JERUSALEM Feb 16 (JMCC) - Worry has set in for merchants at one of Jerusalem’s main thoroughfares as word spreads of major new Israeli excavations in the area.
Shopkeepers at Damascus Gate and al-Wad Street, the main street leading down to the al-Aqsa mosque, say that a municipality official warned them of plans for new infrastructure works.
The works will require them to close their shops for two years until excavations are completed, they said.
The owner of a fresh juice shop at Damascus Gate who asked that his name not be used says the planned excavations are to repair damage to an underground cistern network that is leaking rainwater.
“In the end, we’ll be the ones affected by the new excavations,” he says, “as we will have to close our shops for two years.”
“Even if we don’t,” he continues “nobody will come for fear of the excavations.”
WORRY & UNCERTAINTY
A committee of local residents met Tuesday with city officials, who confirmed the existence of plans to rebuild the Damascus Gate infrastructure.
Local merchants told the city that they saw no need for new construction. Major infrastructure works were completed around Damascus Gate in 1978 and 1979.
In addition, such measures would exacerbate already-existing conflicts between the city and merchants, who are being asked to pay back taxes despite the economic downturn.
A city engineer told the group that the excavations are planned for 2011, pending the proper authorization.
CONTROL BY CONSTRUCTION
No infrastructure plans have been published, says Ziad Hammouri of the
Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights. Nevertheless, rumors of possible disruptions are causing severe anxiety for Jerusalem residents.
Just below Damascus Gate, excavations of a Roman-era road are underway.
The center believes that planned excavations are linked to a series of digs bring carried out by Israeli authorities just outside the Old City and at Bab il-Khalil. The network of tunnels has been damaged by water seepage, which could threaten structural collapse.
Police also plan to install 150 surveillance cameras, some in the tunnels themselves, to augment approximately 500 cameras installed in the alleys and streets of the Old City.
If implemented, the new infrastructure works will extend from Damascus Gate to the Western Wall square adjacent to the al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinians suspect that it will serve to implement greater Israeli control over the area, connecting the approximately 70 Israeli settlements within the Old City walls.
Palestinians have boycotted city government since Israel occupied the eastern half of Jerusalem in 1967.
Suspicion and tension marks their relationship to municipal planning, which they say is implemented to serve the city’s Jewish majority.