In the two and a half years since Moshe Leon was elected mayor of Jerusalem, he has been a source of quite a few surprises in his attitude toward East Jerusalem. Free of the need of his predecessor, Nir Barkat, to prove his right-wing credentials, Leon began to deal with some of the most difficult issues in the Palestinian-populated sections of the capital.
A year ago, he answered a call on this page to visit Malek Issa, the 9-year-old boy who lost an eye when he was shot by a policeman. Now Leon is leading the work on a new, ground-breaking master plan in the neighborhood of Isawiyah to deal with the lack of building permits there. A month ago, Leon became the first Jerusalem mayor in many years to visit Kafr Aqab, on the other side of the separation fence, and on Wednesday the city began construction on a new sports center there.
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This is precisely the reason for the disappointment over the municipality’s decision to withdraw from agreements between it and the residents of the Bustan neighborhood of Silwan, and to move ahead on a plan to demolish the neighborhood to create a tourism park. The Bustan neighborhood is located in the place where Barkat had planned to establish the Gan Hamelech Park, a tourism initiative that would be linked to the City of David National Park. The establishment of the park would mean the destruction of dozens of homes to hundreds of people. The houses were built, as in much of East Jerusalem, without building permits because attaining such a permit in the Palestinian neighborhoods is simply a mission impossible.
After Barkat’s plan sparked a diplomatic and political firestorm, prolonged negotiations began between the residents and the municipality to establish a new, officially recognized neighborhood for the inhabitants of the old Bustan neighborhood alongside the tourism park. The Palestinian residents paid a price for breaking a social and political taboo by agreeing to negotiate with the city over the voluntary demolition of their homes. The residents also invested hundreds of thousands of shekels in preparing the plan.
But then, after years of talks, the city informed the court that it was reneging on the agreements and wants to move ahead on demolition orders for about 70 buildings in the neighborhood. The announcement came amid a rise in home demolitions in Palestinian neighborhoods during recent weeks.
- Jerusalem seeks to reactivate demolition orders in Palestinian area, backing out of agreement
- Right-wing group pushes bill to allow residential construction at Jerusalem's 'City of David' national park
- Israel's City of David: A tourist attraction concealing a violent enterprise
Decision-makers must understand that a demolition order demolishes the lives of the inhabitants long before the bulldozer destroys their home. Anyone who hasn’t lived under the constant threat of their home’s destruction, who doesn’t panic every time a heavy vehicle rumbles down the street, or who has not seen the shadow of a bulldozer from the window of the children’s room, cannot understand the terror. Leon must come to his senses and bring the municipality back to the negotiating table, for the good of the residents of Silwan and all Jerusalemites. The success of the negotiations over the Bustan neighborhood and the construction of a new neighborhood next to the park will prove that Jerusalem has a mayor who truly works for the good of his residents and his city.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.