by the Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee on Sunday.
The Elad organization, which operates the park in Jerusalem, promoted the plan for the center, which will enable visitors to view recently discovered archaeological findings.
Silwan residents and several left-wing organizations objected to the plan, charging that it bolsters the process of Judaization of the village and strengthens the right-wing Elad organization’s hold on the site. On Monday, Israel Nature and Parks Authority representatives destroyed a complex that had been erected by village residents.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat voiced his support for construction of the center at the committee hearing, as did Israel Antiquities Authority’s Jerusalem District director Dr. Yuval Baruch. “This is one of the most important projects in Jerusalem in recent generations,” said Baruch. “There is an important link here between the Ophel Garden, the City of David and the Western Wall and the creation of a direct link between the sites.”
The complex – to be called Mercaz Kedem (Kedem Center ) – is to be built on stilts, above the excavation site known as the Givati parking lot. Designed by architect Arieh Rahamimov, it will include a parking lot, exhibition space, classrooms, and an observation deck.
“The plan is an example of outstanding architecture that will contribute to the development of the national park and create public space that befits the location within the site and the city, as well as address the needs of the million and a half annual visitors to the national park,” the Ministry of Interior’s announcement stated.
“The public interest is to prevent massive construction opposite the walls of the Old City and certainly not to build on top of the major archaeological strata uncovered,” countered archaeologist Yoni Mizrahi, who is active in the Emek Shaveh, an umbrella organization of left-wing archaeologists. “The archeology should be presented as part of Silwan where it was found, and not disconnected from it. The decision to erect a building in the Givati parking lot will fortify the Elad organization’s Israeli settlement in Silwan and further exclude the Palestinian residents from their right to their village’s past.”
Notes and links
Ir David Foundation, commonly known as Elad [El’ad] (Hebrew: אלע”ד, an acronym for “אל עיר דוד”, meaning “to the City of David”) is a Jerusalem-based, Israeli association which aims to strengthen the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, create a Jewish majority in Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem and renew the Jewish community in the City of David, which is part of the village of Silwan. The foundation works to achieve its goals by tourism, education, archaeological excavations and obtaining homes in the area to establish a Jewish presence. Its excavation practices have been criticized by one of the most productive archeological researchers in Jerusalem as violating normal scientific procedures. Elad is accused of Judaization of East Jerusalem through eviction of Palestinians, changing the character of the city and promoting its own historic view, by legal and illegal means. From Wikipedia
Ateret Cohanim moves more families into Muslim Quarter: “To have Torah learning and yeshiva students on the outskirts of the Temple Mount shows that the centuries-old Zionist dream is ongoing, as is the process of redemption,” spokesman says.
The Ateret Cohanim organization, which sponsors numerous initiatives to purchase, or “reclaim,” properties in east Jerusalem for Jewish residency, announced this week that a number of Jewish families had begun moving into a home inside the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, which had been at the center of a years-long legal dispute…. From JPost, February 2010
Ateret Cohanim (lit. “Crown of the Priests”), also Ateret Yerushalayim, is an Israeli Jewish organization with a yeshiva located in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. It works for the creation of a Jewish majority in the Old City and Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Founded in 1978, it was originally known under the name Atara Leyoshna (lit. “[returning the] former glory”). After many disagreements about the nature of its activities, the organization closed and re-opened as a new association called Ateret Cohanim with a yeshiva of that name. While the activities of Atara Leyoshna focused mainly on locating Jewish assets in the Muslim Quarter and transferring them into Jewish hands through legal means, the activities of Ateret Cohanim involves acquiring illegally houses in the Muslim quarter or renting them from government companies and populating them with Jews. The association owns many buildings in the Old City, where over 80 families live. Some estimate that 1,000 Israeli Jews live in houses that Ateret Cohanim purchased in the Old City since 1978. The head of the association is Mati Dan. It depends heavily on donations from American Jewish businessman Irving Moskowitz and his wife Cherna Moskowitz. from Wikipedia
from their website- Who We Are
Emek Shaveh is an organization of archaeologists and community activists focusing on the role of archaeology in Israeli society and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We view archaeology as a resource for building bridges and strengthening bonds between different peoples and cultures, and we see it as an important factor impacting the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our fundamental position is that an archaeological find should not and cannot be used to prove ownership by any one nation, ethnic group or religion over a given place. We believe that the archaeological find tells a complex story which is independent of religious dictates or traditional stories, and that listening to this story and bringing it to the wider public can enrich culture and promote values of tolerance and pluralism.
The cultural wealth of the archaeological sites is an integral part of the cultural assets of this country and is the joint property of all the communities, peoples and religious groups living here. Moreover the term “archaeological site” does not only refer to excavated layers of a site but also to its present day attributes – the people living in it or near it, their culture, their daily life and their needs.
We, the members of Emek-Shaveh, are dedicated to changing the view according to which the ruins of the past as tools in the service of a national struggle. We oppose attempts to use archaeological finds to legitimize acts that harm disadvantaged communities.
We support archaeological practices that benefit the general public as a whole. We promote efforts to include the local residents living in and around a site in archaeological activities such as joint excavations and developing the site. All this can bolster an environmental conscientiousness amongst the local residents, encourage social involvement and even generate a process of real social change.
Archaeology – Outline of Principles
1. We believe that archaeology can and should be used to promote understanding, not conflict. Archaeology can further the peace of Jerusalem.
2. Our archaeology provides a rich tapestry of the lives of people in Jerusalem, allowing everyone to find their own links to the past.
3. Our archaeology is not text-bound or selective: it serves to tell an inclusive and independent story of human existence, culture, and achievement.
4. We do not assign different values to different cultures: all strata contribute to an understanding of Jerusalem’s history on equal terms.
5. It is not our business to establish links between modern ethnic identities (e.g., Palestinians, Israelis, or Europeans) and ancient ones (e.g., Judeans, Canaanites, or Crusaders). We do not use archaeology to prove precedence.
6. Since archaeology provides an independent view of human and social origins, it is inherently critical of all historical narratives.
7. Where archaeological and textual narratives overlap, each serves to illuminate the other: both are interpretive, neither has absolute truth-value.
8. Since archaeologists appropriate public property, the use they make of this property must be justified, particularly to the public whose property was appropriated.