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Settler group Elad wins battle over construction plan in East Jerusalem

By Marta Feirra - March 31, 2016
Section: [Main News]

An Israeli council approved last week plans pushed by the organisation City of David, better known as Elad, in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan.

The Israeli National Council for Planning and Building approved a project known as “Kedem Project – City of David”, which is intended to be established at the entrance of the neighbourhood of Silwan, despite a decade of appeals by Palestinian residents and Israeli rights organisations.

Nihad Siam lives just a few meters away from the parking lot where the project is designed to be built. He was present at the council meeting and believes the Palestinian residents were disrespected and their voices not heard. “We asked for an Arabic translator, but weren’t provided with one. Our lawyer didn’t have the chance to talk, he wasn’t listened,” he added.

“It is our life that is being discussed; we are suffering from the situation so we should at least have the right to talk,” he defended.

Siam believes the disregard for the Palestinian narrative is widespread in Silwan. “They behave like we are not even here. A huge building like this just a few meters from the old city is illegal, it’s only being approved to please the settlers. This project will be run by the settlers, it will tell their story, not ours. It will involve a lot of restrictions for us,” he told the Palestine Monitor.

Elad is a private Israeli organisation which manages the City of David National Park, outside the walls of the Old City, and is involved in settling Jews in the adjacent, predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. It promotes settlement construction in East Jerusalem to increase the city’s Jewish presence.

Siam grew up in Silwan, spending his childhood in the green area that is now occupied by the City of David complex. “I used to go to the spring in Silwan, now I am not allowed to,” he said, lamenting the changes imposed when settlers started moving into the neighbourhood in the 90s. “Even the names of the streets changed. They want to erase us from the map,” he said.

Elad’s Kedem project aims at establishing a five-floor building with a mall and a visitor’s center. The compound will have conference and educational rooms, as well as shops and offices over an active excavation site.

Residents in Silwan denounced the ratification of the settlement project which will be established at the entrance of their neighbourhood. Their appeals state the facility would damage antiquities, undercut the need of Palestinian residents and open a precedent for private and politicized building in one of the city’s most sensitive areas.

Sami Irsheid, a lawyer representing the residents, said the council rejected all appeals against the Kedem project presented by Silwan residents, Israeli groups Ir Amin and Emek Shaveh and a group of Israeli academics.

Irsheid said the decision was “merely political.” “It is not legal, it was pushed by pressures from the higher political leadership; the Regional Council was just talking about the touristic importance of this project, and completely ignoring the harm and suffering that would be inflicted on the Palestinians in Silwan,” he stated.

According to Emek Shaveh, one of the organisations presenting appeals against the 'Kedem Center’, the project will “not only damage antiquities and the historical character of Jerusalem,” but it will also be “a major factor in Elad’s political struggle to strengthen Israel’s hold over the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem.”

In a statement published earlier this month, the organisation accused the Israeli government of “political pressure” on professionals. It also accused the Kedem project of serving “political interests”, stating it will “feature the Jewish story as it is told by the settler, not the one that emerges from the diverse archaeology in the area.”

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