Israeli national park expropriates Palestinian land
By Sophie Crowe
February 17, 2012
Israel’s use of national parks to expropriate Palestinian land and prevent development in East Jerusalem is the subject of Bimkom’s latest, January, report.
Bimkom, a group of Israeli planners and architects advocating for planning rights, has studied the state’s strategy of making "green" settlements as a more convenient alternative to building its controversial Jewish-only housing enclaves alongside Palestinian communities in occupied East Jerusalem.
Designating urban space as a national park is not only easier but cheaper too, the state having no obligation to compensate owners.
The Jerusalem municipality leaves the creation of these parks to the National Planning Authority (in the Ministry of Interior), Bimkom noted, which deals more with the protection of nature and heritage than the rights of Jerusalem’s residents.
By passing authority over to the NPA, the municipality can absolve itself of responsibility for the people it professes to serve, the report argued.
The report came in the wake of a new national park set to appear on Mount Scopus, using land privately owned by residents of Issawiya and A-Tur, neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem.
The plan, currently under public review, was initially thought up by the Israel Nature and Park Authority, a body of the Ministry for Environment.
More recently it has been championed by the Jerusalem Development Authority – a government body helping the municipality with development projects – which was given 40 million NIS in 2005 to develop green spaces around the Old City of Jerusalem.
As a result of the state’s categorical neglect of Palestinians in Jerusalem, Bimkom began working with A-Tur and Issawiya residents years ago to devise development plans.
The national park will cover the neighbourhoods’ remaining available land, making Bimkom’s project impossible.
Locals, with the help of Bimkom and other rights groups, are raising legal objections to the plan, amid efforts to bring the public’s attention to their plight.
The case forwarded by the municipality is based on the site’s purported archaeological significance.
Municipal representatives pointed to "antiquities, caves … and burial sites from the era of the Second Temple," Ha’aretz reported last month.
This argument has been rubbished by Bimkom, who argue what is really at play is Israel’s control over land, usually achieved by stunting Palestinian development.
Avraham Shaked – member of the Interior Ministry’s Jerusalem District Committee as an environmental advocate – agrees the prospective park is part of a more sinister political agenda.
"This process is definitely a political process," he told The Jerusalem Post. "If it’s possible to develop the area for the good of the public it’s a positive thing. But this is not important as a nature reserve."
The INPA – the management of which is dominated by several prominent settlers – denies doggedly that it is political. The group is "only concerned about preserving nature in the areas under its control," a spokesperson told Ha’aretz.
"The declaration of the area [as a park] safeguards the last segment of the Judean Desert that begins on the Mount Scopus slope, and its importance stems from its view onto the desert, heritage landmarks and desert vegetation."
While the state is forbidden from working on the site until the period for public comment is over, the INPA has forged ahead regardless.
Bulldozers have begun work on private land, moving a large mound of earth to create an effective wall which blocks a path to agricultural land. The municipality insists this measure was designed to prevent the area from being used as an illegal dumping ground, stopping the passage of trucks that would dump rubbish.
While residents remain unconvinced, the state’s response to their objection to this breach has been characteristically repressive and disproportionately severe.
On the morning of Monday, 6 February, border police arrived on the private land of Issawiya and A-Tur residents to continue preparatory work on the park.
When locals, along with Israeli supporters, gathered to protest the construction work, police arrested six people, five Jewish Israelis and one Palestinian.
The disparity between the management of space for West Jerusalemites compared to their counterparts in the east is stark, with national parks notably absent from the west.
"The Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are crowded and they suffer from extreme neglect and shortage of public infrastructure," Bimkom architect, Efrat Bar-Cohen, said in a statement.
"The residents are in desperate need of space by which they can improve their quality of life, even if slightly."
The building of the park will have ramifications beyond the strangling of Issawiya and A-Tur residents.
It will stretch into the E1 area of the West Bank, which represents an important reserve of space for Palestinian development, creating a string of Jewish Israeli-only settlement between the Old City and Ma’ale Adumim settlement.
Elad Kandl is director of the Old City projects at the Jerusalem Development Authority, whose website describes their work as rehabilitating and conserving the Old City.
He expressed succinctly Israel’s aim of curbing Palestinian development in Jerusalem. "When you make it a national park," he told The Jerusalem Post in reference to open space, "you keep the status quo."