New East Jerusalem “Park” Soon to get Final Approval

On January 27, 2012, Town Plan 12222 – creating the “Refaim Metropolitan Park” – was deposited for public review. Now that the 60-day public review period is complete, hearings on the plan will be conducted shortly, and subsequently the plan will be signed into law.

The Refaim Park is part of three large metropolitan “green areas” being developed by the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Development Authority. Two of these, the Arazim and Motza Parks, are entirely within the Green Line. The Refaim Park, however, is on the southern flank of the city, and approximately 1800 of its 5650 dunams are beyond the Green Line on lands belonging almost exclusively to Palestinians.  A map showing the area of the planned “park” can be viewed/downloaded here.

The plan designates the area for forestation, preservation, recreation and light service facilities. Unlike the string of parks located around the Old City, this area does not resonate with religious historical and cultural sites, and the primary motivation behind it is genuinely environmental.

It has been erroneously reported that this plan entails the expropriation of Palestinian lands. It does not, but its impact is highly problematic nonetheless. The privately-owned land is not being confiscated by Israel and remains legally vested with the private land owners.  These owners are “merely” denied any opportunity to develop the land.

Impact and Implications

In terms of immediate impact, the park will be particularly devastating to the landowners from adjacent Walajeh – a village surrounded by the separation barrier.  Since 1967, Walajeh’s inhabitants have lived in a Kafka-esque situation, with their village located inside Israel’s expanded borders, but with villagers never given Israeli residency and with their only entrance/egress from the village being through the West Bank (making the villagers’ presence at the  site, under Israeli law, illegal, and making their homes all illegal).  Now, in an “insult to injury” situation, Walajeh residents won’t even be able to access the parks and facilities being built on their lands. For reporting on this from Haaretz, see here.

This is problematic enough (it may be recalled that more than 35% of the Palestinian lands of East Jerusalem have been expropriated and placed at the disposal of the Israeli sector), but the broader implications of the plan are even more serious.

Like the Old City Basin and Mount Scopus Slopes Parks, this new park will prevent virtually all Palestinian development in the area. Even with its environmental rationale, the Refaim Park will be similar in its impact to that of the Mount Scopus Slopes Park. While the latter is geared to link the inner encirclement of the Old City with the outer encirclement of Ma’aleh Adumim, the Refaim Park fills in the “public” spaces between the expanding settlements on Jerusalem’s southern flank, further erasing the Green Line and contributing to the “buffer” between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem – a “buffer” that will make a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, and with it, the two-state solution, a near impossibility.