Government officials are reportedly trying to prevent the building of new homes for Jews in the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, opposite the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.
The Jerusalem planning and building committee was set Wednesday to debate a request to construct a new three-story building in the heart of the overwhelmingly Palestinian neighborhood, but according to Army Radio high-level efforts are underway to stop the proposal.
The plot, which the state sold to Jewish settlers in 2005 via the Justice Ministry’s custodian general, is located in the Batan Al Hawa area if Silwan opposite the seven-story Beit Yonatan. Beit Yonatan was built without permits in 2002 and 11 Jewish families moved in two years later. Despite orders by the courts and by then attorney general Yehuda Weinstein to evacuate and seal the building, 10 families still live there, according to the Haaretz newspaper. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has supported the Jewish residents’ right to the building.
According to the Army Radio report, government intervention is likely to sink the plans to build new apartments. One municipal councilor estimated that if not passed Wednesday, the proposal would not get a second hearing.
The request for planning approval comes in the run-up to the beginning of Ramadan next Monday, and appears to run against efforts to calm tensions that have fueled months of Palestinian attacks.
The anti-settlement Peace Now organization said Tuesday that the land in the area was sold to Ateret Cohanim by the custodian general without any tender, together with three additional parcels in the neighborhood. The reason given for selling the land was the fact that the group already owned two other parcels in Batan Al-Hawa that the custodian general released to it in September 2002, Peace Now said in a statement.
“While PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Liberman just backed the two-state solution, on the ground, they are supporting actions that are making a future compromise much more difficult,” the statement said. “By approving the construction on the Eve of Ramadan, Netanyahu and Liberman risk igniting the region and compromising Israelis’ security for the benefit of extreme settlers.”
But Eldad Rabinowicz, the lawyer who submitted the planning request on behalf of a company named Maliach 73, charged that “legal issues should not be seen through the prism of politics,” and that in contrast to Jerusalem Arabs for whom “all doors are opened” when they ask for building permission, Jewish organizations in the capital, like the one he represents, had every conceivable obstacle thrown in their way and were victims of “clear discrimination.” Fear of the media and politicians drove the authorities to behave in ways that did not apply to other applicants for permits, he told The Times of Israel.
Silwan has seen rising tensions in recent years as dozens of Jews have moved into homes in the mostly Arab neighborhood.
Before the Arab riots of 1938, Silwan — then known as Harat al-Yaman — was mainly Jewish. The riots forced the Jews to leave.
Organizations such as Ateret Cohanim are dedicated to recreating a Jewish presence in Arab East Jerusalem, especially close to the City of David, in neighborhoods such as Silwan.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.