Neighborhood Group Drafts New Plan Against Holyland

Kiryat Hayovel's neighborhood administration is drafting a plan to halt construction at the Holyland site in light of the allegations of corruption surrounding the development there.

The Jerusalem project includes five interconnected 20-floor towers. Another 32-story building is planned for the site. Altogether, the towers would contain 415 apartments, half of which are in the existing buildings.

In the 1990s, the neighborhood administration failed to block the development. Now, it's looking into legal means to halt further construction, in light of police allegations of corruption during the planning and approval process.

Experts suggest they cannot call on the planning process to block further development, and say construction opponents will have to petition the courts, citing the police investigation as their grounds for opposition.

Another group objecting to the construction is the nonprofit Religion and Equality, which recently claimed that the development destroyed burial caves containing large numbers of bones.

During the course of excavations in the 1990s at the site, a large Canaanite-era cemetery was discovered, indicating the bones were not from Jews.

In a salvage dig several years later, 11 burial caves and shafts were uncovered. Activists who initially opposed the project, as well as Antiquities Authority officials, do not recall that the graves posed an obstacle to proceeding with construction at the time.

Activists during the first round of opposition say they failed due to aggressive tactics by the developers who are now being held on corruption charges. The opposition to the project in the 1990s was led by Shlomo Hasson and a prominent Jerusalem contractor.

After the project was approved by the District Planning and Building Committee, a lawyer for the opposition convinced the committee to allow an appeal to the national planning council. The national council sided with the opponents of the project, and sent it back to the district committee, which it told to reconsider its decision, especially regarding the buildings' height.

However, at a critical point in the process, before a hearing in front of the district committee and after the contractor had already abandoned the cause, Hasson also dropped out, the opponents said.

Hasson told Haaretz that he had become discouraged, that even the national planning committee had approved the development "in principle," and that there was no chance of changing district committee members' minds. Instead, he and others negotiated for the reduction in the buildings' height and for the inclusion of a park and a parking lot in the plan. The district committee subsequently approved it. Hasson denies accusations that he was paid off by the developers, and he has not been accused of anything illegal. Hasson said his withdrawal from the fight did not lead the entire movement to collapse, and said he had concluded that a compromise was appropriate.