Israel is advancing plans for a new neighborhood in south Jerusalem for Jews, beyond the Green Line and near the Palestinian quarter of Beit Safafa that suffers from a severe shortage of land for new construction.
This is also one of the few places in what is considered East Jerusalem where the registering of the land in Israel’s land registry has begun. The registration process was supposed to help East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents, but so far it has mainly served Jewish settlers, first in Sheikh Jarrah and now the new neighborhood.
On Wednesday, the municipal planning and building committee will discuss plans for the new neighborhood, to be called Givat Shaked. The land in question, all of which lies over the Green Line, consists of 38 dunams (9.4 acres) of open space overlooking the Refaim Stream and Park Hamesila. The plan calls for 473 homes, an elementary school, preschools and synagogues.
The plan was uncharacteristically proposed by the Justice Ministry’s administrator general saying it aims to increase the land's value.
By law, this office manages private property whose owners are unknown. In East Jerusalem, this usually means assets bought by Jews before Jordan annexed that part of the city in 1948 and whose heirs are unknown.
Homes in Givat Shaked will be just a few meters from those in Beit Safafa, but the planning documents say the new neighborhood will be “unconnected to existing neighborhoods.”
Like every other neighborhood in East Jerusalem, Beit Safafa is short of space for new construction.
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In the last few years its residents fought for the right to build in Givat Hamatos, a new planned neighborhood on the other side of Beit Safafa, and the plans were ultimately amended to let Beit Safafa expand on part of Givat Hamatos. But under pressure from the Obama administration, all plans for Givat Hamatos were frozen.
Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the waning days of the Trump administration to unfreeze the plans, but so far only the plan for Jewish housing has advanced.
The plan to expand Beit Safafa remains frozen.
“We were very surprised by the plan for Givat Shaked,” said Ali Ayoub, chairman of Beit Safafa’s neighborhood administration. “We asked why they were advancing a plan for Jews and not Arabs, but unfortunately we didn’t get any answers.
The mayor promised to designate plots for us to build in Beit Safafa, but it isn't happening. How come residents of every other community can build and only Beit Safafa can’t?”
The plans for Givat Shaked do not define it as a Jewish neighborhood, but according to Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher for the group Ir Amim, there is no doubt about whom it’s meant for.
“First, it’s called Givat Shaked rather than Tel al-Luz,” he said, referring to the Hebrew and Arabic for the neighborhood’s name, which translates as Almond Hill. “Second, the plan states that the neighborhood will be disconnected from existing neighborhoods. And third, two buildings are marked on the plan as synagogues.
“The housing shortage in Beit Safafa-Sharafat is a result of policy.
Over the last 20 years, not a single plan has been approved to expand the area for construction in any Palestinian neighborhood of the city.
Now, in a year when home demolitions in East Jerusalem are once again breaking records as a result of a discriminatory planning policy, the municipality and the government are taking the little that’s left for Beit Safafa.”
The plan for the new neighborhood also raises another question about relations between East Jerusalem’s Palestinians and the government.
In 2018, the cabinet approved a massive plan to reduce gaps between Arab and Jewish Jerusalemites by improving conditions in the east of the city. One of the most important provisions called for registering land in East Jerusalem.
In 1967, after Israel annexed the city’s eastern part, it stopped registering land there, making it very hard to conduct real estate deals in East Jerusalem.
The plan the cabinet approved in 2018 ordered the Justice Ministry’s land registrar to work to register all this land. But as of today, the registration process mainly seems to have served efforts to Judaize the city rather than improve the situation for local Palestinians.
One area that was registered is in the western part of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Many plots there were registered in the names of the Jewish families who owned them before 1948. This will make it much easier for settler organizations to demand the eviction of Palestinian families who have lived there since the 1950s.
Plans for Givat Shaked have also been made possible by the land registration process because this land was registered as being in the administrator general’s care.
The Justice Ministry said that “by law, the administrator general is obligated to care for the assets under his management in a way that will benefit their private owners,” and this includes steps to maintain or increase the property’s value. Consequently, the department often supports plans aimed at improving a property, the ministry said.
“In this case, since most of the rights to the land were acquired by the administrator general, it is the one that initiated the plan’s advancement,” the ministry said, adding that the registration process isn’t yet finished, but advancing the plan isn’t conditional on completion of the registration process as long as the plan will benefit the land’s owners.
The Jerusalem municipality said the new neighborhood, which the Jerusalem Development Authority is developing for the administrator general, “sits on a high-quality section of land in the city’s southeast and represents another step to thicken and strengthen the city and create new housing for all the city’s residents.” The plan “creates new housing opportunities for every segment of the city’s population, without earmarking or zoning,” the ministry added.
According to the statement, “The program for public necessities was prepared based on the assumptions of the municipal official responsible for this issue and includes a plan for public institutions like preschools, community space and public parks. After the plan is approved, the neighborhood will be marketed in compliance with the relevant regulations of the administrator general’s office.”