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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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New Strategic National Park in Eastern Jerusalem

Cars driving on the road leading up to Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem.

Cars driving on the road leading up to Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem.
Photo Credit: Mendy Hechtman/FLASH90

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After years of planning, the objections of pro-Palestinian interests have been overruled, final approval from the District Planning and Construction Committee has been obtained, and a national park will finally be built on the slopes of Mt. Scopus.

The soon-to-be built green area, named Slopes of Mount Scopus National Park, is approximately 2/3 of a square kilometer (181 acres). It borders the eastern edge of the Mt. Scopus campus of Hebrew University, extending up to the main Maaleh Adumim highway – exactly where two Arab-populated neighborhoods, southern Isawiya and northern A-Tur, had been slated to expand.

Environment Minister Amir Peretz, a long-time proponent of withdrawal from areas liberated in the Six-Day War, strongly opposed the project. However, Interior Minister Gideon Saar (Likud) told the Knesset recently that the planning would not be halted and that the process should be completed by early January. He and former environment minister Gilad Erdan, also of Likud, have done what they can to ensure a strengthened Jewish presence in all of Jerusalem, as well as Judea and Samaria.

The importance of the new park can be recognized from several angles. For one thing, Slopes of Mount Scopus National Park is part a series of green areas mostly north and east of the Old City designed to create miles of bike and walking paths around the Old City, encourage tourism, and safeguard the area from acts of vandalism.

The Jerusalem Development Authority insists that the building of the new park has no political significance, but is rather the best way to preserve the last open areas in eastern Jerusalem. The placement of a national park simply retains the status quo, such that illegal construction will not take place, the enforcement of the ban against dumping construction waste can be expected to be finally enforced, and the abundance of litter will be cleaned up as well.

The new park buttresses Jewish contiguity between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim, serving a similar purpose as the now-stalled E-1 project. As we have written in the past, the development of E-1 plays a critical role in saving the city of Maaleh Adumim (population: over 40,000) from becoming a Jewish enclave surrounded by PA-populated territory. The Slopes of Scopus park serves a similar function.

Most important, however, is the fact that it prevents illegal Arab construction from creating facts on the ground. Arab expansion into this area, mostly with rampant illegal construction of the type that is immediately razed if built by Jews in Judea and Samaria, would have created a chokehold around the Holy City and blocked Jewish Jerusalem’s open reach toward the Judean Desert in the east.

Negotiations were waged in the past between the National Parks Authority and representatives of Isawiya and A-Tor, with the latter hoping to obtain a reduction in the size of the park. No practical results were agreed on, however.

Prior archaeological work in the area produced some fascinating finds. In addition to caves, water cisterns, ossuaries, a columbarium, and large stones for construction, a burial field with 44 Second Temple-era graves was uncovered.

Though Minister Saar’s announcement that the new park will certainly be built is heartening, national park status is, unfortunately, actually not an ironclad guarantee against Arab encroachment. A national park exists alongside the eastern wall of the Old City – the one facing the Mt. of Olives – and yet desecration there continues, sometimes more intensely and sometimes less.

Specifically, most of the Old City’s 800-meter long eastern wall is already dotted with Muslim graves and the Arabs continue to add to them. The existing graves mar the presence of two prominent Old Jerusalem entrances along the wall: Lions’ Gate, through which sraeli forces entered and liberated the Old City in the Six-Day War, and Golden (Mercy) Gate, which has been sealed up for nearly five centuries. However, the southernmost 80 meters are still mostly untouched, and are in fact protected by law from being built up or upon. Yet Muslims have been flagrantly violating the law and long-time custom by holding funerals there and adding new graves. Dozens of graves have been illegally dug with nothing but tombstones atop them – “saving” the space for future bodies.

This activity has decreased of late, thanks to proactive police enforcement and public awareness, but the situation is fluid.

Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech congratulates the Israeli Government on the new national park on the slopes of Mt. Scopus, and invites you to do your part as well in keeping Jerusalem united under Jewish sovereignty. Write letters to the editor, speak to friends and acquaintances, and visit www.keepjerusalem.org or e-mail ours@keepjerusalem.org to receive updates on our bus tours of critical parts of Jerusalem.

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About the Author: Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel's minister of tourism. Hillel Fendel, past senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7, is a veteran writer on Jerusalem affairs. Both have lived in Jerusalem and now live in Beit El.


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