Update – Changes to the Nature and Parks Law

or: what happens when the Elad Foundation is determined to build in Silwan


Amendment to the Law: On Wednesday, January 10 the Internal Affairs Committee discussed an amendment to the Nature and Parks Law (1997) in the Knesset. The amendment, which passed in the Knesset in a preliminary vote, proposes defining a new type of national park, called an “urban park”, for sites with residents living in them, in which residents will be allowed to submit building plans for housing purposes. Today, areas declared as national parks or nature reserves come under the authority of the Israel National Parks Authority (INPA) who initiate practically all building activity in these sites. Except for rare instances, residents who live in national parks or nature reserves are banned from construction within their boundaries. This policy is driven by the assumption that the reason for declaring areas as  national parks or nature reserves in the first place is the need to preserve the unique history and landscape of the park from protect it from construction and development. Residents who live in the vicinity of a park pay the price of restriction on building and development.


On the face of it, the amendment addresses this problem while continuing to uphold national park values. However, a closer look at the amendment shows that it is intended to help the settlers in Silwan living in the “Jerusalem Walls National Park”. The Elad Foundation has been populating Silwan with settlers since the beginning of the 1990s. Silwan is one of the only neighborhoods declared as a national park. There are several other such cases in the West Bank. The settlers in Silwan are the only Jewish residents who live within a national park.[1]


Background on the declaration of the Jerusalem Walls National Park: The Jerusalem Walls National Park was controversial from the outset. Before it was declared in 1974, the Jerusalem District Planner at the time demanded that it be declared as an open public space. This definition would have balanced the need to protect the history and antiquities with the needs of the residents. All the responsible bodies knew that declaring the land as a national park would trap the residents under the Nature and Parks Law (then: the Parks Law) and that it cannot be expected that the body entrusted with protecting the historical values and landscape will address residential needs. However, political pressure, particularly from the Mayor of the time, Teddy Kollek, led to the declaration of the land as a national park.


The law already has a solution to this problem: The INPA has the option and the power to transfer an orderly procedure to the planning and building committee and reduce parts of the nature reserve or national park for purposes of building and development. This procedure has been a fairly common practice over the last few decades. In the last 20 years there have been 35 cases of reducing lands from national parks and nature reserves, adding up to a total of 4,218 dunam which have been withdrawn from national parks. Eighty percent of these lands were reduced for purposes of construction in various sites around the country[2]. The same solution is available for developed lands in Silwan.


The settlers’ interest: The way we understand this, the amendment proposed by the Elad Foundation with MK Nurit Koren from Likud was intended to allow settlers in Silwan to build housing while at the same time continuing the enforcement of INPA policies, mainly against the Palestinians. Today, every time the Palestinian residents in Silwan build a fence, enlarge an opening or plant a tree in their garden, the INPA can, by law, enforce the regulations by destroying the construction, and imposing fines, among other measures. If the amendment to the Nature and Parks law is passed in the Knesset, the Elad foundation would have the funds, connections and bureaucratic power to advance housing development, while the Palestinian residents would face a great deal of difficulty in practicing the same freedom. In the case of a change to the law, we assume that construction in Silwan will reflect the interests, ideological views, and plans of the Israeli government and the Jerusalem Municipality.


The Internal Affairs Committee decision: The discussion in the Knesset saw a sweeping opposition to the change in the law, from all governmental bodies, including the Ministry of Justice. The main claim was it would have detrimental implications for the protection of parks and nature reserves all over Israel. The committee chair, David Amsalem, called for a meeting to advance the regulation of a residential neighborhood in the City of David. The proposal had been frozen until the issue was to be clarified. The purpose of the meeting is to find a way to advance a building plan for the Elad’s settlers in Silwan, which would also be acceptable to the INPA. Although a change to the Nature and Parks Law has been halted, it seems that settlers’ construction will be advanced by other means and that the goal of the process instigated has been attained. The authorities have  succumbed to the pressure  to help advance construction for Jews in Silwan.


Emek Shaveh’s Position: The amendment to the law is futile and will not help the Palestinian residents of Silwan. As we have mentioned, the solution to building troubles is already written into the law – withdrawing the neighborhood from the area of the national park. Reduction would allow construction for all residents rather than just a select few. We believe that this is the most reasonable and obvious solution.

[1] There are also parks in the West Bank that include Palestinian residential areas, but these instances come under the military law of the West Bank. East Jerusalem which was annexed to Israel in 1967 comes under Israeli law.

[2] S. Spector Ben-Ari, Withdrawing land from Nature Reserves, National Parks and Forest Reserves, The Knesset, Information and Research Center. January 2016, p.5, (Heb)