Up until 1967 this was Jordanian territory – the property, a forgotten remnant
of The War of Independence. On it still stands a building that once housed the
Jordanian police academy. Since ’67, when the land came under Israeli control,
it hasn’t been dealt with at all by the Jerusalem planning authorities, and is
designated vaguely as “area for future planning.”
hectares in area, the site is state-owned, administered by the Israel Lands
Administration – Jerusalem Region. No written lease exists nor do any building
rights pertain to it today.
Public roads surround the property. The
Ammunition Hill light rail station with its adjacent “park and ride” car park,
soon to be expanded to contain some 600 spaces, is just a short walk
We are speaking here of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
storage facility just north of Ma’alot Dafna (over the Green Line). The
facility, which is of a clear industrial character, made up of warehouses in
temporary structures and some offices, is today situated in the very midst of
two Jewish neighborhoods – Ma’alot Dafna and Kiryat Aryeh. Fenced off, it blocks
access from these neighborhoods to Ammunition Hill National Memorial Site and
the René Cassin High School just opposite.
The UNRWA compound is, to say
the least, totally incompatible with its surrounds.
Were the facility to
be relocated, the site could then be developed as a new Jewish
Atarot offers many advantages in regard to the relocation
of the facility as many large state-owned properties designated for industrial
land use in the New Jerusalem Master Plan are readily available there. UNRWA
could thus be offered a much larger site than the one it presently occupies.
Their new facility would also be in closer proximity to the road to Ramallah and
the Palestinian refugee camps it is mandated to serve. No one is suggesting
getting rid of UNRWA, only moving its Jerusalem storage facility to a far more
logical location, to their great benefit and ours.
The proposed new
residential neighborhood, comprising some 400 housing units, associated public
buildings, public and private open space, would be of medium to high density.
Its openspace system with a large public park at its center would tie the new
neighborhood as well as the existing ones – Ma’alot Dafna and Kiryat Aryeh, via
the site, to Ammunition Hill and René Cassin. Importantly, enabling vehicular
access to the new development won’t require building any new public roads;
widening the existing ones will do. The fact that a very large car park and
light rail station are close by will ease the private parking requirement
demands of the municipality, making the project most economical.
while no one has questioned the merits of this proposal, there’s a tiny problem:
The main obstacle to the project’s development, in spite of the fact that the
property is state-owned, is of course, political.
Israel’s relations with
the UN and UNRWA are, as we all know, most sensitive. The Israel Lands
Administration and the Jerusalem Development Authority, for example, won’t make
the slightest move without a high-level government decision. Yet clearly, in
order to take a decision the government needs to be presented with concrete and
detailed alternatives. Catch 22.
Paralyzed by fear of the UN, the
project has either been simply ignored or transferred over the years from one
government agency to the other. Even the small initial step of identifying
alternative sites suitable to the UNRWA facility’s relocation has not been
taken. So that at this very late date, Jerusalem, in dire need of new
residential developments, lies in waiting.
Forty-six years have passed
since the Six Day War, during which time the entire area surrounding the UNRWA
compound, stuck here like a bone in the throat, has been transformed and
Isn’t it time we had that bone removed and correct this
anomaly by completing this important urban area appropriately? A modicum of
political courage can make a modern Jewish neighborhood here a
The writer is an architect and town planner in Jerusalem.