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Settler group wins in battle over controversial Silwan plan

March 23, 2016 11:31 P.M. (Updated: March 27, 2016 8:51 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- In direct violation of past rulings, an Israeli council approved on Wednesday controversial plans in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan pushed by the settler organization Elad.

The Israeli National Council for Planning and Building approved a plan for Elad's Kedem project despite over a decade of appeals against the move by Palestinian residents and Israeli rights organizations.

The Silwan-based Wadi Hilweh Information Center said in a statement that the settlement project was approved after an emergency session was held at the council’s headquarters on Tuesday.

The center said Silwan residents withdrew from the session after they were treated “in a racist way.”

Residents said they were repeatedly interrupted by members of the committee while explaining damages the settlement project would have on their private lands. The committee also failed to provide an Arabic translator for the session, according to the center.

Lawyer Sami Irsheid said the council rejected all appeals against the Kedem project and cancelled an order made by the Appeals Commission in the Supreme Planning Council which called off the project last summer.

Silwan residents, Israeli NGOs Ir Amim and Emek Shaveh, as well as a group of Israeli academics had presented an appeal in 2014 before the project was overturned in June 2015.

Irsheid called the council’s decision “purely political,” as the council reconsidered the appeal only following political interventions.

Wednesday’s move was condemned jointly by the Wadi Hilweh Information Center and members of a Silwan neighborhood committee who fear the approval will set a precedent for approvals on all future settlement projects in Silwan.

The center and committee called upon UNESCO to immediately intervene as the project endangers a historical city, and summoned the international community to support residents of the neighborhood in preventing implementation of the plan.

Elad, the group responsible for the plan, is a private Israeli organization which promotes illegal settlement construction in occupied East Jerusalem in a bid to increase the city's Jewish presence.

The Kedem project is a part of long-running efforts by Elad and other settler organizations to push out Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem, in line with policies championed by successive Israeli governments to “Judaize” Jerusalem.

The Kedem project is expected to cover some 9,000 square meters and include stores and offices for Elad as well as an archaeological visitors' center for the nearby City of David National Park, built on Palestinian land.

The land included in the Kedem project was confiscated by Israeli authorities following the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, and has served parking lot since. In 2003, Elad took over the land and began planning a settlement project.

The group has since 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, while disregarding ruins from other historical periods.

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