Right-wing NGO Loses Bid to Build Bigger Visitors' Center in East Jerusalem

A court ruled against a motion by the group Elad, which is putting up a facility covering around two acres near the largely Arab neighborhood of Silwan.

A rendering of the planned Kedem complex envisioned by right-wing NGO Elad for Jerusalem.
Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Right-wing nonprofit group Elad has failed in a legal maneuver that would let it increase the size of a visitors’ center in a Jerusalem neighborhood at the seam of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Tuesday, the Jerusalem District Court denied a petition by Elad, which wanted a decision by the National Planning and Building Council’s appeals committee struck down. Elad said a member of that committee was ineligible because of a conflict of interest.

Five months ago, the appeals committee decided to significantly reduce the size of a building Elad seeks to build at the entrance to the City of David National Park, which it manages.

The building, known as the Kedem complex, is meant to include an atrium, a visitors’ center, offices and a museum. The center would sit above archaeological excavations.

The original plan called for an area covering around four acres. The committee reduced this almost by half – by a majority of one vote.

Following this decision, Elad said a committee member, architect Yaron Turel who represented the planning authority, was in a conflict of interest. It based this on the fact that in 2007, as a private citizen, he signed a petition opposing construction in the West Bank settlements.

At Elad’s request, the issue was discussed by the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee. At that meeting, Elad head David Be’eri said there was a conflict of interest “at least in terms of public trust and sensitivity. I believe there is cause for Turel to recuse himself from discussing plans to build on land he declared Palestinian land.”

But on Tuesday, Judge Nava Ben-Or dismissed Elad’s arguments, saying the group was selective in mentioning petitions that Turel had signed. According to Ben-Or, Elad also wrongly claimed that Turel, when a state employee, had signed two petitions that dealt directly with the Arab neighborhood of Silwan, the site of the City of David.

“Elad found it necessary to include letters and petitions as an appendix to its petition, omitting the only one he did sign. Let it be noted that the petition that wasn’t included, from 2007, makes no reference to construction in the City of David,” Ben-Or wrote.

“Such conduct is not consistent with acting in good faith, as required of a petitioner,” she added, ordering Elad to pay 25,000 shekels ($6,450) in court expenses.

Attorney Sami Ershied, who represents local Palestinians, welcomed the decision. “This verdict protects public employees from political coercion exerted by the settlers’ Elad movement,” he said.

“The petition was yet another step in Elad’s intimidation campaign against Palestinian residents of Silwan, and against public employees trying to do their job faithfully.”

According to Ershied, the court sent “a clear and sharp message to Elad and other settler groups that it’s not always possible to place on the committee members whose views conform only with those of Elad.”

Elad has not yet commented.