Islamic Movement Blamed for Silwan Tensions

Arab residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan and Jerusalem officials say the Islamic Movement has sabotaged attempts at cooperation between Silwan and the city. The Islamic Movement denies the allegations.

About six months ago the city and Arab representatives of Silwan's al-Bustan quarter reached an agreement by which the city would build a parking area for the residents in an empty lot. The residents, meanwhile, would demolish an illegal structure built on part of the lot. The city also pledged to deal with the rat problem in the area and improve cleanliness and lighting.

The agreement was the result of negotiations over the future of al-Bustan, known in Hebrew as Gan Hamelech, where 88 structures have been built without permits.

According to a plan presented by Mayor Nir Barkat about three months ago, on which negotiations are still underway, 22 houses would be demolished. The rest would be retroactively approved and a tourist park would be established.

Meanwhile, the city moved ahead on the parking lot as an act of good faith. Initially the residents assisted city workers, moving their cars to another location and helping with the cleanup.

But a few days into the project, a local resident who said he owns the lot said he would not allow work to continue.

The city says the Islamic Movement, through a group called the Institution for the Development of Jerusalem, was behind the man's objection. According to the municipality, the Islamic Movement also pays monthly rent for the lot so it can prevent the appearance of cooperation between the residents and the municipality.

According to security officials, the protest demonstrations two weeks ago in Jerusalem were also encouraged by the Islamic Movement.

Silwan residents involved in the matter say the Islamic Movement is behind the attempt to obstruct cooperation.

However, attorney Ziad Kawar, representing the neighborhood committee, said the city was "taking advantage of the distress of the residents and setting conditions for the provision of services as required by law to extort the residents."

Ahmed Jubran of the Islamic Movement said the allegations were "a complete lie." Jubran said the lot "is privately owned and the owner does not want it to become a parking lot. We have not interevened in the matter."

According to the municipality, "In response to the Silwan residents' requests, the city has been working on a parking lot in the neighborhood. The city has also cleaned the area, removed animal carcasses and installed lighting."