National parks in the process of planning in East Jerusalem

Published: 
23 Sep 2014

Virtual tour of the 'national parks'

Ever since East Jerusalem was annexed in 1967, planning policy in this part of the city has been influenced by political considerations and marred by human rights violations and deliberate, systematic discrimination against the Palestinian population. While there are huge investments and a great deal of construction in Jewish only neighborhoods in the city, Israeli authorities stifle development and construction in Palestinian areas. 

The Jerusalem 2000 plan is the first master plan to cover Jerusalem’s entire municipal jurisdiction, both east and west. Following the same planning policy in effect in the city since 1967, this plan, like its predecessors, limits construction and development in East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods, while offering the Jewish population more land for residential and business development. The plan does suggest building additional residential units in East Jerusalem neighborhoods, but suggest this be done by increasing population density. Most of the sites the plans allocates for the expansion of Palestinian neighborhoods have already been built-up without permits, meaning that the plan merely gives retroactive approval to existing structures rather than offering new residential units. Although the plan has not yet gone into effect, planning authorities are already relying on it, mainly to limit construction and expansion in Palestinian neighborhoods.

An earlier version of the plan, approved by the local planning committee, designated three open spaces in East Jerusalem for national parks, even though the Nature and Parks Authority (NPA) did not suggest any of these parks and despite the fact that the sites are located in the heart of built-up neighborhoods.  The district planning committee that reviewed the plan ordered significant changes to it.  The amended plan, which has yet to be deposited for public objections and is therefore not yet valid, leaves out almost all of the national parks (except Jerusalem Walls Park and Lifta National Park), but the NPA has nonetheless begun development works in two of the parks that “disappeared” from the plan.

These new parks reinforce existing and planned parks in East Jerusalem and reduce the distances separating them from one another. The proposed parks are poised to eliminate the few open spaces remaining in East Jerusalem that might have served Palestinians for recreation or land reserves for construction. 

A portion of the park planned for the Mt. of Olives. Photo: Noga Kadman, B’Tselem, 11 November 2014
A portion of the park planned for the Mt. of Olives. Photo: Noga Kadman, B’Tselem, 11 November 2014

A national park on the Mount of Olives

The Jerusalem Municipality mapped out an area spanning about 47 hectares in the environs of the Mount of Olives for a national park. The park borders Jerusalem Walls National Park in the west, and it has a northern offshoot that borders Tzurim Valley Park. The park is adjacent to the a-Sawaneh neighborhood to the south and west, and another offshoot borders a-Shayah neighborhood to the west. 
Under the plans currently en effect in the area, the site indicated for the park is designated as open public space, with some parts, where monasteries and churches are located, are zoned for public structures and institutions. The area also contains residential buildings. The amended Jerusalem 2000 plan also designates most of the site as open space. Although the plan for the national park has not yet been approved, the NPA has been carrying out development and clean-up operations there since 2008, which include building terraces and paths along the Kidron Valley.

The a-Sawaneh neighborhood is home to some 3,000 residents. The master plans applicable to the neighborhood, in force since 1977, allowed for very limited construction and most of the area they designate as residential is already built-up. The large open space in the northern section of the neighborhood was declared Tzurim Valley National Park. The park being planned by the municipality for the Mount of Olives envelopes the neighborhood from the south and west. Together, the two parks block the neighborhood from almost all directions, leaving no avenue for development.
A-Sawaneh neighborhood. Photo: Noga Kadman, B'Tselem, 11 Nov. 2014
A-Sawaneh neighborhood. Photo: Noga Kadman, B'Tselem, 11 Nov. 2014
A-Shayah, a neighborhood of about 11,000 residents, lies east of the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. The municipality designated a third of the area inside the neighborhood – most of it already built without permits – for the expansion of the cemetery, placing about a hundred homes at risk of demolition and severely limiting the neighborhood’s development.  The neighborhood has no other option for expansion as it is blocked on all sides by other Palestinian neighborhoods, roads, the Separation Barrier and the cemetery. This, along with the planned expansion of the cemetery and the municipality’s meager allocation of construction rights in the neighborhood have resulted in a severe housing shortage. There are no pre-schools, public schools or playgrounds in a-Shayah. Nor does the neighborhood have even a single open space developed for the benefit of the residents. A branch of the planned national park that extends in the direction of the Jewish cemetery is another factor constraining the neighborhood’s development.

