It is not going to happen immediately, and when it does, it will probably not be overly affordable, but new housing may become available in no less than central Tel Aviv. Anyone who passes by the Kirya military headquarters cannot help but notice the change.
The Defense Ministry and the IDF have finished clearing a section of what has since the state’s earliest days functioned as a governmental hub.
Much of the country’s bureaucratic nerve center long ago moved to Jerusalem and a high-rise at the Kirya’s edge houses numerous public-service offices.
But the defense establishment was entrenched in this corner of the city to which it had been effectively banished from other neighborhoods of Tel Aviv as part of an effort to improve the quality of life in days bygone.
Now a subdivision of structures had been demolished to make way for Israel’s tallest building and a light rail station. Until these structures are put up, the cleared areas will be used to alleviate the chronic parking shortage in town.
There is another rationale for the move away from the soft civilian underbelly. During the First Gulf War in 1990/91, Saddam Hussein’s Scuds terrorized the Dan Region. It is thought that the target they consistently missed was the Kirya.
This is just the first phase of a larger plan to relocate the entire Kirya defense and military presence to the periphery, mostly southward to the Negev.
An estimated 100,000 housing units and much business space are to be added to Tel Aviv. That we can now see physical evidence of the beginning of the move should hearten not only Tel Avivians but most Israelis.
The administrative center that the Kirya became already in pre-state days removed from the real estate equation significant stretches of land in the country’s most in-demand and bustling urban core.
This began when the British Mandate authorities took over the area during World War II. It started out as Sarona, a German Templer farming colony established in 1871, just when Charles Netter was building his Mikveh Israel Agricultural School not too far away, thereby kick-starting the Zionist endeavor.
Predating Tel Aviv by 28 years, Sarona became a Nazi stronghold during the time of the Third Reich, giving the lie to claims that Germans were coerced to further Hitler’s designs. The British deported Sarona’s Germans to Australia and the area became a key Mandatory facility, inherited first by Israel’s embryonic government and later by the IDF.
Initially, the defense establishment was ensconced in various Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv addresses. Only in the summer of 1949 did a sluggish process begin of moving military and defense installations to the Kirya. Fourteen IDF camps dotted Tel Aviv. Its municipality agitated ceaselessly to transfer them and free up the land.
In early 1953, the IDF General Staff headquarters started to move into the Kirya, a process then deemed as a vast improvement of conditions for Dan Region residents. In 1955, the Defense Ministry building was inaugurated and, six-stories tall, it dominated Tel Aviv’s skyline like a veritable skyscraper.
The city has come a long way since then and its urban sprawl had speedily overtaken the Kirya, once distant enough from downtown to accommodate the military complex.
Just as yesteryear the outcry was to move the camps to the Kirya, nowadays the call is to move them out.
From the state’s infancy the message, however, has been the same: free up land for development.
There is a sort of closure here. The first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, initially installed the defense establishment in Tel Aviv (for security reasons) and then oversaw the project of removing it to the Kirya.
His most fervent wish, however, was to see the Negev flourish. Now, with this final departure from Tel Aviv’s interior, the IDF will spearhead the fulfillment of Ben-Gurion’s dreams for the Negev. This is all part of an inexorable, historical dynamic – one in which all Israelis can take pride.