The Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee approved on Monday the construction of a new visitors’ center at the City of David National Park in Silwan.

As part of this decision, Israel Nature and Parks Authority representatives this morning razed a complex built by Silwan residents that included a playground, community center and cafe.

The new visitors’ center is to be built above the Givati parking lot and will be called the Mercaz Kedem (Kedem Center). The building will be built on stilts and beneath it there will be an area where visitors can view recently discovered archeological findings. The Elad organization promoted the plan and it obtained the support of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who appeared before the district committee earlier today to voice his support.

The Israel Antiquities Authority’s Jerusalem District director, Dr. Yuval Baruch, also expressed support for the plan, despite the presence of archeological findings under the building. “This is one of the most important projects in Jerusalem in recent generations. It would be impossible to find a serious archeologist with a bad word to say about the conduct of the excavations,” said Baruch. “The building as it stands is approved by the Israel Antiquities Authority and was presented to the authority in dozens of meetings.

All of the changes the Antiquities Authority requested were included in Arie Rahamimov’s plan: the number of parking spaces was reduced, and the height of the building was limited so it would not overshadow the height of the Old City wall (the difference is one meter). There is an important link here between the Ophel Garden, the City of David and the Western Wall and the creation of a direct link between the sites. We led the way to this result.”

The building, designed by architect Arie Rahamimov, will also include a parking lot for the use of visitors to the City of David, exhibition space and classrooms and on the roof, there are plans to build a plaza and observation deck overlooking Silwan and the Old City walls.

“The plan is an example of outstanding architecture that will contribute to the development of the national park and create public space that befits the location within the site and the city, as well as address the needs of the million and a half annual visitors to the national park,” the Ministry of Interior’s announcement stated.

On the other hand, Silwan residents and left-wing organizations that support them vehemently objected to the building which they claimed bolstered the process of Judaization of the village and strengthened the Elad organization’s hold on the place.

“The public interest is to prevent massive construction opposite the walls of the Old City and certainly not to build on top of the major archeological strata uncovered,” said Archeologist Yoni Mizrahi, who is active in the Emek Shaveh, an umbrella organization of left-wing archeologists, “In addition, the archeology should be presented as part of Silwan where it was found, and not disconnected from it. The decision to erect a building in the Givati parking lot will fortify the Elad organization’s Israeli settlement in Silwan and further exclude the Palestinian residents from their right to their village’s past.”