Beit Safafa residents protest the planned construction of a highway
Beit Safafa residents protest the planned construction of a highway that would cut their village in half. Photo by Emil Salman
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Residents of an East Jerusalem neighborhood that stands to be severed in half due to construction of a six-lane highway are claiming that the Jerusalem municipality falsely told the Supreme Court an agreement had been reached over the project.

The Beit Safafa community council requested a hearing last week to ask the Supreme Court to ignore a report on a meeting between the city engineer and residents, which they say misrepresents their position. A hearing about the construction of the highway is scheduled for Sunday. Residents said no agreements were reached during the meeting in August and that the main issue they raised at the meeting – covering the highway where it cuts through their village – does not even appear in the document.

Writing on behalf of the residents, attorney Mohand Jabara said the document violates the principle of not presenting the court with details of negotiations that have yet to be finalized.

“Not only do the respondents dare to append a document that purports to reflect and represent details of the negotiation that was held between the sides, but the respondents are setting the law for themselves and, with an impertinence that is second to none, headlining the introduction of that document with the words ‘Below are the agreements presented at the discussion,’” writes Jabara.

The residents want the state to either stop building the highway, which would connect Jerusalem’s Begin Highway with the so-called tunnel road linking the Gush Etzion settlement bloc to Jerusalem, or to cover the Beit Safafa stretch of the highway. If built as planned, it would pass a few meters from some residents’ homes and cut off several dozen families from the center of the village, forcing them to drive or walk a long way to reach essential locations such as the neighborhood mosque, grocery store and kindergarten.

The city maintains that the report on the meeting is accurate.

“The municipality is conducting a fruitful and ongoing discussion with the residents,” the city said in a statement. “The summary that was appended to the court reflects the agreements, as they are, that were reached in the meeting between the residents and the city engineer.” The municipality added that the report was submitted to the residents’ representatives before it was sent to the court.

But Ali Ayoub, who heads the community council and was present at the August meeting, said residents now feel the city is not taking their concerns seriously.

“There was a very stormy argument [at the meeting], and they didn’t indicate any dispute in their report,” he said. “We all feel like this was just an exercise. I thought they were serious and were meeting the residents partway, but really it’s just patronization. They’re asking you, ‘You want to cause chaos again?’”

Some community council members suggested that they all collectively resign and the community center be shut down to protest the report submitted by the city, but no decision on the matter has been reached.

As part of the residents’ appeal of a district court decision on the highway, the Supreme Court ruled in June that the state must find a solution to the transportation problems the highway would pose.

But residents, along with the planning rights group Bimkom, are now saying that the proposed solutions do not adequately address the primary issues they face.