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.