A portion of the park planned in Sheikh Jarah. Photo: Noga Kadman, B’Tselem, 11 November 2014
A portion of the park planned in Sheikh Jarah. Photo: Noga Kadman, B’Tselem, 11 November 2014

Shimon HaTzadik National Park in Sheikh Jarah

The Jerusalem Municipality indicated an open space in the Sheikh Jarah neighborhood, west of Wadi al-Joz, as designated for a national park. The planned park spans about 12 hectares and its borders were set out near neighborhood homes. The park’s western edge includes ten existing structures, mostly residential. It also includes a 3.5 hectare olive grove (the Mufti’s Vineyard), which the state had defined as absentee property and expropriated for “public use”. The Israel Land Authority has been leasing most of the grove to Ateret Cohanim for agricultural use since 1997. 

At present, the park site comes under the master plan prepared by the municipality for Sheikh Jarah in 1984. This plan designates most of the site as open public space, allocating some areas at its periphery for residential and public buildings, only some of which have been built. In July 2008, another plan was approved for a part of the site, again designating most of it as open public space. The plan was the initiative of local residents who were hoping to have the area designated for residential use, but the authorities ultimately changed the plan, significantly reducing the residential area. Instead, planning bodies designated areas for tourism in a manner that would “bolster the Old City basin as the historic and tourist center of Jerusalem”. 

A 2008 report by the Jerusalem Development Authority indicates that there are plans to turn the area into a national park, ignoring the needs of local residents and their ties to the area: “This is a biblical garden that tells the story of the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem. The area is home to ancient caves dating back to the Second Temple period, as well as Kidron Valley, which served as […] the route taken by the pilgrims to reach the City of David and the Temple Mount”. According to the report, although the area has yet to be declared a national park, the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality have already instructed the NPA to “begin maintenance, cleaning and landscape restoration of the site”. In July 2011, the NPA began fencing in and cleaning the area.

Sheikh Jarah, a neighborhood of about 3,000 residents, borders on Jewish neighborhoods from the north, west and southwest. The site in question is the only land reserve available in the neighborhood and its designation as an open space is at odds with the neighborhood’s development needs.

A portion of the park planned in Bab a-Zahreh. Photo: Noga Kadman, B’Tselem, 11 November 2014
A portion of the park planned in Bab a-Zahreh. Photo: Noga Kadman, B’Tselem, 11 November 2014

National Park at Bab a-Zahreh (Rockefeller Museum) 

The previous version of the Jerusalem 2000 plan designated a 4-hectare site in Bab a-Zahreh, in the Wadi al-Joz neighborhood, as a national park. The site includes the Rockefeller Museum, a narrow stretch of built-up land and a public neighborhood park. The site lacks any nature, landscape or heritage values that might justify converting it into a national park. The museum building can be preserved through monument protection, as in similar cases inside Israel. The amended Jerusalem 2000 plan allocates the area for public facilities. In practice, about half the site already has residential buildings and the other is used as the only public park in the neighborhood. 

Some 17,000 Palestinians live in Wadi al-Joz. The planned parts of the neighborhood have been allocated low construction percentages, incompatible with the neighborhoods’ urban nature. Other parts, which entirely lack planning, are densely built. An area the size of 3.9 hectares inside the neighborhood, mostly free with the exception of a few houses, was incorporated into Tzurim Valley National Park. The similarly sized site at Bab a-Zahreh may also become a national park, inherently incapable of meeting local residents’ needs.

Wadi al-Joz neighborhood. Photo: Noga Kadman, B'Tselem, 11 Nov. 2014
Wadi al-Joz neighborhood. Photo: Noga Kadman, B'Tselem, 11 Nov. 2014

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