Israel putting forward plan to expand national park onto East Jerusalem church-owned lands: report
Israeli authorities are going to put forward plans to expand a national park in occupied East Jerusalem to include land owned by churches, sparking opposition from local Christian leaders, The Times of Israel reported on Sunday.
The plan to expand the Jerusalem Walls National Park was being put forward by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), which is overseen by the office of the environmental protection ministry.
The expansion would include land on the Mount of Olives, parts of which are owned by the Franciscan, Armenian, or Greek Orthodox churches. Other parts of the mount are owned by private Palestinian landowners.
The plan was slated to be put before the Jerusalem municipality’s Local Planning and Construction Committee on 2 March.
Leaders of the impacted churches penned a letter to environmental protection minister Tamar Zandberg, asking her to get the expansion shelved.
“This is a brutal measure that constitutes a direct and premeditated attack on the Christians in the Holy Land, on the churches and their ancient, internationally guaranteed rights in the Holy City," read the letter obtained by The Times of Israel.
"Under the guise of protecting green spaces, the plan appears to serve an ideological agenda that denies the status and rights of Christians in Jerusalem."
Jerusalem church leaders warned in December that radical groups were using "underhanded" tactics to acquire property in Christian areas, "with the aim of diminishing the Christian presence".
The government dismissed that claim as "baseless", The Times of Israel said.
The expansion would not strip the landholders of their ownership, but it will give the INPA the ability to carry out a long list of actions, including carrying out inspections, granting work permits and conducting landscaping, restoration and preservation projects, the report said.
A spokeswoman for the INPA said the project would not harm the churches, and would instead help preserve the land.
Opponents of the expansion say it is part of a wider project to freeze Palestinians out from around Jerusalem's Old City.
Israeli human organisations said in a joint statement to The Times of Israel: “There is a direct link between what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah and this expansion plan.”