Haaretz (Link) - Akiva Eldar (May 10, 2009)
The government and settler organizations are working to surround the Old City of Jerusalem with nine national parks, pathways and sites, drastically altering the status quo in the city. The secret plan was assigned to the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA).
In a report presented to former prime minister Ehud Olmert on September 11 last year, the JDA described the purpose of the project as "to create a sequence of parks surrounding the Old City," all in the aspiration "to strengthen Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel."
The program, sponsored by the Prime Minister's Office and the mayor of Jerusalem, is secret and did not engage in any form of public discussion. According to an analysis by Ir Amim, a non-profit organization dedicated to Jerusalem issues that impact on Israeli and Palestinians which exposed this detailed, confidential government plan, the motivation is to create Israeli hegemony over the area around the Old City, "inspired by extreme right-wing ideology."
"This program integrates with statutory program 11555, approved by the Jerusalem municipality in November 2007, designed to accelerate development [to six housing units per dunam, or some 24 units per acre] in one of the most important archaeological sites in Israel. The array of escalators, cable cars and tunnels included in the plan portend blatant signs of a biblical playground populated by settler organizations," which the organization says will be carried out by ousting Palestinian residents.
Ir Amim charges that by exposing the existence of the program the public is granted, "for the first time, a comprehensive view of how the government and settlers, working as one body, are creating a "biblical" territorial reign which connects Armon Hanatziv and Silwan in the south, Ras al-Amud and the Mount of Olives in the east, and Sheikh Jarra in the north, by connecting all of the land east of E-1."
In a letter sent in the fall of 2006 by David Barry, founder and director of the Elad organization, to state officials and bodies involved in the project such as the Israel Nature and National Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority, he explains that he cannot detail the project because "we still cannot talk about them," but hopes that the results will be evident in the near future.
In the letter Barry also writes that "... the widespread tourist activity, at whose center is the creation of the "Ancient Jerusalem" campus connecting the three sites - the City of David, Mount of Olives and Armon Hanatziv - in each of the three sites we are holding tourist activity on a daily basis."
The map of Elad's "Ancient Jerusalem" is, as Ir Amim explains, very similar to the map of the current historic basin project of the Old City.
Attorney Danny Seidemann of Ir Amim says that if the historic basin surrounding the Old City is transformed in the spirit of extreme rightist organizations, "there is a dangerous interface between the program and settler projects whose goal is the prevention of a future political solution in the heart of the conflict."