Jews and Palestinians Find Common Ground in This Jerusalem Battle

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Site of planned police station between the neighborhoods of Armon Hanatziv and Jabal Mukkaber in Jerusalem
Site of planned police station between the neighborhoods of Armon Hanatziv and Jabal Mukkaber in JerusalemCredit: Pnina Shir
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Plans to build a police station between the southern Jerusalem neighborhoods of Armon Hanatziv and Jabal Mukaber are being challenged by activists and local residents who say that the new facility would destroy an area of rare natural beauty inside the city.

The city itself is calling for a more modest plan.

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The activists are taking their fight to the Jerusalem regional planning and building committee, which is due shortly to discuss the new station. The facility, which would replace one now housed in temporary structures near the proposed building site, will have 10,000 square meters of floor space and be five stories tall.

Site of planned police station between the neighborhoods of Armon Hanatziv and Jabal Mukkaber in JerusalemCredit: Pnina Shir

Activists say that the proposed site is on a hill on which hundreds of lupine flowers grow in summer and hundreds of sea squill stalks bloom in the fall. The hill also offers a uniquely magnificent view, they say.

“Every time I go there I’m amazed at the view. I don’t know of another place in Jerusalem from where you can see the Temple Mount, the Dead Sea and Herodium from the same point. It’s inconceivable that anyone would think to block a view like this forever,” said Ilana Muskin, a member of a committee fighting the plan.

The standoff illustrates Jerusalem’s challenge in preserving urban nature –  areas inside cities that are home to plants and animals –  in the face of development.

The municipality’s urban-nature program counts 151 sites that are designated as protected due to their nature and scenery. However, when a site containing undisturbed nature is targeted for development, nature inevitably loses.

A document opposing the plan submitted by attorney Gilad Barnea on behalf of the committee said that out of six urban-nature sites around Armon Hanatziv, only two remain – the hill designated for the police station and Hazeitim Valley, which is home to dozens of ancient olive trees. The municipality plans to turn the latter into sports fields.

Decisions about the police station were made “without any of the required factual or professional considerations, nor was the importance and significance of urban-nature sites taken into proper account,” Barnea wrote.

The Jerusalem municipality says it is also dissatisfied with the scope of the plan and will try to limit it by negotiating with the police. But residents want the plan canceled altogether and the hill saved.

“This is the only natural site in the area," Mushkin said. “The idea of building a security facility here is simply illogical. It’s clear to us that even if they reduce it by one floor or make the parking lot smaller, it won’t be enough. Security facilities tend to grow and expand over time.”

The residents of the adjacent Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal Mukaber have also submitted objections to the plan. Yishai Shneydor, an attorney representing them and the nongovernmental organization Ir Amim, said the planned structure was much bigger than usual for a neighborhood station.

“The proposed plan is ostensibly to build a new ‘police station’ on the hill…. In fact, this is a police/security compound, including a Border Police base and a jail, not a neighborhood police station…. Even the police station serving the entire city of Lod, with more than 80,000 residents and security and policing problems known to be among the worst in the country, is smaller than the one proposed here,” Shneydor wrote in the document he submitted.

Meanwhile, the municipality said in a statement that while it doesn’t object to the police station itself, the proposal the police had submitted to the planning authorities went against the Jerusalem municipality position and an agreement it had reached with local residents.

“The city is asking the police to withdraw the plan immediately and significantly reduce the extent of construction in keeping with the agreement with residents. If the plan is not changed, the Jerusalem municipality will not allow it to go forward,” it warned.

In response, the Israel Police said the size of the proposed compound was based on the number of officers that would serve in it and that the location choice was "inspected and agreed upon by all relevant authorities, including the Jerusalem municipality."

The police noted that "to comply with the will of the residents the planned site had been moved from its original planned location in order to preserve the area’s nature. Furthermore, at a meeting with municipal representatives and representatives of [local] residents, it was agreed on restriction on ongoing construction work for the residents’ benefit."

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