Progress has brought troubles along with it to the King's Valley. For hundreds of years floodwaters drained into the garden of the kings of Judea, east of the Shiloah Pool in Jerusalem. In winter it was a swamp, but in summer it became a blooming garden.
With a bit of imagination and with the help of varied historical sources it is possible to imagine King David strolling in the royal garden with its abundant greenery and water among the olive, fig, pomegranate and almond trees, singing Psalms.
According to one tradition, this is where the Book of Ecclesiastes was composed.
About 20 years ago, the Jerusalem municipality shored up the water runoff there, and in the open green area (al Bustan, in Arabic), which the Turks and the British took care to preserve for hundreds of years as a public area intended for preservation and development of parks and tourism, an illegal Palestinian outpost arose.
Within 18 years 88 buildings went up there, under the noses of mayors Teddy Kollek and now outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Under former mayor Uri Lupolianski, the construction was halted, after the municipality confiscated tractors and heavy machinery from the lawbreakers.
Last summer the director general of the Antiquities Authority, Shuka Dorfman, noted in a kind of "post mortem" that the construction in the King's Garden caused significant and irreversible damage to antiquities.
Representatives of the municipality and Dorfman admitted that they had no good explanation for what has happened in this lovely garden, which is described in the Books of Nechemiah and Ecclesiastes, in midrashim (rabbinic Biblical homiletics) and in many historical sources. Dorfman stressed that together with Tel David, the garden constitutes the only complete archaeological garden of first-rate importance.
Yossi Havilio, the legal advisor to the Jerusalem municipality, informed MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi - at that time chairman of the State Control Committee) that the municipality had demolished seven of the 88 buildings and that 67 of the remaining 81 buildings were being dealt with legally by means of demolition orders, indictments and under Article 212, which makes it possible to request demolition even though the statue of limitations on the violation has passed.
When the state comptroller began to look into the matter last fall, a plan for laundering the construction initiated by the inhabitants, leftist elements and human rights organizations had already found its way to the planning commissions. About two weeks ago the plan was rejected and since then the area has been simmering and especially subject to incitement.
The Palestinian Authority and Northern Branch Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Ra'ad Salah have called foreign diplomats to the site, begun demonstrations and initiated an outcry. Last Saturday, the protest over "the intention to carry out the demolition orders in the King's Garden" expanded into a general commercial strike in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and East Jerusalem.
The attempt to kasher the illegal construction in the King's Garden was a grave mistake, and it is good that it failed. Nevertheless, carrying out the demolition orders as written, nearly 20 years after the violation was committed, may be just, but it is not wise.
The solution suggested by Yakir Segev, who holds the East Jerusalem portfolio in the municipality, to evacuate the lawbreakers and to give them compensation and land elsewhere, is more fair.
This was first brought up by former city engineer Uri Shetrit. Shetrit, who is not suspected of being a right-winger, offered the inhabitants alternative land in the eastern part of the city. The Palestinian refusal today is not practical but rather political and is largely rooted in external elements or troublemakers like Salah. Dozens of houses in the Jewish Shama'a neighborhood (in the area of the Cinematheque) were also demolished in Jerusalem, though 60 years ago and in different circumstances, but for the general good. In the same vein - the archaeologists are excavating not only under the houses of the residents of Silwan, but also under the houses of the Jewish Quarter.
The history of Jerusalem sometimes exacts a personal price. In this case it is completely justified.
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