On January 24, the Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation issued a tender (No. 7/22) for the construction of a pedestrian bridge (#31 on map below) over Wadi Rababa/Hinnom Valley. The bridge will extend from the valley's southern flank to its northern bank on the slope of Mount Zion and the edge of the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. It will originate from the "House in the Valley" (#32 on map), a facility operated by the Elad settler organization on the slopes of A-Thori, and terminate near the abandoned Jewish Sambuski cemetery (#30 on the map), an area within walking distance to segments of the City of David site (#36 on map) in Wadi Hilweh, Silwan. As Elad's epicenter of settlement operations, the City of David has long functioned as a platform to expand Jewish settlement in the Old City Basin under the guise of seemingly innocuous Israeli tourism and recreational initiatives.
Over the years, these measures have led to the emergence of a growing settlement ring around the Old City, marked with residential settler compounds and settler-operated tourist sites in strategic locations, which serve to alter the character of the space and further entrench Israeli sovereignty in the area. The planned pedestrian bridge is thus a strategic part in a series of tourism projects advanced to seamlessly link West Jerusalem with the Elad-controlled sites in Silwan aiming to attract a wider Israeli audience and greatly strengthen the settlement enterprise in the Old City Basin.
According to the tender's documents, the Elad organization appears as the initiator of the project together with the Jerusalem Development Authority, which is another example of the close collaboration between ostensibly private settler organizations and state bodies. The project calls for the construction of a 207-meter long suspension bridge, which will be affixed to the ground at both ends and may be anchored with cables to the ground at several points along its length to stabilize it horizontally. The bridge is intended to be used as an "extreme sports" attraction managed by the Elad organization.
While the project is slated to be financed by the Jerusalem Municipality via Moriah, a municipal infrastructure company, the documents reveal that the total funding has not yet been received, which may delay its implementation. If there are no delays, however, the construction of the bridge could be completed within 10 months to a year. The documents indicate that the winning contractor must take into account that the work may not commence on time and/or could be suspended after its start-date due to potential unforeseen reasons.
The tender has been open for bidding until February 28, 2022.
It should be noted that the building permit (no. 219/2017) for the bridge was approved in 2017 without the permit application being made public. An appeal was filed against the permit's approval in 2018 by Peace Now and Emek Shaveh, based on the claim that the current outline plan does not allow for the issuance of a building permit and therefore requires the approval of a detailed outline plan. The appeal was rejected, and the building permit application ultimately received final approval.
Integral Link between West Jerusalem & Elad's Locus of Settlement Activity in Silwan
As part of the intensifying band of settlement around the Old City, the Wadi Rababa/Hinnom valley area is of particular significance as it stretches along the seam between Silwan and West Jerusalem and serves as the main entrance into the neighborhood from this direction. In recent years, there has been an increase of tourism projects in and around this location promoted by the government and the Elad settler organization, which together create a more seamless link between West Jerusalem and Elad's constellation of settlement sites in Silwan.
In addition to Elad's "House in the Valley" complex, which serves as an Israeli event hall and cultural space on the slopes of A-Thuri, the organization most recently opened an experiential activity center called "Farm in the Valley," (#32A on map) where Elad holds "ancient agricultural" demonstrations in Wadi Rababa approximately 100 meters below the "House in the Valley." For its establishment, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) conveyed national park land in the area to Elad without the issuance of a tender, and the site has now been fenced off and closed to area residents. A promenade (#34 on map) constructed a few years ago by the Jerusalem Municipality strategically connects Elad's "House in the Valley" complex with the Jerusalem Cinemateque, a popular cultural establishment in West Jerusalem.
A second promenade is currently being built by the INPA, which will extend from the "Farm in the Valley" facility towards the City of David and the "Pilgrim's Way" tunnel (#28 on map) which Elad is excavating beneath Palestinian homes in Wadi Hilweh, Silwan. A portion of this promenade is being constructed on land seized by the Israeli Custodian for Absentee Property (#41 on map). The planned suspension bridge will then connect the "House in the Valley" directly to this new promenade. While currently pending a Supreme Court decision, the planned cable car (#35 on map) is likewise a project spearheaded by Elad and state bodies to funnel visitors from West Jerusalem over Wadi Rababa into the organization's hub of settlement activity in Silwan.
Together these initiatives will thus serve to further bolster Elad's control of this area and convert the space between A-Thori and Silwan from a Palestinian environs into an Israeli tourist site and entry point into the settlement ring around the Old City. Moreover, the new pedestrian bridge is designed to create an allusion of a contiguous Israeli environment which spans from West Jerusalem to Silwan, drawing Israelis and tourists alike over an invisible Green Line and facilitating seamless access to Elad's City of David and network of settlement sites in the neighborhood.
Particularly in the Old City Basin, the most politically and religiously sensitive area of Jerusalem, the co-optation of tourism is increasingly used as a tool to reinforce settler presence inside Palestinian neighborhoods, expand Jewish settlement and erode the Palestinian nature of the space. It is therefore vital that the traditional calculus of settlement building be adjusted to likewise include touristic settlement as a form of settlement expansion, which serves to further solidify Israeli control of the area and undermine any future political resolution on the city.