The haredi enclave of Ramat Shlomo in northeast Jerusalem was buzzing with commotion on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after an Interior Ministry decision to approve 1,600 new homes in the neighborhood drew international condemnation and became fodder for national and international news outlets alike.
The quiet neighborhood’s daily routine was suddenly shattered by the appearance of the press horde – reporters and camera crews – who had come to get a first-hand look at the piece of land where the now-infamous construction plans are set to take place.
Interactions between the two groups were unavoidably awkward, as men came out of their yeshivot to stare at the news crews and their equipment.
“How did you all get up here without passports?” an older haredi man, who had wandered up to a group of reporters asked wryly. “Don’t you know this is Palestinian territory?”
When the reporters laughed him off, the man took a more serious tone, and pointing down into the valley where the 1,600 news housing units are planned to go up, said, “Who else is going to build down there? Even dogs don’t go down there, only squirrels.”
“[Former Jerusalem Mayor] Teddy Kolleck, who was the leftist of the leftists, would be turning over in his grave right now, if he knew that this was even being debated,” the man continued. “If we can’t build here, then tell me, please, where can we build?”
Eli Diskin, a Ramat Shlomo resident and real estate developer who was involved with the first wave of building that swept the neighborhood in the early 1990s, told The Jerusalem Post that 1,600 new housing units “wouldn’t even be enough” to deal with the overflowing population of the neighborhood.
“I don’t think it even needs to be explained,” Diskin said.
“Construction in Ramat Shlomo began in 1993, and now there are 2,200 families or roughly 16,000 people living here,” he continued.
“Each family averages between seven and eight members, and frankly, there is nowhere left for people to live. If someone gets married, if they have more kids, where are they supposed to go? They have to leave the neighborhood,” he said, adding, “And if we can’t build here, where are we supposed to build?”
Diskin’s sentiments were echoed by every other Ramat Shlomo resident who spoke to the Post on Wednesday.
“If this is not an inseparable part of Jerusalem, than what is?” asked Pini Gamliel, a shopkeeper on the neighborhood’s HaAdmor M’Lubavitch Street. “Where do they want us to put our houses?”
Nearby, at a Chabad synagogue constructed as an exact duplicate of the entrance to the hassidic movement’s famous yeshiva at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, Mendy Hechtman told the Post that he felt American diplomats and others critical of the decision to continue building in Ramat Shlomo should come and see the neighborhood for themselves.
“Once you get here, you can easily see that this is simply another neighborhood in Jerusalem,” Hechtman said. “But the media makes it seem like this is some kind of far-removed settlement, when in reality it’s right next to Ramot.”
Later on Wednesday afternoon, MK Danny Danon (Likud) toured the neighborhood before speaking to reporters.
“President Obama and Vice President Biden will not dictate to Israel
when and where to build in Jerusalem,” Danon said. “I have no doubt
that in the next few years, there will be thousands of new housing
units in Ramat Shlomo.”
“The Palestinians are trying to turn every construction project into an
international incident, even though construction in Jerusalem is as
natural as it would be in any other city.”