A planned visitors’ center to be built near the Old City in East Jerusalem has become a controversial flashpoint, raising fears that the building could exacerbate the tensions already surrounding the City of David archaeological project in the Arab village of Silwan.
The 20,000-square meter Kedem Center, a seven-story complex described by architects Luis Labaton & Partners as a “cultural and gathering center,” is planned to sit across from the Old City walls at the top of the City of David archaeological site.
The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee is expected to approve the construction plans for the complex, which will be built just 20 meters away from the Old City and 100 meters away from al-Aqsa Mosque, in two weeks’ time.
As some detractors have pointed out, the complex would alter the iconic Old City skyline.
The concrete-and-stone center, which was commissioned by the right-wing Ir David Foundation, is to be built complete with a parking lot over the archaeological excavations at the City of David National Park in Silwan, often the site of home demolitions contested by the local Arab population.
Channel 10 quoted project architect Aryeh Rahamimov as saying that the building would be located outside the Old City and would “contribute to the national park surrounding it.”
In 2012, to prepare the ground for the construction of the complex, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority razed a community center built by Silwan residents, as well as a playground and café, according to the Haaretz newspaper.
Since then, construction plans were put on hold, but were revived in late 2013 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, reportedly in a conciliatory gesture to right-wing politicians opposed to the four phases of prisoner releases Israel agreed to in peace talks with the Palestinians.
Israeli intellectuals, Palestinians, Silwan residents and European officials have criticized the project in recent weeks.
Yehudit Oppenheimer, head of the left-wing NGO Ir Amim, told Channel 10 news the project was drawn up due to “political greed which we, all residents of Jerusalem, will regret in the coming generations. A concrete monster will be built here, one that will reach the height of the walls of Jerusalem and even tower over them.”