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Israel using tourism to legitimise illegal settlements, says EU report

Diplomats say Jerusalem is being turned into a 'commercial theme park', and pushes a narrative that ignores Islam and Palestinian culture
A Palestinian woman prays outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City (Reuters)

Israel is developing archaeological and tourism sites to legitimise illegal settlements in Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, EU diplomats in the city have warned.

The report, leaked to the Gaurdian newspaper, says projects in parts of occupied East Jerusalem were being used "as a political tool to modify the historical narrative and to support, legitimise and expand settlements".

Government institutions and private settler organisations had created a number of projects which the report said promotes a "narrative based on historic continuity of the Jewish presence in the area at the expense of other religions and cultures".

East Jerusalem is the only place where Israeli national parks are declared on populated neighbourhoods

- EU Heads of Mission report

It cited the "City of David" project, a government-funded archeological park in the Palestinian area of Silwan that provides tours in the ruins of ancient Jerusalem. Silwan is home to 10,000 Palestinians and 450 heavily guarded illegal settlers.

The park is operated by a settler organisation and promotes "an exclusively Jewish narrative, while detaching the place from its Palestinian surroundings", the EU report said.

The report, written annually, identified settler-run excavation sites in majority-Palestinian districts and the designation of built-up urban areas as "national parks".

"East Jerusalem is the only place where Israeli national parks are declared on populated neighbourhoods," the report said.

The report, which is written annually, said Israel had demolished 130 building, ejecting 228 Palestinians from their homes.

A strict Israeli permit scheme and record numbers of illegal settlement plans meant "the city has largely ceased to be the Palestinian economic, urban and commercial centre it used to be".

The report also cited a project, approved in May, to build a cable car that would connect West Jerusalem to the Old City, an area internationally recognised as occupied. One stop would be 130 metres from the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site in Islam.

The EU heads of mission said the initial service was expected to be operational by 2020, and would then be extended further into East Jerusalem.

"Critics have described the project as turning the World Heritage Site of Jerusalem into a commercial theme park while local Palestinian residents are absent from the narrative being promoted to the visitors," the heads of mission report said.

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