Jewish man prays outside his home in Shiloach
Jewish man prays outside his home in ShiloachAteret Cohanim

The Jerusalem municipality's planning and building committee has postponed by two weeks its decision on whether to allow a new three-story residential building for the Jewish community of Shiloach (Silwan) in the heart of Jerusalem.

The strategically-important housing project would be constructed opposite the Beit Yonatan building, on building purchased by the Ateret Cohanim foundation, which reclaims Jewish property in Jerusalem seized by Arabs during a campaign of ethnic-cleansing in the first half of the twentieth century.

But the plans have drawn massive criticism from far-left NGOs such as Peace Now, who have been exerting pressure on the municipality to scrap the plans. And it seems someone is listening.

The discussion over the proposal at the committee rapidly descended into a shouting match, which some present saying the confrontation almost came to blows between the opposing camps. At one point, a leftist committee member spilled coffee over municipal councilor Yitzhak Feindruss.

During the hearing, it became apparent that due to immense pressure and intervention on the part of both top-level officials within Jerusalem's administration, as well as from the government itself, had been made in order to thwart the plans. Some suspect Mayor Nir Barkat himself of attempting to block the project.

At the end of the committee, the decision was made to postpone a final decision for two weeks, while green-lighting most other tenders. Supporters of the project fear the postponement is a ploy to eventually smother the initiative in bureaucracy without having to formally reject it and incur the wrath of many locals, as well as right-wing municipal politicians.

Attorney Eldad Rabinovich, who represents the Silwan project applicants, had hard words for the conduct of local officials.

"We would like to express our outrage and protest at the discrimination carried out today by the Jerusalem Municipality against Jews in the capital city," he said. "It is unacceptable that, for purely political reasons, on the eve of Jerusalem Day a legal permit was not approved for building in Kfar Shiloach, in opposition to all professional opinions (over its legality).

"This matter raises the question of the Jerusalem municipality's commitment to the law and to equality."

Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Dov Kalmanovich, who supported the project, voiced similar outrage, and warned it was likely a decision would be postponed indefinitely.

"There is not doubt that this is a political decision, and the guarantee that the subject will be back on the agenda in two weeks won't withstand the pressure," he said. "I said in the protocols that we are talking about a political decision, not a technical one."

"The committee did not rule professionally, and I am ashamed that someone who calls himself a part of the nationalist camp won't build in Jerusalem," he added, in an apparent swipe at Mayor Nir Barkat.

The Jerusalem municipality itself, however, released a statement denying any intent to stymie the Jewish community of Shiloah.

"It is not our intention to discriminate in any way against Jewish-owned buildings in Arab neighborhoods," the mayor's office stated.

It claimed that the request for building had been fairly heard, but "it was decided that several technical-professional flaws need to be fixed" before it can be properly assessed, thereby requiring two additional weeks.

The statement also denied that any political considerations were thwarting the project, insisting that for it to have even been raised in the committee such a project would have had to overcome any such potential hurdles already.

It concluded: "The committee will continue authorizing construction in all neighborhoods according to the master plan for Jews and Arabs alike, as in this case."