Cornerstone laid for Suspension Bridge over Valley of Hinnom and conflictual Olive Harvest in the Valley

On Thursday 6th of October, a cornerstone was set for the pedestrian bridge over the Valley of Hinnom/Wadi Rababa in Jerusalem. It was officiated by Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ze’ev Elkin, Minister of Tourism Yoel Razvozov, and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon. Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Eli Eskosido was also in attendance. The event took place at a location next to the Elad Foundation’s venue called “Bayit BaGay” (a House in the Valley) where one side of the bridge is scheduled to “land”. The bridge will link with Mount Zion and at 200 meters will be the longest suspension bridge in the country. The budget for the bridge is set for 20 million NIS and will include landscaping, lighting and street furniture.

At the event Minister Elkin said: “the suspension bridge is an important strategic project led by the Ministry for Jerusalem Affairs and other partners. We are working to turn the Hinnom Valley into a developed tourism zone and in so doing achieve two additional goals: one is to strengthen the sense of security and sovereignty in the area, the other is to ease access to the Old City.” 

Simulation of the planned suspension bridge by the JDA as it appeared on Yisrael Hayom website.

The bridge is another project in a list of new projects which are transforming the valley, such as the cable car, and the Elad Foundation’s Farm in the Valley (also called Center for Ancient Agriculture). All of these are part of the larger strategy to establish a continuum of biblically themed tourism ventures and Jewish residential settlements in the Silwan-Hinnom Valley area using a variety of legal and administrative mechanisms to displace Palestinians from their homes, shrink their public spaces and downplay their heritage.

In 2018 Emek Shaveh and Peace Now filed an objection to the plan with the Jerusalem District Planning Committee after it had been approved by the local planning committee. We objected to the fact that such a facility with significant political implications and an impact on the historic skyline was approved through a simple building permit process, thereby evading public scrutiny or debate.  We argued at the time that “the proposed bridge is located in one of the most sensitive and significant areas in Jerusalem and one of the most important in the world. The Old City basin is one of Jerusalem’s most precious cultural, religious and historical assets, as well as politically significant. Construction and development in this area should be done in a careful and considered manner, following a meaningful public discussion and in the context of a true planning vision.” Eventually, however, the district committee accepted the Municipality’s and the Jerusalem Development Authority’s position that the footbridge is a ‘road’ and allowed according to city plan no. AM/9

Olive Harvest in the Valley of Hinnom
Recently we described how the rapid takeover of the valley has led to conflict  with the Palestinian landowners. Over the past week tensions escalated when the Elad Foundation invited the Israeli public for olive harvest events in the valley during the holidays. On Thursday a group of women soldiers were brought to harvest olives in the fenced area of the farm. As noted, much of the land in the valley is privately owned Palestinian land belonging to residents of Silwan and Abu Tor/a Thori and taken through landscaping (or gardening) orders  and a portion of the land has been claimed by the Custodian for Absentee Properties (several plots of which within the last year-and-a-half). The Palestinians have been cultivating and harvesting olives from those trees for generations. Elad’s announcement last week prompted the Palestinians to bring forward the olive  harvest to Friday the 7th. The morning hours went by smoothly but as the time approached for a pre-Sabbath event at the farm, police and border police descended on the harvesters  forcefully clearing them off the area using stun grenades. Once the event in the valley ended, the harvest by the Palestinians and activists resumed and has been peaceful until the moment of writing.

Emek Shaveh’s Response: For hundreds of years, the Palestinian residents of the area have cultivated the olive trees and harvested the olives in the Valley of Hinnom. Attempts to block them this year is another manifestation of a policy of reshaping the identity of the Historic Basin by displacing the Palestinians from their lands and heritage and replacing them with settlements and tourist attractions shaped by an exclusivist national-religious brand of Judaism.