How can we make spaces more equitable? How can resources, specifically land, be better distributed? How is access restricted and how does it affect communities? These are the questions asked by Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights, who strive “to enhance the link between civil rights, social justice, and the planning process in Israel.” They work in underprivileged communities against “spatial discrimination” with Palestinians in the Galilee and Area C, Bedouin groups, and those in low-income urban spaces.
While planning reinvents space and order, it also restricts them. This is seen all too clearly in the expansion of national parks in Jerusalem. All green spaces are considered property of the government (like 90% of land in Israel) and liable for “confiscation” and not “expropriation,” for which landowners receive compensation. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) is taking measures to extend parks right up to the homes of Palestinian homes and schools to limit development of Palestinian neighborhoods and ultimately ensure a Jewish dominance and demographic majority. It doesn’t hurt that a number of the top officials in the INPA are high-profile settlers, including its general manager, Saul Goldstein, and Evyatar Cohen, in charge of the Jerusalem branch of the INPA and a former employee of Elad, a settler organization that runs the City of David National Park, located right in the middle of the Palestinian village of Silwan in East Jerusalem.
The dubious City of David National Park, billed as an educational archaeological site, called for the bulldozing of a complex built by Silwan residents that included a kindergarten, playground, and café. Archaeologists working in the area have also denounced the project as an “unscientific tourist gimmick” that violates archaeological procedures. It is another example of how antiquities (both real and imagined) are used to take responsibility of an area and thereby to appropriate it.
The other National Park making the headlines recently is the Mount Scopus National Park, also in East Jerusalem to be established on the lands of the Palestinian villages of Issawiya and A-Tur. With permits still pending, construction has already begun. Establishing this park creates continuity of Israeli territory from the Old City to the settlement of Maale Adumim, located in E1, an area where the US government opposes Israeli building since it will permanently seal off Palestinian access to East Jerusalem—and with it, the possibility of a two-state solution.
Complaints by leftist organizations working for planning justice like Bimkom, Emek Shaveh, and Ir Amim come at a crucial time when a proposed law to privatize public parks is making its way through the Knesset. If the bill passes, Elad will retain control of the historic site situated in the Arab village of Silwan. But it might also have unforeseen consequences. Who knows how far the appropriation and commercialization of historic and national landmarks can go? When it’s no longer just Palestinians being disenfranchised by these policies, will Israelis finally start paying attention?