Israel rejects settlers' plans for East Jerusalem tourist center

Published June 9th, 2015 - 04:00 GMT

The Israeli planning authority on Monday rejected plans for an Israeli tourism center in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem.

A settler organization has been planning the "Kedem" tourism center at the entrance to Wadi Hilweh in Silwan since 2003. It would have served as an archaeological visitors' center for the nearby City of David National Park. 

On Monday, however, Israel's national planning committee accepted appeals lodged by Wadi Hilweh's residents, the Israeli non-governmental organisations Ir Amim and Emek Shaveh, and a group of Israeli academics. 

The Wadi Hilweh information center told Ma'an that the Israeli planning committee demanded that the Elad settler organization -- which was planning the Kedem center -- would have to present an alternative plan according to the committee's standards.

The project as currently proposed could not be approved, they said. 

Palestinian lawyer Sami Irshayyid told Ma'an that the Israeli planning committee approved the Kedem center last April, but that appeals were later lodged against it.

Irhsayyid added that the committee's decision on Monday was a great achievement not only for Wadi Hilweh but for wider East Jerusalem, as the tourism center would have been built close to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. 

The Wadi Hilweh residents' committee said that the planning committee’s refusal to approve the project showed that it realized the project was illegal and in violation of international law. 

The committee applauded the residents' persistence in fighting the plans over the last few months.

The Kedem center would have covered 9,000 square meters and included exhibition areas, an events hall, underground parking and other facilities for tourists, in addition to stores and offices for the Elad settler organization. 

The land was confiscated by Israeli authorities following the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, serving as a parking lot since. 

In 2003, the Elad organization took over the land and began planning a settlement project. 

They excavated the land, reportedly demolishing an Islamic cemetery 1,200 years old, as well as Ottoman, Umayyad, Byzantine and Roman ruins. It was reported that they only preserved ruins they believed to be part of Jerusalem's Second Temple. 

The Elad association is a private Israeli organization which promotes settlement construction in occupied East Jerusalem in a bid to increase the city's Jewish presence. 

The US State Department has in the past criticized the group for disregarding the diverse religious history of sites it controls in East Jerusalem. 

Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community. Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

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