Stop the Demolition of Homes for the King’s Garden Park in East Jerusalem
Al-Bustan is a neighborhood within Silwan in East Jerusalem. Its name means "The Orchard" in Arabic (bustan is also the word for orchard in Hebrew). This name hearkens back to a time when the valley was filled with fruit trees, which were nurtured by ancient springs. Today, the Al-Bustan neighborhood holds geopolitical importance because of its close proximity to the City of David archaeological site and Jerusalem’s Old City.
The Jerusalem municipality and mayor call the Al-Bustan neighborhood the “King’s Garden” and promote the hypothesis that the royal garden mentioned several times in the Tanakh once stood here. Within the Al-Bustan neighborhood, these government officials want to create a biblically themed park, inspired by scriptural references. Carrying out this plan would entail demolishing approximately 22 to 56 Palestinian houses and displacing dozens of people.
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In Al-Bustan over the last half century, many local Palestinian residents constructed homes without building permits. The issue of illegal construction is not unique to the Al-Bustan neighborhood. In fact, the majority of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem are constructed without permits because of is the difficulty for Palestinians in obtaining building permits.
The Jerusalem municipality initially presented a plan to create a biblically themed park inspired by scriptural references in the Al-Bustan neighborhood back in 2005. This plan entailed the demolition of up to 88 Palestinian houses in the area in order to make room for the park.
The families, under threat of losing homes to the government’s proposal, came up with their own neighborhood plan that provided a resolution to the threats to their property and presented plans for public and commercial functions. The District Planning Committee rejected the community’s plan in February 2009 arguing:
Al-Bustan area was part of the continuum of open spaces that must be preserved due to landscape sensitivity, and the great importance of their locations. Approval of the plan would also violate the principle of preserving a green belt separating the Old City and its surroundings.
Following continued immense international pressure, the government’s plans for the Al-Bustan neighborhood were reworked and scaled back to affect 22 houses in 2010. As a concession, the Jerusalem government has offered to allow these families to resettle in new, legally constructed residences (to be built on top of other existing homes) on the eastern slope of the park and said the remaining 66 buildings would be retroactively granted permits. None of the households affected want to be forcibly relocated due to many inherent obstacles that render it unfeasible.
The most recent information available indicates that as many as 56 building, not 22, will be affected. In May 2012, the lawyer representing the residents of Al-Bustan received an official document informing him that there will be no postponement of some of these demolition orders after September 2012; at that point, the authorities will have the power to begin demolishing homes at any time.