The Jerusalem Planning and Construction committee approved Monday a plan by Mayor Nir Barkat dubbed "King's Garden", which calls for the demolition of 22 houses in Silwan in East-Jerusalem. In their place an archaeological park is to be founded.The Palestinian homes targeted for demolition are in Silwan’s al-Bustan quarter, which Israel calls Gan Hamelech - the "King's Garden" - because the biblical King David supposedly wrote his psalms in the neighbourhood.
The contested site is a section of a the larger Silwan neighborhood, which is home to some 50,000 Palestinians. Also some 70 Jewish families, belonging to Elad, a settler movement heavily subsidized from the united States, have settled in the area. Demolitions in Silwan have made the neighborhood a hub of tension between Palestinians and Jews. On top of that Elad is executing an excavation project for which tunnels have been constucted which have caused numerous spontanious collapses of street pavement and parts of buildings.
City councilman Meir Margalit, of the Meretz faction, on Monday called the mayor "a clumsy amateur" for bringing the plan to a vote just two weeks before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with the US president."The world will thus recognize that it is dealing with pyromaniacs. The mayor needs to understand that the municipality is too much for him, and for the sake of the delicate balance of the city remove the plan from the agenda," Margalit said."Let us have no doubt that this is not a professional plan, it is a political plan. It contains no humanitarian considerations for the residents but only aims to strengthen Israeli sovereignty in Silwan."
Israeli officials say that all of the 88 Palestinian homes in Silwan are built illegally. It is extremely difficult for Palestinians to obtain construction permits in East Jerusalem, so many families build their homes without the required paperwork. Barkat's proposal would allow residents of the other 66 Silwan homes - the ones not slated for demolition - to retroactively apply for construction permits, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post.