With Belgian Funding and Without Building Permits: The First Playground in Sur Baher

The small playground, which has two slides, a carousel and two swings reflects something about the situation in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

Children enjoying the new playground in Sur Baher, February 9, 2016.
Emil Salman

At the initiative of residents, with funding from the Belgian government, with the aid of the Jerusalem municipality and without a building permit: This is how the first playground in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher was built. 

On Monday, the playground and community park was inaugurated. Sur Baher has 40,000 residents, along with the nearby village of Umm Tuba. 
The small playground, which has two slides, a carousel and two swings reflects something about the situation in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

The new playground was built quickly, in a month at a cost of 200,000 shekels, which the Belgian government provided via the UN-Habitat organization. The donation reached the Bimkom planning group and Community organization.

“The condition was to the put up the playground within half a year from the announcement,” said Dafna Saporta, a planner on Bimkom’s East Jerusalem team. “We came to Sur Baher because of the community initiative there.”

Neighborhood residents enlisted and started cleaning the area, paving a promenade and building the playground. Later the city was enlisted. Ze’ev Goldberg, the head of the City Beautification division, agreed to help build the infrastructure for the playground, even though it had never received building permits.

The Jerusalem District Court recently ordered the municipality to take urgent action to plan and build playgrounds in two Arab neighborhoods in the northern part of the city, in Beit Hanina and Shoafat. Residents of the neighborhoods had petitioned the court, citing the nearby Jewish neighborhoods that had 30 times the number of playgrounds per person. In general, most of the neighborhoods, some of which have tens of thousands of residents, have no playgrounds. The few that do exist are neglected. The city said it is very hard to find available land in the Palestinian neighborhoods for this purpose.

A playground was recently finished in Beit Hanina. In this case, too, involvement and pressure from the residents, who donated the land to the city, was required.