3. No Real Justification for Expansion of the National Park
The plan’s documents state that the expansion aims to "ensure the unique character of the area, by preserving the site's historical, religious and national, landscapes and architectural values." The documents likewise emphasize the importance of preserving the landscape around the Old City and protecting the visibility of the Old City Walls.
It is important to underscore that during the 54 years that the State of Israel has controlled this area, the landscape values that the plan refers to have hardly been harmed. There was no massive construction that impaired the visibility of the Old City Walls. The protection of the area is carried out through other means, primarily by city-plan number AM/9 that was approved in 1977 and designed to protect the unique character of the Old City Basin. This plan prevents construction and development that would harm landscape values, and the Jerusalem Municipality enforces the law accordingly. Therefore, the declaration of these new areas as a National Park does not add a significant layer of protection for these landscape values.
It should also be noted that in 1968, when the plan for the declaration of the National Park was first prepared, the planners originally wanted to include the areas that are now being designated for the expansion. The INPA mentions this as a justification for the action and as simply completion of a move that allegedly was decided fifty years ago. However, the truth is this measure constitutes a far-reaching step. Israel has avoided it for 50 years, and carrying this out now is a step in the wrong direction. In fact, the only construction plans which threaten the aim of “preserving the site's historical, religious and national, landscapes and architectural values" are those promoted by the Elad organization for the construction of the Kedem Compound (16,000 sqm. and over seven floors) and the cable car (which was halted temporarily by the Supreme Court and now awaiting a final ruling).
4. Harm to Palestinian Residents
Beyond deepening the erosion of the Palestinian presence in the Old City Basin, the plan also directly blocks the possibility of Palestinian development and increases pressure on the residents living in the area. The expansion of the National Park will flank Palestinian built-up areas, including Abu Tur (A-Thouri) and Wadi Al-Joz and create a buffer between the neighborhoods of a-Suwana, Wadi Al-Joz, A-Tur. Such a plan will ultimately deplete the remaining land reserves in each of the respective neighborhoods, further constricting the development of these Palestinian communities and exacerbating their longstanding planning stranglehold. The Palestinian neighborhoods encircling the Old City have long suffered from under-development and neglect stemming from discriminatory planning policies, including the designation of large areas as "green,” which precludes residential development. Thus, the absence of proper urban planning coupled with severe punitive measures against unauthorized building serve as an acute lever of ongoing Palestinian displacement from areas along the perimeter of the Old City. Indeed, according to Ir Amim data, 43 Palestinian homes in these neighborhoods alone were demolished in 2021 due to the lack of proper zoning plans.
Despite this, the plan documents reveal that no needs-assessment was conducted for approximately 100,000 residents in the Old City Basin before it was determined that these land reserves would become a National Park.
5. Damage to Jerusalem’s Christian Religious Sites
A portion of the area designated for the national park expansion is owned by the Franciscan, Greek and Armenian Orthodox Churches. Nearly 20 Christian sites, some of the most important to Christianity, are either in the area designated for the National Park, or are surrounded by it or adjacent to it on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. For example, the Churches of Gethsemane, Mary Magdalene, and Dominus Flevit are sandwiched by the National Park from the north and south and compressed into a narrow strip of Christian presence. The Catholic Cemetery in the Kidron Valley together with the Papal Garden is included within the bounds of the National Park’s expansion. When the planners wanted to include the Jewish Cemetery nearby, the Jewish religious authorities managing the cemetery opposed it and prevented its inclusion.
In fact, the planned National Park will undermine the complex of the Mount of Olives slopes as a Christian site. The Mount of Olives is one of the three most important sites to Christianity in the city, home to a high concentration of holy sites. The plan will result in a narrow Christian enclave encircled by areas of Israeli control and dominance. This plan, initiated without any dialogue with Christian stakeholders in Jerusalem, indicates a disregard and contempt for the churches and Christians worldwide.
6. Part of Settlement Efforts to Encircle the Old City
Since the 1980s, the Israeli government has been working closely with settler organizations to expand the Israeli presence in and around the Old City while continually acting to curb the Palestinian demographic in the area. To date, they have managed to establish Israeli enclaves with approximately 3,000 settlers within Palestinian neighborhoods in the Old City and its surroundings, including Silwan, Ras Al-Amud, A-Tor, Sheikh Jarrah and others. Along with residential settlement, the Israeli government is investing hundreds of millions of shekels in tourism projects designed to bolster the Israeli presence in the area and transform it from a Palestinian environment into a Jewish space with small Palestinian Muslim and Christian enclaves.
These measures are in service to Israel’s longstanding goal of solidifying control of the Old City Basin and creating an Israeli continuum between East and West Jerusalem. This ring of control extends from Sheikh Jarrah in the north to Silwan in the south. In Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, hundreds of Palestinians face displacement from their homes in favor of Jewish settlement while in Wadi Al-Joz, the Jerusalem municipality intends to demolish Palestinian businesses to establish "Silicon Wadi.” The existing National Park in A-Suwana and the settlements in this neighborhood along with those in A-Tur, Mt. of Olives, Ras Al-Amoud, Batan Al-Hawa, Al-Bustan, Wadi Hilweh, Wadi Rababa, and the cable car project are all designed to create key links in the deepening band of Israeli settlement around the Old City Basin.
The expansion of the national park is therefore an attempt to produce a "green" ring embedded with residential settlement and touristic-settlement projects in and around the Old City as a means to consolidate Israeli hegemony over this area and foil any remaining prospect of an agreed resolution on Jerusalem.