High Court Petition: The Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee will hear objections to Beit Haliba
September 2, 2015
Emek Shaveh submitted an objection to the construction of ‘Beit Haliba’ at the Western Wall (No. 8 on map). We claim that the building will harm the unique antiquities uncovered at the site, the historic character of the Old City, and in the public space of the plaza. Beit Haliba is among a handful of projects promoted by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and settler organizations. It is part of the political struggle of right-wing groups over the Old City of Jerusalem. These include Elad foundation’s plan to build the Kedem Center in Silwan, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation’s plans for the Mugrabi Gate and Beit Strauss in the Western Wall plaza, and the underground tunnels excavations. All of these are intended to create a new landscape around the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif, representing a nationalist vision to strengthen Israeli control of the area while damaging the access of other nations and religions.
Details of the Beit Haliba Plan:
According to the plan, ‘Beit Haliba’ is designed to include three floors (including the archeological level) and sprawl over an area of approximately 1.8 dunam, intended to accommodate hundreds and even thousands of visitors daily. It will alter the view of the Western Wall towards the Old City and in some places even the view towards the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
In the area slated for construction, unique archaeological remains were found from the end of the Judean kingdom (7th century BCE); a section from Cardo that crossed Jerusalem from north to south in Roman times, and which has been used for thousands of years; and religious buildings from the Mamluk (13th century) and Ottoman periods. The importance of the archaeological finds is uncontested. The main argument is how the structure will harm the antiquities. Public criticism largely focuses on how the Western Wall Heritage Foundation is taking over a public space for a building that will serve its own purposes, at the expense of the public’s needs.
Alongside our professional objection to construction atop antiquities, in one of the most important historical site for the Jewish people and for millions of people worldwide, Beit Haliba changes the status quo in the holy places in the Old City and intensifies the tension around the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif.
The main objections:
- Construction was approved before the start of excavation. The Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority admits and says : “… it was the first time in the history of the Antiquities Authority agreed to start working before having an approved plan …” Despite acknowledging the archaeological site’s importance, the IAA approved the construction. In the current situation, the plan must be postponed and an independent professional survey should determine how to preserve the finds.
- Construction on the site contradicts the conservation plan of the IAA and UNESCO. The chapter on archeology for the “Jerusalem 2000” zoning plan determined that the open spaces are an integral part of the city’s built heritage. The Old City and Western Wall plaza were defined as areas deserving special protection, whose preservation must be done in a way that is “visible to the public” in situ, while maintaining their relationship with the environment: “A buffer zone around the site must be maintained, not allowing unnecessarily construction within the site… [and] avoiding building that conceals the site from the public or makes access to it difficult.”
- An educational center does not require a three-tier structure – educational activities can be carried out outdoors or under a light roof, as was done in ancient sites and national parks throughout the country.
- The IAA has the right to reduce the construction area in accordance with archaeological finds, according to – Town Planning Scheme 11053. Despite the finds unearthed, the IAA did not require to change the plan despite the importance of the antiquities.
- Damage to the character of ancient Jerusalem should be avoided- caution should be exercised regarding the development, construction and excavation in the World Heritage Site. To this effect, UNESCO has passed resolutions on the Old City and Beit Haliba (UNESCO resolutions 2013 – 37COM7A.26, 2014 – 38COM7A.4, 39 2015-COM 7A.27, and Annex VII attached). A building of the proposed size will harm the status of Jerusalem as a World Heritage Site.
Discussion of the objections will be held at the offices of District Planning Committee, 1 Shlomtzion St., Jerusalem on Sunday, September 6 at 9 am.
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