To build or not to build?

This week has provided us with an exciting development around the Beit Yehonatan issue. The building, acquired by Jewish residents who illegally added four more stories, has been slated for demolition by the High Court of Justice. Recently, Mayor Nir Barkat, who openly said he wanted to save the structure from demolition, presented a new plan for the neighborhood of Silwan (where Beit Yehonatan is located). The plan would allow Arab residents to add up to two stories to their existing buildings and enables a retroactive approval of illegal construction. In return, the Jewish residents’ house will be saved from demolition.

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Municipal attorney Yossi Havilio reacted harshly to the proposal and called the plan no less than “a flagrant violation of the law.” Since then, everything has been upside down at Kikar Safra: Havilio’s position is supported by the attorney-general (Menahem Mazuz before he left), state attorney  Moshe Lador and… the head of the opposition on the city council, once a friend of Barkat and the Jewish residents and a fierce opponent of Havilio and today the only supporter of the municipal attorney. On the other side, representatives of the Left, once the best supporters of Havilio on the city council, have split into two camps. The more radical part, represented by city council member Meir Margalit, supports the mayor and even wrote an op-ed on Ynet asking him to refrain from evicting the Jewish residents from Silwan, while deputy mayor and head of the Meretz party on the city council, Pepe Allalu, says that the law should be respected, though he has in the past given reluctant support for the plan.

On Monday, the official announcement about the closure of the Jewish building was supposed to be made, but another deputy mayor, Kobi Kahlon (also head of the planning and building committee), decided to stop everything. In the meantime, Mayor Barkat sent a letter (which rapidly found its way  into the press) stating that he would, under protest, implement the court’s decision, but added that he would enforce the some 200 pending demolition orders for illegal construction in the Arab sector as well, warning that this lawful act might cause a lot of resentment in the area. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) miraculously found a way to save Beit Yehonatan from demolition: The district planning and constructing committee, which is in his charge, has the authority to “legalize” the illegal construction. That is exactly what Margalit and his friends were afraid of – a solution to legalize the Jewish houses that would not also include a rather generous plan for the Arab population as well, as intended in the mayor’s original plan. Stay tuned, there’ll be more.

Pisgat Ze’ev rails against the light rail

The roadworks for the light rail that have turned the lives of the residents – merchants and pedestrians alike – into a nightmare are usually associated in our minds only with the city center. No more. The works are also affecting the commercial workings of Pisgat Ze’ev. According to the neighborhood merchants’ association, some of the veteran shops have had to close down due to a huge drop in income, while others are barely making it or are considering shutting down as well. The situation is so dire that the chairman of the merchants association, Moshe Shneor, announced last week that the association is considering suing the company responsible for the project. Shneor, No. 2 in the Pisgat Ze’ev On the Map party, represented by Yael Antebi on the city council, said that all the promises made by the new administration at Kikar Safra regarding the light rail roadworks have not yet been fulfilled, due mainly to the deadline for completion of the whole project, which has long passed.

Cleaner and greener

The municipality will invest NIS 80,000 in developing a new program to deal with the city’s garbage. Following a special meeting between Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan and Mayor Nir Barkat during the minister’s official visit to the capital last week, both agreed that the Abu Dis garbage dump had to be closed soon. Erdan stressed that improving recycling in the capital was a top priority of his office, adding that the Abu Dis location was “the last one in the country to operate under such primitive conditions.” According to the mayor’s vision, a three-year plan to reorganize the city’s entire garbage removal system will soon be set in motion, and within two years a modern recycling site will be constructed. Will the vision of separate recycling bins in the streets of Jerusalem soon become a reality?


Equal opportunity employment

People with disabilities are now welcome at the municipality – not only as residents who appeal to the local administration to solve day-to-day problems, but also as employees.

At a special meeting of the city council with experts in the field, led by city council member and holder of the disabled residents portfolio, Laura Wharton (Meretz), the first of its kind, a decision to serve as an example to the population was adopted. Wharton and Rivka Sneh, founder and leader of Yated, the association to promote the needs and rights of people with Down syndrome , presented the council with a detailed program aimed at hiring people with disabilities. First the municipality has to ensure a viable environment, both physically and personally. Employers in different departments have to be trained in how to work efficiently with the disabled. Mayor Nir Barkat contacted his coalition members and high-ranking professionals to encourage them to expand their hiring policy, adding that in his own office people with disabilities have been employed for quite some time.
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