Palestinians protest planned E. Jerusalem national park

Israeli Solidarity activists join Palestinian residents in an effort to keep up the struggle against the national park being built on private Palestinian land adjacent to Hebrew University. 

By Max Schindler

Nearly 100 Palestinians and Israelis converged on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem on Friday afternoon to march against a planned national park in the Issawiya and A-Tur neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

The weekly demonstration — organized by the Solidarity Movement and in conjunction with the Issawyia and A-Tur community councils — seeks to forestall the building of the national park in the neighborhood.

The proposed plan will place hundreds of acres of privately owned Palestinian land under the jurisdiction of Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority. By allocating the area as a national park, the Israeli authorities avoid paying the necessary compensation.

According to Daniel Dukarevich— a long-time activist affiliated with the Solidarity movement— the national park plan is part of the Israeli government strategy to change the demographic reality in East Jerusalem.

“The Israeli government is trying to build a corridor,” Dukavevich said, pointing to the land designated as a park. “This land will connect to the Silwan and Ir David national parks.”

The planned national park prevents the Issawiya and A-Tur neighborhoods from expanding or starting new construction in the contested area, hampering natural growth.

The Jerusalem municipality previously agreed to sit down with the Issawiya and A-Tur neighborhood councils in order to negotiate on the property. Friday’s march was an attempt to raise public awareness and put pressure on the municipality to reach a more equitable solution.

The protest began following the traditional Friday prayer service. Palestinian boys hoisted Palestinian flags in the air, seen by authorities as an affront, and chanted in Arabic, “End the Occupation.”

The demonstration made no mention of yesterday’s stabbing in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of an ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jew, suspected by the police to have been committed by a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem. It remained non-violent.

As protestors descended toward the Mount of Olives, they passed by a contentious Jewish outpost in the middle of the Issawiya called Hoshen, where a 20-foot Israeli flag hovers over the neighborhood, hung from an oversized pole. An IDF army convoy patrolled in front of the residence to prevent neighborhood demonstrators and settlers from engaging in an altercation.

Palestinians protest planned E. Jerusalem national park
Hoshen settlement, Mount of Olives (Photo: Max Schindler)

A number of protestors still attend the march on a weekly basis. Many described themselves as jaded and pessimistic but that there were few other alternatives.

One elderly Israeli man who identified himself as Uri said, “I feel disillusioned. But sometimes we also have achievements, we can reduce the national park size.”

According to Mohamed Abu Homos, an Issawiya neighborhood organizer, “there is no optimism with the occupation.” Yet Abu Homos says that the struggle must continue, regardless of the political situation. “We don’t accept the reality and it is our responsibility to raise our voice,” he said.

Max Schindler is a student at Cornell University who is spending the year volunteering on a kibbutz and writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Read also:
National parks in East Jerusalem: New tool in occupation toolkit
What happened to the protests in Sheikh Jarrah? 
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