U.K. Urban Group Worried Over 'Politicization' of Jerusalem Affiliate

Open City under fire for East Jerusalem tours sponsored by right-wing group and that include controversial Ein Hanya spring

Ein Hanya
Emil Salman

The London-based organization Open City, which describes itself as promoting “people-centered cities,” has expressed concern over tours slated to take place in Jerusalem over the weekend sponsored by its local affiliate. The statement follows objections about the inclusion of tours in East Jerusalem sponsored by the right-wing Ir David Foundation as well as a tour of the Ein Hanya spring. The spring has recently been the focus of complaints that Palestinians were denied access to it following a closure imposed on Palestinians coming into Israel from the West Bank during the Sukkot holiday.

The Jerusalem tours include a range of sites, among them private homes and architecturally significant public buildings. The organizers of the event said it is apolitical and open to anyone wishing to attend.

In an unusual statement issued Wednesday from London, Open City chief executive Rory Olcyato said his organization is “concerned to learn of events within the Open House Jerusalem program that might appear to exclude some Israeli citizens and communities. Furthermore, as one of our core principles states, Open House program are essentially apolitical: funding must be free of political coercion. If either of these rules are shown to have been violated – in short if an Open House program excludes citizens or communities, and its funding is partisan – their inclusion within the Open House Worldwide Network, and any support it provides, would be withdrawn.”

The statement was issued after representatives of the Israeli group Free Jerusalem protested the inclusion of the Ein Hanya spring as well as visits to two sites in conjunction with the Ir David Foundation – the Hinnom Valley and the Kidron Valley. The foundation, which is also known as Elad, has sought to encourage a Jewish presence in the Palestinian Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem and also operates Jerusalem’s City of David archaeological site on behalf of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. This is the first time since Open House events began in Israel that the London-based umbrella organization, which was founded in 1992, has issued a statement of this kind.

In a letter to Open City in London, the Free Jerusalem members alleged that “Open House Jerusalem has chosen to use this prestigious event to whitewash actions of displacement and disruption of some of Jerusalem’s weakest communities.” They described the history and political situation of Ein Hanya, and protested Open House Jerusalem’s cooperation with the Jerusalem Development Authority, which they said “is highly involved in promoting” what they called “settler projects in Occupied East Jerusalem.” The authority is jointly sponsored by the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israeli government.

The organizers of Open House Jerusalem responded that “Open House Jerusalem is an apolitical event funded by state institutions and municipalities. The event is open to all, including the tour of Ein Hanya. Anyone who wishes can come participate in the event. The archaeological site that was restored at Ein Hanya is an important and interesting one, and after years in which it was closed to the public, we decided it should be opened to the public for professional tours led by the archaeologists who preserved the place. The tours are open to anyone who wants to come, from all peoples and communities.”