RAMALLAH, May 27, 2014 (WAFA) –The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved a new master plan to build a ‘national park’ on the land of two Palestinian villages, Al-Issawiya and At-Tur, in occupied East Jerusalem, said the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) in a press release on Tuesday.

Hereby is the full statement by Adalah:

On 18 May 2014, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved a new master plan to build a ‘national park’ on the lands of two Palestinian villages, Al-‘Issawiya and At-Tur, in occupied East Jerusalem. The plan will confiscate approximately 700 dunams from the two villages. Adalah and the Arab Center for Alternative Planning, in coordination with the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, submitted an objection to the plan in April 2013.

The Committee’s decision approves the initial plan proposed in XXX with some modifications to remove 40 dunums of Issawiya’s land from the confiscation plan. The committee ordered to freeze the implementation of the plan for 60 days in order to allow the planning authorities and representatives from the villages who objected to the plan to negotiate its boundaries.

The Israeli press revealed that the Committee had received instructions from higher political actors to approve the plan as soon as possible, contrary to regular procedures. According to media reports, the Committee received instructions to continue the meetings swiftly in order to ratify the plan for the national park, and its approval was part of an agreement with right-wing parties in Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s government coalition to serve as compensation for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Following the decision, Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara, who filed the objection in April 2013, stated that: “The modifications included in the progress approval, and other modifications that might come as a result of the negotiations between the planning authorities and families from the villages, is very marginal and does not change the colonial nature of the plan. The land on which the national park will be built is an occupied Palestinian land since 1967. The plan therefore fully contradicts international humanitarian law, which prohibits any crucial changes on occupied lands unless used for the benefit of the original inhabitants in the area.”

‘Anaya Jeries Banna, an urban planner from the Arab Center for Alternative Planning, said that: ‘The plan prevents opportunities for development in the town of ‘Issawiya which is inhabited by 15,000 people, and the town of At-Tur which is inhabited by 26,000 people. The towns would be confined and geographically disconnected from the districts and other areas around them. The plan is designed to connect the E1 area with other Israeli settlements through planning schemes in the West Bank, in coordination with the authorities of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement.’

The National Park plan comes alongside another plan to confiscate more than 500 dunums from ‘Issawiya and another town, ‘Anata, to establish a garbage dump and an underground infrastructure network.

The objectors added that the plan is a serious violation of the Palestinian people’s rights to land ownership and dignity. Further, it prevents them from developing their surroundings and confiscates their resources, which are vital to their planning and economic needs. The objection refers to important data that portrays the future needs of the two villages: for example, the data projects that At-Tur will need to expand over an additional 1,700 dunums and Issawiyya an additional 1,100 dunums in order to meet their communities’ development needs.