Palestinians to announce a list of heritage sites in urgent need of protection from Israeli violations.
Jerusalem – Running a finger over a new tourist map of Jerusalem’s Old City, Husam Jubran counted a number of cultural and holy sites and compared them with an old version of the map, both issued by Israel’s tourism ministry.
Side by side, the maps are starkly different. The old version, released earlier this year, was heavily criticised for promoting an Israeli-settler narrative of the Old City and its environs.
It featured a crowded design and a key listing 57 sites across the Old City and surrounding neighbourhoods. Most of the labelled sites were of little interest to tourists, including yeshivas, or centres for the study of the Torah, and buildings managed by radical Jewish settler organisations. At the same time, the key failed to locate important holy sites for Christian and Muslim visitors, including al-Aqsa Mosque and the Stations of the Cross.
The new version, recently released by Israel’s tourism ministry, is slicker and enlarges some of the key holy sites that draw millions of visitors to Jerusalem each year.
“You have all the Christian sites, all the Muslim sites – they are even avoiding the controversial words like Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, which I think is good,” said Jubran, a tour guide who has worked in Israel and the Palestinian territories since 1999.
Examining the old map beside the new one, Jubran noted that the new map was a “huge improvement”.
“It is more inclusive … I doubt any Palestinian guide would willingly give the old map to tourists,” he added. “It lists sites that Palestinians consider settlements.”
The updated map highlights Al-Aqsa, the route of the Stations of the Cross and the Church of St Anne, while removing sites associated with right-wing settler organisations such as Ateret Cohanim, which aims to replace Palestinian residents of the city with Jewish settlers.
Without acknowledging a problem with the old version, Israel’s tourism ministry told Al Jazeera that it had run out of stock of the old map and began to distribute the new one instead.
However, spokeswoman Lydia Weitzman said that the map highlighting al-Aqsa and removing some settler sites was “only a temporary version”, noting: “The tourism ministry is currently working on a new version for printing and distributing to tourists and visitors to the Old City.”
Weitzman declined to respond to further queries on the matter, including whether the next version of the map would be closer to the older, more controversial version.
Although the version currently being distributed is more inclusive than the old one, the representation of the City of David Park is still problematic, said Ir Amim, the Israeli human rights NGO which gives tours of occupied East Jerusalem.
While the park is part of Israel’s national parks network, the daily management of the site has been contracted out to Elad, a private organisation that works to buy and take over Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and to settle Jewish families in their place.
The park is located in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, but this community is not represented at all on the map. Instead, the City of David Park appears to be surrounded by open green space.
It literally obscures the fact that the park is located in a Palestinian neighbourhood. It not only erases their narrative, but obscures their very existence.
“What is most egregious is the omission of Silwan, because there is just empty space where Silwan is. It makes it look as though they have eradicated the neighbourhood, supplanting it with City of David, which is a settler-run tourist site,” Betty Herschman, the director of international relations and advocacy at Ir Amim, told Al Jazeera.
“It literally obscures the fact that the park is located in a Palestinian neighbourhood. It not only erases their narrative, but obscures their very existence.”
In October, UNESCO, the UN’s world heritage agency, adopted a resolution that criticised Israeli policies in Jerusalem, including Israel’s failure to stop excavation works in and around the Old City.
UNESCO also criticised Israel for approving a number of East Jerusalem tourist projects run by settler organisations, including the Kedem Centre, a controversial plan advanced by Elad to build a massive visitor centre in Silwan across the street from the City of David Park. Herschman warned that this plan was designed to entrench the presence of settlers within Silwan, while marginalising Palestinian residents.
“You have City of David on one side of the street and then you’re going to have another massive Elad-run operation – the Kedem Compound – on the other, functioning like a gatepost to Silwan,” she said. “Visitors won’t go past there, they won’t see Silwan, they won’t see the grievous condition which the neighbourhood is in; poverty rate near 80 percent, no schools, no sidewalks, leaving children to walk on the street. They won’t see all of that.”