Kings Garden
Kings GardenIsrael news photo

The city wishes to legalize retroactively ¾ of the Arab houses built in the area known as the King’s Garden, below the City of David in Silwan. The plan has now been approved by the city’s zoning and planning committee.

Over the past 20 years, nearly 90 illegal Arab houses have been built in the area, which the previous Ottoman-Turkish and British governments purposely kept as a tree-filled area with no structures. Ironically, it was only during the period of Israeli rule that the uniqueness of the area has been desecrated by gradual pirate Arab construction.

The King’s Garden is the area below the City of David, also known as Silwan or Shiloach, at the southern entrance to the Kidron Valley. It is mentioned in the Books of Kings and Jeremiah. Historians agree with the Jewish tradition that it served King David and King Solomon.

Mayor Nir Barkat's plan, which has now been approved by the city’s governing coalition, calls for the retroactive approval of 66 of the illegal houses, the granting of land to the other illegal squatters for the construction of new and larger houses, and turning much of the King's Garden area into a green area. The goal is to preserve the area as a historic treasure.

Many of the existing buildings have no electricity, water or sewage infrastructures, and many were built without proper foundations. The 66 buildings on the eastern side of the area are to be legalized, while those living in the others, on the western side, will be given land on which to build on the eastern side.

Mayor Barkat explained what led up to the decision: “There were three options. The first was to clear the entire area and raze all 88 illegal buildings, in accordance with the zoning plan and the court decisions to raze illegal buildings. The second option was to bury our heads in the sand and approve all the construction violations there. The municipality has chosen the third option, which balances the various needs. It gives an unprecedented chance to legalize 75% of the buildings and a first-time legal opportunity for the others, while fixing up infrastructures there, for the residents’ welfare.”

Although the original plan was to preserve the entire area as a historic treasure and parkland, dotted with two small hotels, the plan now is somewhat different. As Barkat explained, “the city will work to upgrade the roads, the sewage, the electricity and other services. Since no public buildings were ever built there, as it was planned to be public land, the city will now build a large building with 2,000 square meters of public area, classrooms, daycare centers, a gym room, a mother-and-baby center, and more. Underneath it will be an underground parking lot for 140 cars.”  On the eastern side, where the existing buildings will remain, even more public facilities will be constructed.

MK Yariv Levine (Likud) said that the approval of the plan is a “first and important step along the way to restoring law and order in the city. This decision must be implemented right away, and the police must allocate the necessary manpower for the razing of the buildings. This will strengthen our sovereignty in Jerusalem.”

Others, from the left-wing of the political spectrum, called the decision “wretched,” and said it was designed to set fire to the region and the peace process.