By a narrow margin, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee on Wednesday approved the construction of a yeshiva campus in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, beyond the Green Line.
The Glassman campus, as the 10,000 sq.m. complex is known, is set to include 12 floors and be built on a vacant lot adjacent to the yeshiva’s current Ohr Somayach campus on Shimon Hatzadik Street. It will include dormitories and classrooms.
Although the land is owned by the Israel Lands Authority, the Jerusalem Planning Department and numerous city council members have vocally opposed the construction, repeatedly attempting to postpone the vote in consideration of peace negotiations.
Noting the sensitivity of Jewish settlement in Sheikh Jarrah, Dr. Meir Margalit (Meretz), who heads the east Jerusalem Portfolio, summarily dismissed the decision to build another yeshiva there as a “clear provocation” against the neighborhood’s Palestinian residents.
“Building a yeshiva in the middle of Sheikh Jarrah is the wrong decision,” said Margalit by phone Wednesday. “It’s such a sensitive place, and there is no room for a yeshiva, because settlers are trying to take control [of the neighborhood] and the Supreme Court has already expelled Palestinian families.”
In September of 2010 a panel of three Supreme Court judges ruled that 30 Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah between Nablus Road and Highway 1 belonged to Jewish owners, resulting in the ongoing expulsion of Arab families.
The ruling ostensibly removed the final obstacle preventing Jewish owners from taking over the land and houses, resulting in a protracted legal battle to overturn the decision by nearly a dozen Palestinian families who have lived in the neighborhood prior to 1948.
Since the first three Palestinian families were evicted, the activist group Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement has actively worked to reverse the ruling, to little avail.
According to Margalit, the timing of the decision could not be more ill advised.
“The message this sends to Palestinians and the world is that Israel does not really want to come to an agreement,” he said.
“This is one of the more politically minded Palestinian neighborhoods that is also the focus of the international community. It’s not the right place to open a yeshiva, and it’s not the right timing.”
Stating that the yeshiva “supports the settlers’ goal,” Margalit added that the move is part of a strategy to surround the Old City with Jewish “settlements.”
“They’re not doing this because it’s a holy place but to undermine any political solution in the future,” he claimed.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s spokeswoman, Brachie Sprung, defended the municipality’s decision to build there as a process that has been “years in the making” and that will not come to fruition for several more years to come.
“This was not a formal approval. It’s part of a long process that will take two or three more years, and at least six more committees that a private contractor will have to go through,” she said.
Dismissing Margalit’s assertion that Wednesday’s decision was a provocation, Sprung emphasized that the approval was based “on one criteria alone: if the building fits [regulatory] standards, not if it is for an Arab or a Jew.”
“We do not discriminate when we build,” she added. “There is no provocation here.”