The Jerusalem Planning and Construction committee approved Monday a plan by Mayor Nir Barkat dubbed "King's Garden", which calls for the demolition of 22 houses in Silwan's al-Bustan neighborhood. In their place an archaeological park is to be founded.
City councilman Meir Margalit, of the Meretz faction, called the mayor "a clumsy amateur" for bringing the plan to a vote just two weeks before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with the US president.
"The world will thus recognize that it is dealing with pyromaniacs. The mayor needs to understand that the municipality is too much for him, and for the sake of the delicate balance of the city remove the plan from the agenda," Margalit said.
"Let us have no doubt that this is not a professional plan, it is a political plan. It contains no humanitarian considerations for the residents but only aims to strengthen Israeli sovereignty in Silwan."
Al-Bustan: Land for permits? (Photo: Noam Moscowitz)
Debate on the plan could actually have been foregone, as the committee has the authority to hand the Interior Ministry its recommendations without it. Bitter conflict broke out at the debate, with residents of the neighborhood flinging accusations at the municipality representatives present.
Jerusalem's deputy mayor, Yosef (Pepe) Alalo, also of the Meretz faction, said the plan was inapplicable in any case. He said the municipality's intention to allow residents evacuated from the area to build additional floors onto buildings in the eastern neighborhood would not stand the test of reality because the buildings were not equipped for this.
Morad Shafa, a resident of the neighborhood whose home is up for demolition, said some of the houses had been there since 1918 and that more had been built in 1967.
"After '67 it grew. We are not building permit violators, it's just that we went there because no one would give us permits. All of the fathers here should think what happens to a boy whose home is destroyed, who clashes with police, which saddles him with a record before the age of ten, a child whose father goes to prison because he can't pay the fines he's charged. Where do you think this stress will lead?" he asked the committee.
On the other side was Councilman Didi Hershkowitz, of the Yerushalayim Beiteinu faction. "The plan isn't perfect, it is the lesser of evils, but it considers the facts on the ground," he said.
"We know our situation in Silwan is not good, and that it is a planning mess, just pure chaos, but this is a plan that could carry annunciation to the residents of Jerusalem and make a change in the eastern city. From construction transgressors people will become owners of homes near a park. They will have jobs and begin to enjoy the fruits of their labors, despite the fact that they do not recognize this today."
Criticism of the plan was also heard from the right side of the political map. Likud faction chairman in the municipality, attorney Elisha Peleg, claimed the park was "a prize for criminals".
"There are residents living there who do not cooperate with the municipality, and don't even recognize the state. These residents are inconsiderate of the needs of Jerusalem's residents, they just want this neighborhood, al-Bustan, which was named after the trees and gardens which once flourished there, to be set aside for construction only," he said.
The Jerusalem municipality responded by stating: "There are three existing alternatives to King's Garden. The first possibility is to evacuate the entire area and demolish all 88 illegal houses built here in accordance with today's existing city plans and the demolition orders issued by the court. The second possibility is a sweeping authorization of all the illegal building offenses on the site.
"The municipality chose a third option that balances various needs by which an unprecedented option will be granted to authorize 75% of the houses, and a legal option be granted to build in a complex for the remaining 22 houses with proper infrastructure."