Work has begun on the expansion of the Nof Tzion settlement in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber, which upon completion will make it the largest Jewish settlement within a Palestinian neighborhood in the city.
Nof Tzion was established by Jewish investors in the early 2000s and the residents moved in eight years ago, with currently 96 families living in two compounds.
The neighborhood is considered relatively well off and the apartments face the Old City, however, it is surrounded on all sides by the large Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber.
The area slated for expansion was the subject of a lengthy legal dispute; about 10 years ago, a Palestinian businessman, Bashar al-Masri, tried unsuccessfully to purchase the land to prevent the Jewish neighborhood's buildout.
The land was eventually purchased by Jerusalem supermarket mogul Rami Levy, in partnership with an Australian businessman, Kevin Bermeister, one of the founders of Skype. About two years ago, permits were issued for the construction of 176 apartments.
According to settlement activist and Jerusalem councilman Arieh King, the current expansion is only the first phase, with another 300 housing units expected to be approved.
Nof Tzion is already the second largest Jewish settlement in a Palestinian neighborhood. The first is Ma’ale Zeitim on the Mount of Olives in the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras al Amud, which is home to 106 Jewish families.
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“The expansion of the settlement into the neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber is a symbol of the Israel government’s choice to prevent the possibility of an agreement in Jerusalem and to continue to impose its rule on the residents of East Jerusalem without equal rights and with increasing oppression,” said Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher with the NGO Ir Amim, in response to the construction.
“Jerusalem is a binational city and therefore it will be good for the Israelis here only if it is good for the Palestinians,” he added.
King, on the other hand, welcomed the work. “As the person who blocked the attempt by Bashar al-Masri to buy the land of Nof Tzion, I am very happy that this most significant project in terms of the greatest extent of construction and number of apartments around the Old City, is moving forward."
He said there is unprecedented demand to buy apartments in the project. "Nof Tzion is to be the largest and most central neighborhood around the Old City and with God’s help in the coming years, other significant neighborhoods will join it like Kidmat Tzion, Beit Hanina, Beit Tsafafa and others."