The Idea of Protecting the Mount of Olives with a National Park Doesn’t Stand Up

Daniel Seidemann, Israeli lawyer specializing in territorial disputes in East Jerusalem ©DR

Daniel Seidemann, a lawyer specializing in territorial disputes in East Jerusalem, explains how the project to nationalize the Mount of Olives, announced in February 2022, aims to "surround the Old City of Jerusalem by imposing an exclusively Jewish presence and history."

Interview by Karine Eysse
July 12, 2022

In February 2022, an Israeli plan to classify the Mount of Olives as a National Park was officially unveiled with the intent of protecting the place. The Custody of the Holy Land, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, all present on the Mount, are skeptical and see it instead as the influence of associations of religious Jewish settlers seeking to expand into East Jerusalem. A joint, firm and high-profile protest letter from the three churches led the Israel National Parks Authority to suspend the project. But does this mean it is forgotten? Not at all, according to Daniel Seidemann.

Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer specializing in Israeli-Palestinian relations in Jerusalem, enlightens us. Daniel Seidemann is also the founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an NGO that works to resolve the Jerusalem issue in a way that is consistent with the two-state solution.

TSM: The National Parks Authority says it does not want to move forward on this project "without discussion and exchange with appropriate stakeholders, including local religious authorities". Nevertheless, you think the project is still on track. Why?

Daniel Seidemann: Because Jerusalem City Hall is also involved in the process, and it has not suspended the project. An initial presentation of the file was to have taken place last March before a municipal committee. Faced with the outcry of the Churches, this hearing did not take place: it was just postponed, and rescheduled for August 24. So, contrary to what the National Parks Authority officially states, the project continues on track.

A total of 24 properties on the Mount of Olives belong to Christian communities ©MAB/CTS

The idea of protecting a place as emblematic as the Mount of Olives does not in itself seem unusual. Why does this project seem dangerous to you and the Churches?

Because the idea of protecting the place does not stand up! The Mount of Olives is a unique place in Jerusalem, already one of the best preserved and maintained by the various religious communities that coexist there. For example, can you imagine that the Benedictine sisters who are present on the Mount would want for a second to open a MacDo there? Seriously, the Mount of Olives does not need additional protection, and so the official preservation argument does not hold up at all.

So what do you think is the real purpose of the project? And who has an interest in it?

The National Park project on the Mount of Olives is not recent. It is part of a program clearly conceived and implemented, in recent years, by associations of religious Jewish settlers, aimed at encircling the Old City of Jerusalem by imposing an exclusively Jewish presence and history, to the detriment of the Christian and Muslim presence and heritage.

We are talking here in particular about the EL-AD association, whose goal is to perpetuate "the legacy of King David" in ancient Jerusalem. EL-AD created and manages the City of David site, in the Palestinian territory of Silwan (Siloam), south of the Old City and the Mount of Olives. This place has become one of the most visited tourist sites in the country, it highlights archaeological excavations presented only as a witness to the Jewish presence. The Palestinians of Silwan have no place in this narrative.

The National Parks Authority states that classifying an area as a National Park does not affect the rights of the owners. Is it right?

It's not true! (...)

The full interview, in French, can be read in issue 680 of Terre Sainte Magazine (July-August 2022)


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