Illustration: IDF soldiers during a tour of The City of David in East Jerusalem.
Illustration: IDF soldiers during a tour of The City of David in East Jerusalem. Photo by Emil Salman
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The Jerusalem Regional Planning and Building Committee approved the construction of a controversial visitors’ center for the City of David just outside the Old City walls. The committee heard objections to the huge project for eight hours before approving it Thursday evening.

Residents of Silwan, where the center will be located, claimed the large structure, which is intended for serving tourism and educational services for the City of David National Park, does not take the needs of local residents into consideration.

Architects and public figures claimed the plan violates the principle of not building tall buildings near the walls of the Old City. Archeologists complained of the expected harm to important archeological finds at the site. But after a short discussion, the committee decided to approve the proposal, though it did set a number of conditions.

The proposal was submitted by the Elad association, the right-wing group that administers the City of David National Park, and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and has the support of the Jerusalem municipality.

The plan calls for the construction of a museum, visitors’ center and auditorium in the area known as the Givati parking lot, some 20 meters from the Old City wall and 100 meters from the Western Wall. It will also constitute a new gateway to the City of David National Park. The building is to be 7 meters tall and cover 16,600 square meters. Beneath a planned parking lot, finds discovered at the site in recent years are to be preserved and made accessible.

“The Jerusalem Regional [Planning] Committee heard the objections to the Kedem Center plan in Jerusalem and thought that the plan to build the visitors’ center will aid in exposing the important archeological finds to the broader public and serve as a focus for tourism that will help in developing the city of Jerusalem,” read the Interior Ministry’s announcement of the approval.

The committee decided to reduce the size of the built-up sections of the project and to require the height of the building not exceed the level of the street above it near the Old City wall, to fit in better with its surroundings. The roof of the building, as well as the passages to the lower level, will be open to the public and the preservation of the archeological finds must be guaranteed – all before a building permit can be issued.