With Jerusalem’s Arab population at 37 percent and climbing, is it a good idea to build a new Arab neighborhood for 2,200 families? City Councilman Aryeh King has sued in court against the plan – and Mayor Nir Barkat has all but fired him.
Jerusalem’s city government approved the construction plan last week for the area of Arb a-Sawahra, a “green area” in the southeastern tip of the capital. King is enraged at the idea – and almost equally so that others are not rising up against it as he is.
In response to the plan to build the new Arab neighborhood, King has filed suit in the Jerusalem District Court against Barkat, saying the plan was illegally brought for a vote.
“The highest government body in the city decided a year ago,” King said, “that no plan for Arb a-Sawahra would be decided upon or even considered until we, the city council members, are presented with an overall picture of Arab housing needs in the city. Yet Barkat ignored this decision, did not present us with statistics regarding the Arab sector, and instead passed this new plan.”
“Perhaps the Arab population needs 7,000 units and not 2,200?” King asked. “How are we supposed to make an informed decision without all the facts? And all the illegal Arab structures in the city – how many are there? Why are they not being destroyed? Without this information, no decision was allowed to be made for Arb a-Sawahra.”
Mayor Barkat responded by stripping King of his municipal authorities. The mayor explained in his letter of dismissal that this had nothing to do with the content of King’s court suit but rather that “one cannot be a member of the city coalition and file suit against it at the same time.”
King said that Arb a-Sawahra is officially billed as an open, green area – “but it is already filled with 3,000 illegal Arab structures – and now Barkat wants to add more? Why does he not first raze the existing ones?”
King also said he cannot understand why Jerusalem Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, both of the Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) Party, have not joined him in protesting the decision.
Clearly, 2,200 new Arab housing units will have a negative effect affect on the future of united Jewish Jerusalem. There is no need to elaborate on the demographic fallout a new full-fledged neighborhood of 10,000 Arabs will have on the population balance of the city – especially given the annual net loss of some 8,000 Jews. In 2010, 34 percent of the population was Arab while in 2013 it was up to nearly 37 percent Is it wise to further upset the demographic balance?
Additionally, the new official Arab neighborhood will help strengthen, if not create, a contiguous Arab area along the eastern border of Jerusalem. Located just east of East Talpiyot, Arb a-Sawahra connects the Um Tuba/Sur Baher bloc to the south with Jabel Mukaber to the north – and from there it is just a few illegal Arab buildings away to Ras el-Amud on the Mt. of Olives shoulder, just below the Old City.
Even if the battle for the east-southeast border of Jerusalem is very much an uphill one, proponents of a strong Jewish majority in the city still have a fighting chance to stop the Arab contiguity leading northward – this due to the presence of the city of Maaleh Adumim, east of the Old City, as well as the main west-east thoroughfare leading to it.
The slim corridor that serves as the Jerusalem-Maaleh Adumim route has already been narrowed even further in many places from two kilometers to one (3/5 of a mile). The city of Jerusalem and the national government must do everything to ensure that this trend is stopped.