view of Jerusalem, Old City 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Residents of the Ein Kerem neighborhood of Jerusalem celebrated on Thursday when an appeals committee found that 25 percent of a building for public toilets built over Second Temple ruins must be demolished.
The 314-square-meter building in question is located across from Mary’s Well, a spot holy for Christians that attracts upwards of a million pilgrims each year. The building is part of a plan from the Tourism Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality to further develop the area and make it more accessible for tourists. It will include an enlarged plaza, public toilets and a municipality gardening storage facility.
Residents claim that the development will irrevocably change the character of the neighborhood, and discourage tourists who want to see the landscape as it looked in the time of Jesus.
The site is a point of tension for the city, which is trying to strike a balance between preservation and development.
“This is good news,” said the head of the Ein Kerem resident’s council, Ben Ofarim, on Thursday, after receiving word of the decision handed down by the appeals branch of the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee.
“We’d prefer that it’d be 100% [demolition], but to expect that the district committee that’s part of the government, to confront the other side of the government with 100% [demolition] is a little exaggerated, so we’re happy with what we got,” he said.
Residents had argued that the future public toilets were built over Second Temple ruins of a well-preserved irrigation system that used the water from Mary’s Spring to grow fruit for the Old City. They have called the hulking structure “the monster,” and worry that it will be part of a larger plan that will eventually include restaurants and cafes, cheaply commercializing the holy site.
In August 2010, the city’s legal adviser put a stop-work order on the building after it was determined that the Tourism Ministry would not be able to build a ramp to the bathrooms to make them handicap accessible, as required by law, because of the archeological ruins.
“We found game-changing archeological finds,” said Ofarim. “Anyone who
has eyes and a brain in their head should have said: ‘Let’s stop and
make a new plan.’ We really hope that the Tourism Ministry and the
municipality will do that after they got a red card from the appeals
committee,” he added.
A spokeswoman for the Tourism Ministry said it was also pleased that the
appeals committee allowed the majority of the building to remain, and
would examine the part for demolition over the coming week. She stressed
that the ministry has been working in conjunction with the residents
for more than 20 years on a development program for the area around
Mary’s spring, and that the cooperation would continue after the appeals
“We will continue working in cooperation with the residents – in good
spirits – and together will develop this area, which is a site that is
very important for tourism,” she said.