For decades, Jerusalem Town Hall turned a blind eye illegal construction in the King's Garden area of Silwan, according to damning state comptroller's report on local government released Wednesday
After the Six-Day War in 1967, there were 13 illegal structures in the area, but by 1995, this number had risen to 30 – and by 2009, it had jumped to 130, the report says.
The King's Garden (Gan Hamelech) is the Hebrew name for an area of some 11 acres about half a kilometer south of Jerusalem's Old City, between Ir David and Silwan. Jerusalem authorities have a plan to demolish 22 structures to make way for a tourist park, while another 66 structures will be granted a post factum building permit. The plan has raised controversy in Israel and even protest from the US, Europe, the UN and the Palestinians.
According to the report, law enforcement against illegal structures began only in 1995, but even then with little effect – nine years later there were 80 illegal structures. Authorities began legal proceedings against 43, but only 10 were demolished. Meanwhile, new buildings were constructed.
In 2004, authorities boosted law enforcement efforts in the area, which is part of a recognized antiquities site. Nevertheless, the number of illegal structures had reached 130 by 2009, mostly just single-storey or two-storey buildings.
Aerial photo of King's Garden area
However, it appears that illegal construction is not just a Silwan phenomenon. From 1967, thousands of new illegal structures were built in addition to many illegal extensions to existing buildings. City inspectors estimate that illegal building in east Jerusalem has increased regularly, and since 2000, some 1,000 illegal structures are erected each year.
The report noted that illegal construction is liable to cause friction between residents and local authorities and create a public disturbance, as happens in many cases when law enforcement agents come to demolish homes in east Jerusalem. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss recommended law enforcement be stepped up, as well as steps to encourage construction through legal procedures, according to plans that take the needs of the residents into account.
The state comptroller also suggested that, due to the extent of the phenomenon, and in light of the fact that many years have passed since some of the buildings were constructed, authorities and ministries should investigate the issue and come up with a policy to handle the problems involved.
Jerusalem Town Hall said a report "describing the failure of law enforcement in the area during the last decades" was given to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat just a short time after he took up his position.
As a result of the report, "Barkat set up a special task force to create a comprehensive plan for the King's Garden area and Silwan, taking residents' needs into account while maintaining the law and the principles of planning." Some existing structures will be incorporated into the reworked plan, which has been approved by the relevant local planning committees, and is awaiting approval from the regional planning committee.
Meanwhile, the municipality said, the task force is extending its remit to other areas in east Jerusalem.
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