The Israeli High Court of Justice ordered the government on Wednesday to justify the partial closure of sections of the City of David National Park, in East Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood, in what critics say blocks Palestinian residents' access to open areas.
The park, located just outside Jerusalem's Old City, is closed on Saturdays, holidays and evenings, unlike regulations for all other national parks in the country. It is managed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, a government agency, but operated by right-wing settler organization Elad.
Four years ago, The INPA and Elad set up fences and gates that closed off to the public parts it in Silwan, which had been accessible until then. Following that move, attorney Eitay Mack petitioned to the High Court on behalf of Emek Shaveh, a nongovernmental organization of archeologists who "defend cultural heritage rights… of all communities," and Palestinian residents of the neighborhood, parts of which already taken over by settler organizations.
The petitioners claim the closure follows the closure of other public areas in Silwan for archeological or tourism purposes, such as the areas surrounding the Gihon Spring near the City of David in the 1990s and the Siloam Pool, at the southern end of the national park, in 2005, which had both been used freely by residents.
At first, the Nature and Parks Authority said the latest closure was for security reasons and following incidents of vandalism at the site. But Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit told the High Court that no evidence of official complaints about such vandalism had been presented. The decision to close the areas on Saturdays was made by the INPA and Elad, without consulting with the Israel Police and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
About a year ago, the High Court justices instructed the attorney general to present feasible alternatives for open spaces for the neighborhood residents instead of the one that had been closed off. The alternatives presented by the state, however, were privately-owned or problematic and unsuitable for public use in other ways.
Emek Shaveh and Silwan residents say this reflects a process of “Hebronization” of the neighborhood, referring to the gradual take-over of Palestinian lands and limiting of public spaces by settler organizations in the West Bank city of Hebron.
The justices gave the state and Elad 60 days to submit their responses.
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