Change in National Parks Law to Harm Natural and Heritage Sites, Play into Hands of Silwan Settlers, and Perpetuate Harm to Palestinians – EMEK SHAVEH

June 27, 2018

Essence of the amendment: On Wednesday, July 4, the Knesset Interior Committee will discuss a proposal to amend the National Parks, Nature Reserves, National Sites and Memorial Sites Law. [1] The amendment proposes to define a national park with residents living within as an urban national park, and to permit residential building therein. Today, areas designated as national parks or nature reserves are under the jurisdiction of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), and construction within them is subject to approval of the authority and limited to the single function of operating the grounds. Residents living in an area declared as a national park are prohibited from building, except in very exceptional cases. The prohibition against construction is based on the assumption that a national park is intended to preserve a site’s landscape and history, and that these will be adulterated by construction.

The amendment to the law ostensibly seeks to address a well-known and difficult problem for residents living in a national park who are prevented from renovating and expanding their homes. However, a more in-depth examination of the proposed amendment indicates that it was intended to serve the settlers in Silwan and the Elad Association (see below), which since the early 1990s has invested enormous efforts in Judaizing Silwan. To the best of our knowledge, Silwan is the only place in Israel where a residential neighborhood has been declared a national park. The “Jerusalem Walls National Park,” which includes Silwan, was declared in 1974. Today, tens of thousands of Palestinians and several hundred settlers live there.

Who gains and who loses from the amendment: The bill is being promoted by the Elad Association, which is a settlement enterprise in Silwan that also operates the City of David National Park in the neighborhood in cooperation with the INPA. The people of Elad want to increase their control in three ways: to continue to operate the national park, to promote construction in the areas they own inside the neighborhood, and to maintain the existing situation in which the INPA demolishes Palestinian buildings, fences, warehouses, and home additions because they were built without permits, all in the name of preserving the natural heritage in the national park.

It appears as though the right to residential building in the law would apply to everyone, but Elad has the money and the connections enabling it to promote plans for residential buildings in the building committees. In contrast, the Palestinian residents will find it very difficult to implement this right. We estimate that only the settlers will be able to meet the restrictions and building conditions that the law will stipulate to both the residents and the settlers living in the national park. In this way, the authorities will succeed in promoting construction in accordance with the interests and policies of the Jerusalem municipality and the government of Israel, whose institutions support the Jewish settlement of Silwan in dozens of ways, to the detriment of the Palestinian residents.

Background on the declaration of the Jerusalem Walls National Park: The Jerusalem Walls National Park was a controversial national park from its inception in 1974. All the elements involved in declaring Silwan as part of the national park knew that the residents would be trapped under the Nature and Parks Authority Law (at the time the Parks Authority), and that no organization tasked with protecting the historical and natural heritage would address for their needs. Before the declaration in 1974, the Jerusalem district planner at the time claimed that this area should be defined as an open public area. Such a definition would have balanced the need to protect both antiquities and the historical and natural heritage with the need to enable residents to lead normal lives.

The solution to the problem already exists in the law: The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has the ability to pass a procedure in the planning and building committees in an orderly fashion, that will designate areas within national parks as fit for construction. In the past 20 years there have been 35 cases of the removal of lands from nature reserves and national parks, involving a total area of approximately 4,218 dunam. Eighty percent of the cases in which lands were removed involved construction in residential localities.[2] Silwan, which is a densely populated residential neighborhood, can be removed from the area of the national park, thus allowing construction for all its residents.

In conclusion: The amendment to the law is unnecessary, and its purpose is to augment and root more deeply in the law the existing discrimination between the settlers and Palestinians of Silwan. The motives of those promoting the amendment are political and their goal is to Judaize Silwan. The initiative to change the law attests to the self-assuredness and aggressive activism of the settlers and their representatives in the government, the Knesset, the courts, and legal? institutions such as the planning and building committees. It seems that at this time, more than ever, they are using the laws and the mechanisms of democracy to undermine it.

[1] Amendment – Definition of an Urban National Park and Submission of a Building Plan for Residential Purposes, 2017 (P/20/4135) by MK Nurit Koren, MK Roy Folkman, MK Uri Maklev, MK Shuli Mualem-Refaeli.

[2] S. Spector Ben Ari, Elimination of Areas from Nature Reserves, National Parks and Forest Reserves, Knesset Research and Information Center, January 2016, p. 5 (Hebrew).

Change in National Parks Law to Harm Natural and Heritage Sites, Play into Hands of Silwan Settlers, and Perpetuate Harm to Palestinians


Right-wing group pushes bill to allow residential construction at Jerusalem’s ‘City of David’ national park – HAARETZ

The Elad NGO, which settles Jews in East Jerusalem neighborhoods, is pushing the law that will apply only to this park. Attorney general, planning bodies and environmental groups oppose the bill
Nir Hasson | Jul. 4, 2018 | 9:40 PM

A bill backed by the City of David Foundation, a right-wing group better known as Elad, that would enable housing to be erected in areas zoned for national parks within municipal boundaries was approved on Wednesday by the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee.

