When Israel celebrates its centennial anniversary, its citizens will undoubtedly stare in awe at the buildings that have withstood the test of time and are part of a distinct Israeli history. They may not even be aware, however, of the sites that have been destroyed and replaced with high-rise luxury apartment buildings. Located on the corner of King George and Hillel streets, Beit Frumin, a modest, ageing structure, stands modestly. But the future of the building - in which Israel's 120 Knesset members debated issues and passed legislation before the construction of the current Knesset building was completed in 1966 - is in jeopardy. Beit Frumin has housed a host of government offices, including the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is currently home to the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court. In 1992, the city of Jerusalem sold Beit Frumin for NIS 10 million to a private contractor and developer, Ilan Rajwan, who since 1998 has planned to turn the historical site into a luxury apartment complex. But a group of MKs, led by Ran Cohen (Meretz-Yahad), is fervently opposing the destruction of the old Knesset building. Cohen's connection to Beit Frumin goes back many years, "to when I was a child in Jerusalem." "The first place my parents took me to was Beit Frumin," he says. Cohen, who made aliya from Iraq in 1950, says he believes that Beit Frumin stands as an example of Israel's democratic principles. "The walls of Beit Frumin are cemented with stories and emotions," says Cohen, who believes Beit Frumin is one of the country's most important structures. "This was the Knesset of Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, and Golda Meir." While Cohen claims many MKs from across the political spectrum support his cause, he did not specify which MKs were involved. Much of Cohen's support is coming from the Society for the Preservation of Israeli Heritage Sights (SPIHS). "Beit Frumin is the beginning of Jerusalem as our capital," Shlomo Hillel, speaker of the 11th Knesset and now president of SPIHS, told In Jerusalem. "Students go to the Western Wall [and] Yad Vashem and should go to Beit Frumin as well." In January 2005 the Knesset Museum Bill - calling for government funding to clean, protect, and preserve the former Knesset building as a museum - was approved in a first reading, but has not yet been passed. Meanwhile, the building remains in limbo. Cohen says two possible solutions have been proposed. The first would involve a "buy back," whereby either the Israeli Government or the city of Jerusalem would buy Beit Frumin from the contractor for an undisclosed amount. The second solution is a compromise that allows construction on upper floors while preserving the bottom floor. While Cohen and other MKs may be satisfied with the latter solution, the SPIHS is not. The society's position "is to keep the building as it is," spokesman Shachar Hermelin told IJ. "Do not build anything there. There should be some rebuilding, some new paint, and that's it. It must be preserved as a museum." Cohen, who adamantly believes in the importance of preserving the building in some way, adds, "It is important for every citizen to be knowledgeable about the history of the State of Israel. We need to preserve the site so that the children of today can be the teachers of the children of tomorrow." As Jerusalem tries to develop as a modern, multicultural metropolis while maintaining its character, battles over the preservation of its historic buildings are becoming more and more frequent. One of the parties facing this dilemma are the owners and developers of the Jerusalem of Gold luxury apartment complex, which will be completed within the next three years . The 90-apartment building on Rehov Rabbi Akiva "will be the city's most luxurious complex," says part owner and project spokesperson Yoram Schechter. "This is the first time you have a modern building which takes Jerusalem atmosphere and adds to the city. It really looks [like] 'Jerusalem,'" says Schechter. Interestingly enough, the Jerusalem of Gold project includes preserving the surrounding historical buildings. "There are around five or six historical buildings. Some will be connected to the new complex and others will be free standing," notes Schecther. "It has always been in our plans to preserve these buildings. We are preserving them as they are and we will certainly find good uses for them. They have a unique architecture which we need to preserve." He did not specify which historical buildings were being preserved. Getting approval for the complex was not too difficult according to Schechter, on the condition that they restored the historical buildings. "We will be bringing them back to their original state," he promises. Renowned Jerusalem architect and planner David Kroyanker has been involved in Jerusalem's structural preservation and worked with developer Ilan Rajwan in the Beit Frumin dispute. He also sat on the committee that advocated for the building to remain a museum on the first floor and an apartment complex above. "Almost every historical building has a preservation plan," explains Kroyanker. "The problem is that the preservation system is very weak in Jerusalem." According to Kroyanker, the system functioned well in the 1970s under the auspices of former Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek. "Back then there were many preservation ideas for the city which were enforced." The enforcement of historical preservation has deteriorated specifically in recent years because of "political and financial connections," says Kroyanker. "The solution," he explains, "is to get a committee with a proper budget to oversee building preservation. There needs to be some political planning as well." Nevertheless, Kroyanker claims, it is never too late to preserve Jerusalem's modern historical buildings and architecture. After all, if they are destroyed they will become ancient history.

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