Latest update: May 24th, 2013
Reach out and touch the kingdom of King David; transcend time and jump headlong into the biblical accounts of King Solomon and those who succeeded him as Kings of Judea.
No, this is not an Israeli Tourism Ministry brochure. It is an expression of the exhilaration one feels when considering the latest Jerusalem Municipality construction project, just below Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount) and the City of David.
The city is working full steam ahead – albeit in low gear, thanks to various powers that be – to build a modern park and neighborhood in an area that thousands of years ago was part of the palaces of King David, King Solomon, and others.
The controversial plan has attracted the disapproving attention of leading world players such as the Obama administration and the United Nations. Why? Because it involves the long-threatened destruction of 22 illegally-built Arab structures, even as it “launders” and retroactively approves 66 others.
Specifically, the neighborhood in question – King’s Garden – is located just south of the Old City and a few hundred yards west of the renewed Jewish neighborhood of Maaleh Zeitim. It marks the southern mouth of the Kidron Valley, which separates, a bit further north, between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives. Mentioned several times in the Bible (Kings II, Jeremiah and Nehemiah), historians agree with the Jewish tradition that the King’s Garden served King David and King Solomon.
Over the centuries, it retained a special, garden-like flavor, and even the previous Ottoman-Turkish, British and Jordanian governments made sure to keep it building-free. Ironically, only during the period of Israeli rule, following the 1967 Six-Day War, was the uniqueness of the area gradually desecrated by creeping, pirate Arab construction. At present, no fewer than 88 illegal Arab residential structures fill the area – not one of them with municipal permits.
Whose fault is that? In a case of rare agreement between the Arabs and the Jewish sides, both blame City Hall. The Arabs say they were “forced” to build illegally because the Jewish city government didn’t give them permits – somewhat reminiscent of logic used by a thief: “I was ‘forced’ to steal it because the owner refused to give it to me…”
Many Jews, as well, blame the various Jerusalem municipal governments over the years for allowing the situation to develop as it did. Those on the left say the Arabs should have been allowed to build on historic Jewish land. The nationalist camp maintains, however, that 1) the Arabs should never have been allowed to build there even illegally; 2) the unlawful construction should have been razed before it passed the stage of viability; and 3) there is no justification for rewarding the builders of 66 illegal structures.
As city councilman Yair Gabbai said, “There can be no sovereignty without law enforcement.” Meaning, of course, that Israel belies its own claims to ownership over all of Jerusalem by neglecting to enforce the law in the eastern half of the city.
In any event, the municipality, headed by Mayor Nir Barkat, is now trying to enforce the law in King’s Garden by promoting the new project. Gabbai, the Jerusalem municipality’s representative on the Regional Zoning Committee, is optimistic that when the international community sees how it will enhance the quality of life of Jerusalem’s Arabs, it will actively seek to be a part of its implementation.
The plan was approved last year by the local zoning committee, and Barkat has been pressing for the next step: District Committee approval. In fact, by law, the District Committee must consider, within 60 days, all plans approved by local planning committees.
This deadline has long since passed – probably the result of hints from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office, which always wishes to avoid tensions with the Quartet. In any event, City Legal Counsel Amnon Merhav threatened to take the matter to the Supreme Court, after which the District Committee reportedly caved in and said it would, in fact, place the project on its agenda.
What is particularly noteworthy is the international community’s reaction.
The U.S. State Department announced that Israel’s advancement of the plan makes it harder to hold direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This, despite the fact that two years ago, Israel froze all construction in Judea and Samaria for ten long months in the hope of enticing the PA to direct talks; the PA refused, and now demands that Israel freeze construction again, this time indefinitely, as a prerequisite for direct talks.
As far as the UN is concerned, it seems that Israel’s intention to bridge the generations by rebuilding a 3,000-year-old Jewish landmark has no positive significance. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon simply called the plan “illegal.” In this context, let us quote Harvard Prof. Alan Dershowitz at a recent Touro-Hudson Conference:
“One important reason why there is no peace in the Middle East can be tragically summarized in two letters: U and N [the United Nations]…. Back in 1975, when between 2 and 3 million Cambodians were being murdered by Pol Pot, the UN was devoting all of its time to debating whether Zionism was racism, and did not spend one single session in trying to stop the bloodshed in Cambodia…. Several decades later, when there were genocides in Rwanda and Dharfour, the UN was busy debating the construction of houses on the West Bank…. The UN has, for 40 years, rewarded Palestinian terrorism by enhancing the status of Palestine while Arafat and Hamas were openly implementing the murder of Jewish civilians as a matter of governmental policy.”
We hold out little hope that the UN will change its spots in the near future – but we can at least hope that Jews around the world will seek to learn the truth. Out of roughly 9 million Jews in the world outside Israel, only a few hundred thousand visit Israel annually. We invite you to remind your acquaintances and family of the importance of doing so, and we will be happy to host them, and you, on bus tours of critical parts of Jerusalem.
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 is a long-time writer and editor. Both have lived in Jerusalem and now reside in Beit El.
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 reside in Beit El.
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