Elad, the nonprofit organization that runs the City of David in East Jerusalem and also works to settle Jews in that area, has asked the Jerusalem municipality to approve four new construction projects there. The city is considered unlikely to say no.
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Given the recent international uproar over Jewish construction in East Jerusalem, these projects, all located in the Silwan neighborhood, are likely to add fuel to the flames. They are also likely to infuriate Palestinians, given that demolition orders were recently issued to dozens of Palestinian houses not far away.
Elad is seeking to build several apartment buildings, a 100-car-capacity parking lot, a synagogue, a kindergarten, roads and additional tourism infrastructure. The municipality's planning and building council is slated to discuss the applications in the coming months.
All the planned projects are in the City of David compound, so they would not expand the Jewish presence to other parts of Silwan.
The City of David is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Israel, and Elad is in charge not only of operating the site, but also of conducting archaeological digs there. Its leftist critics charge that it exploits archaeology in order to Judaize the neighborhood and embitter the lives of its Palestinian residents. Elad counters that local Palestinians have also benefited from the City of David's success as a tourist site.
"The Palestinians can't build so much as a stairway in Wadi Hilwa," charged Yudith Oppenheimer, director of the Ir Amim organization, which favors dividing Jerusalem. Wadi Hilwa is the Arab name for the area. "Elad continues to take over the neighborhood, with full backing from the authorities."
Yesterday Ir Amim published a scathing report on the way the authorities have helped Elad over the years: The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, for instance, chose it to manage the City of David site without a tender.
Also yesterday, municipal inspectors visited Silwan and demanded that Palestinian residents destroy an information booth they set up on Sunday. The booth is supposed to give information from a Palestinian perspective to the thousands of tourists who visit the site.
"Tourists who come to the City of David are told lies about Silwan," said Ahmed Kar'in, one of the booth's operators. "The tourists don't even know there are Arabs here. We want to show them our problems, and what the settlers are trying to do."
Last week Jerusalem's legal advisor, Yosef Havilio, ordered that legal action be taken to demolish four illegal structures that Elad put up in the Peace Forest, on the outskirts of the Old City. Havilio concluded that the temporary structures, including a tent and a portable toilet, were erected without a permit and in violation of the area's zoning plan. Elad, however, Elad insists that they are legal, and a municipal spokesman said the question of their legality is still being investigated.
A few weeks ago Haaretz reported that Havilio had written a report detailing the close ties between Elad and municipal officials. Elad staffers participated in discussions of zoning plans for the City of David area and "received assignments to execute just as if they were city employees," he wrote.