The proposal passed 8-6 despite objections voiced by officials at the Justice Ministry and planning authorities, and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. It will now go to the Knesset plenum for its first of three votes. If the Knesset votes in favor the bill will return to committee for its preparation for itsfinal votes.

If enacted, the law would enable homes to be built in the City of David national park, an archaeological site immediately south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The City of David archaeological site is where the ancient city of Jerusalem was built and some believe parts of the findings excavated are the remains of King David’s palace and capital city. The archeological dig and City of David national park are part of the larger park surrounding the Old City’s walls, now called the “Jerusalem Walls – City of David National Park.”

The original version of the bill, presented a year ago, proposed that construction be allowed in archaeological national parks within cities, where a neighborhood had existed before the park was declared.

The City of David national park in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan is managed by Elad, and it seems to be the only park in all of Israel that meets these criteria for residential construction. The area of the park houses thousands of Palestinians and hundreds of Jews – almost all of the latter being associated with Elad. Aside from running the archaeological dig, Elad is also striving to populate the neighborhood with Jews.

The minutes of the committee’s previous meeting in January made it clear that Elad and its leader, David Beeri, are behind the bill, which is designed to promote construction at the site. At the start of the discussion, coalition whip MK David Amsalem (Likud) told Beeri, “Define for me what you want. I will tell you what I was thinking.”

Supporters of the bill, including Amsalem and committee chairman Yoav Kish of Likud, claim that the City of David is unusual in having a resident population – albeit not formally regulated – before being declared a national park. Beeri said at the discussion that the neighborhood should be regulated and normalized, “with preschools, everything, while on the other hand, preserving the values of the national park.”

MK Tamar Zandberg of Meretz inquired why no representative of the Palestinians living there – who are the majority in the neighborhood – had been invited to the discussion.

Mendelblit opposed the legislative proposal, said the representative of the Justice Ministry on Wednesday, because he does not see a “legislative solution to the complexity involved in a national park.”

Yael Adoram, the representative of the planning authorities at the committee meeting, said the problem of residence inside a national park could be resolved without legislation. It could be done with planning decisions, she said.

Kish rejected the objections and demanded to hear what the justice and finance ministers say, irrespective of the opinions of their professional staffers. The ministers said the bill could advance to this first vote, so the issues at stake would be discussed before further votes make it into law.

Opposition MKs objected to the proposal. Israel is poor in national parkland, let alone inside the cities, so what little there is should be protected, said Yael Cohen Paran of the Zionist Union. Zandberg accused Kish of doing back-door deals with Elad, and said the law is intended “to enable the settlers to build and prevent the Palestinians from doing so.”

The Ir Amim organization and Emek Shaveh, an organization of archaeologists, say the purpose of the bill is to reinstate a grandiose construction plan Elad had prepared, which had been shelved in the 1990s due to strong opposition. Then Elad sought to build 200 housing units in the national park, and a plan to that effect was prepared, but shelved.

“This isn’t the first time a monkey is being made of the law and common sense to advance the agenda of the Elad settlers,” said Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher with Ir Amim. “But even this law can’t change the fact that Silwan, like East Jerusalem, is entirely a Palestinian city. Israeli attempts to deny that simple truth impair the basic rights of 350,000 people in East Jerusalem. The residents of the Israeli city also pay a price for it.”

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority said it “attaches great importance to advancing the bill that will legally regulate the integration of residential buildings within a national park area around the walls of Jerusalem and the City of David.”
Foreign Ministry condemns Israel’s approval of national parks in Jerusalem – WAFA

RAMALLAH, July 5, 2018 (WAFA) – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates strongly condemned on Thursday the approval of the Committee of Interior Affairs and Environmental Quality in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, of a bill allowing the construction of the so-called “national parks” in occupied Jerusalem.

The ministry said the decision aims at colonizing more Palestinian lands under the pretext of establishing national parks, nature reserves, or military zones.

“The bill is expected to allow the Elad settlement association to build dozens of settlement units and establish a new settlement on the lands of Silwan, as part of plans to Judaize Palestinian neighborhoods and towns south of Al-Aqsa Mosque, thereby preventing horizontal expansion and demographic growth in occupied Jerusalem,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry continued, “The US government’s blind bias towards the occupation and its policies has opened the way for Israel’s ruling right-wing coalition to implement all colonial expansionist schemes in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in Jerusalem.”

“This will create a new reality in which any proposals for political solutions to the conflict would become unrealistic, which will undermine the prospects of peace based on a two-state solution.”

The ministry called on the UN Security Council “and the states that claim to be concerned about peace and the two-state solution to act quickly to stop this plan and other settlement schemes aimed at perpetuating and prolonging the occupation, and taking international legal measures to implement the expansionist colonial settlement apparatus that is destroying the State of Palestine.”