Multi-sided struggle for Jerusalem
The Jerusalem city council's district planning committee on Dec. 28 approved plans for a large tourism complex in the flashpoint neighborhood of Silwan, just south of the Old City. The project is to be built on a plot of land currently being used as a parking lot opposite the Dung Gate, main entrance to the Western Wall and the Old City's Jewish Quarter. It would be managed by Elad, a hardline settler organization, which runs the nearby archaeological site at David's City. Local Palestinian activists protested the move. "This project aims to promote settler tourism and religious tourism," said Fakhri Abu Diab, head of the Silwan Defense Committee, who said the city had confiscated local land for the project. "This complex will change the character of the area and will emphasize the idea that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people—because it is a political project too."
The complex would be higher than the Old City walls and would in some places block Silwan's view of al-Aqsa mosque. Silwan is part of the so-called Holy Basin around the Old City, purported site of ancient Jerusalem during the time of the biblical kings David and Solomon. The neighborhood, built on the steep hillsides of the Kidron Valley, has seen regular clashes between locals and a 400-strong community of Jewish settlers living in their midst.
Earlier on Dec. 28, city councillors approved plans for another 130 housing units in Gilo, a settlement neighborhood which lies close to Bethlehem. (AFP, Dec. 28)
On Dec. 26, dozens of haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) hurled stones at policein the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Shemesh after officers had removed public signs calling for segregation between men and women in the city. Some haredim called police "Nazis." There were no reports of injury. (YNet, Dec. 26)
The following day, some 4,000 participated in a rally in Beit Shemesh against gender segregation and violence against women by haredi extremists. The rally was held near a religious girls school attended by 8-year-old American immigrant Na'ama Margolis, who was featured in an Israeli TV news program, saying she was afraid to walk to school following harassment by local haredi men. She said haredi spat on her and called her a whore for dressing "immodestly." (JTA, AP, Dec. 27)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly spoke with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch after the Beit Shemesh controversy, asking him to instruct the police to take decisive action against the exclusion of women from Israel’s public sphere. LHe also spoke with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, inquiring whether laws regarding the inclusion of women in Israel's municipalities were being enforced. (Ha'aretz, Dec. 24)
In another case of slugfests at holy sites, on Dec. 28, around 100 priests hurled brooms at each other in Bethlehem's Church of Nativity as they were cleaning the church in preparation for Orthodox Christmas. The outburst, broken up by baton-wielding Palestinian police, broke out as the Greek Orthodox and Armenian clerics, who each control a portion of the church along with Roman Catholics, got into the scuffle over a "turf war." The BBC reported that the 1,700-year-old church is in decrepit shape because priests can't agree on who should be footing the bill for its repair. (Ianyan, BBC News, Dec. 28)
See our last post on the struggle for Jerusalem.