Israel advances plan for controversial Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem

Givat Shaked project, slated to include 700 housing units, criticized for cutting off development options for Arab residents of adjacent Beit Safafa

Workers take a break before European Union officials visit the construction site for the Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem, November 16, 2020. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo/ File)
Workers take a break before European Union officials visit the construction site for the Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem, November 16, 2020. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo/ File)

The Jerusalem District Planning Committee advanced a plan for the development of a controversial Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem on Monday afternoon.

The project, known as Givat Shaked, is located on the northwest edge of the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa, adjacent to the Green Line, and will include 700 housing units.

According to a source on the planning committee, the plans are still to be resubmitted to the committee before final approval, which is almost certain to be granted.

Left-wing groups condemned the decision for ignoring the planning needs of Beit Safafa, while right-wing member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council Arieh King said that since the land in question was under Jewish ownership it was appropriate to allocate it for Jewish housing needs.

The land for Givat Shaked was expropriated by the Rabin government in 1995, sparking international uproar. The project was then frozen by Rabin and was not advanced until December of last year, when the district committee green-lit the neighborhood through an earlier planning stage.

The district planning committee had initially been scheduled to vote on approval for Givat Shaked just a few days after US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, but was postponed, ostensibly in order not to create tensions with the administration.

According to the Peace Now settlement watchdog, Givat Shaked will be located on the last remaining plot of land on which Beit Safafa could develop, given that the crowded Palestinian neighborhood is hemmed in on almost all sides — either by the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo to the south, a park to the west, or an area designated for another controversial Jewish neighborhood, Givat Hamatos, to the east.

A researcher for the Ir Amim organization asserted that the land should be used for the development of Beit Safafa, due to the lack of options for the development of that neighborhood.

“The government refuses to advance construction plans for Palestinians, and, at the same time, destroys more and more houses in the east of the city,” said Ir Amim researcher Aviv Tatarski.

Dr. Laura Wharton, a city council member for Meretz, also condemned the decision.

“It’s quite outrageous the way at which the building authorities approve projects as part of an obsession with trying to show greater and greater numbers of units, regardless of the city’s borders, or world opinion, or the environmental ramifications,” said Wharton.

“The long-term effects are worrisome, when quality, historical preservation, and peace are ignored. In this case, however, the situation is almost comical: the ultra right, desperate to try to demonstrate accomplishments, calls this a “neighborhood”, when in fact it is a building project of 700 units. It is mostly an embarrassment. Clearly, Minister of the Interior Shaked is in a panic about her political future.”

Despite the criticism, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan Nahoum insisted that Arabs would also be able to live in the new neighborhood.

“Anyone can move anywhere they want. There are many Arabs living in Pisgat Ze’ev for example. I don’t understand why Givat Shaked is being described as a Jewish neighborhood, everyone is invited to live in this neighborhood, just like in Pisgat Ze’ev,” she said.

“The only sectorial group excluding others from neighborhoods are the Arabs who don’t want Jews moving in to neighborhoods such as Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah,” Hassan Nahoum added.

King, a hard-right member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council, insisted however that it was reasonable to allocate the land for Jews since the land was under Jewish ownership.

The plot in question is managed by the General Custodian—a department of the Ministry of Justice which is responsible for administering property owned by Jews in East Jerusalem prior to 1948.

“What does the extreme left-wing expect? That Jews let Arabs build on their land for Arabs?” demanded King.

“I thank the planning committee and Minister Shaked for authorizing for the first time in decades the first neighborhood for Jewish construction in East Jerusalem.”


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