Israel Rejected Plan That Would Avoid Splitting Beit Safafa, Documents Reveal

Recently revealed documents contradict Israel's claim that it cannot build a tunnel for a new Jerusalem road to avoid cutting an Arab village in two.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The six-lane highway planned through the Arab village of Beit Safafa, which is located within Jerusalem’s city limits in the southern part of the capital, does not have to cut the community in two but rather could pass through a tunnel, documents related to the plan have revealed.

The primary issue in the dispute between the Jerusalem Municipality and the residents of Beit Safafa is the municipality’s claim that the plan for the new highway, which was approved in 1990, is sufficiently detailed and that construction permits can be issued on its basis for the paving of the roadway. The municipality’s position was recently upheld in the Jerusalem District Court. For their part, the residents are claiming that the plan, which was authorized 23 years ago, cannot serve as the basis for the construction of the highway because it is too general.

Last week, the Moriah Jerusalem Development Company, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Transportation Ministry submitted a joint document to the Supreme Court, which is now handling the case, containing their response to the arguments presented by the residents of Beit Safafa regarding the expressway being built in the heart of their village. The state and the municipality reiterated their claim that no section of the expressway passing through the village can be roofed – for engineering, economic and technical reasons. Their main argument is that the inclines in the sections of the highway that have been built so far do not permit the erection of a tunnel.

According to documents revealed last week, however, Moriah, which is carrying out the work on Jerusalem’s Route 4 expressway, has stated in the past that the highway could be built inside a tunnel – an option that would have a less serious effect on the lives of Beit Safafa’s residents than the present plan. The planned expressway, which would be a continuation of the Menachem Begin Highway, a major Jerusalem expressway, would be constructed only meters away from the homes of Beit Safafa residents and would serve the Jewish residents of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements located not far from Jerusalem.

Moriah, which is owned by the Municipality of Jerusalem, stated only two years ago that a tunnel could be built and that changes could even be made to the highway to make it suitable for roofing in the area of Beit Safafa, according to the document, revealed last week by the residents’ legal counsel, attorney Kais Nasser of Yedid, The Association for Community Empowerment. For example, in the discussion held before the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee in December 2010, the company’s representative, attorney Tomer Gur, sought to allay the residents’ fears: “Regarding the opposition of Beit Safafa in connection with tunneling … the inclines that currently exist today will in any case enable an option for tunneling. Thus, no matter what decision is made, there is no need to fear that the idea of tunneling will be completely ruled out.”

Nasser’s brief reveals another document presented by Moriah company representative with a similar claim, stating: “The existing inclines in [Jerusalem’s] Route 4, which is the subject of Plan 13138, enable the tunneling of Route 4, if a decision for doing so is made, in Beit Safafa.” The Supreme Court Justices acceded to the residents’ request for the submission of additional evidence.

The respondents to the petition have presented to the court several solutions, which they assert solve the problems the village is anticipated to face, but these proposals are not necessarily relevant. For instance, the state proposes two new entrances to the neighborhood of Sharafat for the residents of Beit Safafa (Sharafat is in the village’s western section). However, the two entrances, which appear in construction plans approved years ago, were never constructed for budgetary reasons. Moreover, according to an analysis carried out by architect Sari Kronish of Israeli human rights group Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights, the two entrances are totally irrelevant as far as the problems that Route 4 will create and are not even located close to the new highway.

An additional solution offered by the state, in the wake of the Justices’ instructions, is a pedestrian passageway under the Dov Yoseph Road, which crosses through Beit Safafa and which serves as the main entrance to the Gilo neighborhood. However, this passageway appears in the plans and work on it has already begun.

Furthermore, the state and the municipality promise the residents of Beit Safafa that the new highways to be constructed in the neighborhood will “meet modern standards of projects carried out with the funding of Respondent no. 5 (the Transportation Ministry) throughout Israel and will include organized lanes; a paved sidewalk with trees safety arrangements traffic signs, street furniture, orderly entrances to shops and homes, landscaping development, gardening, etc.” In her response, Kronish writes, “Paving sidewalks is a basic service and the municipality was obligated to carry it out at a much earlier stage and without any connection to southbound Route 4.”

The Jerusalem Municipality replied: “The Municipality rejects the petitioners’ arguments and firmly believes that there is no basis for their position. The subject is still under consideration by a panel of Supreme Court Justices presided over by Supreme Court President Asher Grunis. Out of deference to the Supreme Court, the Municipality is of the opinion that discussing the arguments’ details should not be conducted on the pages of a newspaper, especially since the arguments are complex and since a detailed response will be made directly to the court. Nevertheless, the Municipality notes that it engages in a continuous, businesslike and fruitful dialogue with village representatives to solve problems raised by the residents. For this reason as well, it would not be suitable to conduct a discourse with the residents through the media.”

As of press time, no response was available from either Moriah or the Transportation Ministry.

Demonstrators protesting against Jerusalem's Highway 4 in Beit Safafa in January 2013.Credit: Emil Salman

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