Since ’67, when the land came under Israeli control, one building hasn’t been dealt with at all by the Jerusalem planning authorities.

August 14, 2013 21:37
3 minute read.
Ammunition Hill

Ammunition Hill 521. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Up until 1967 this was Jordanian territory – the property, a forgotten remnant of The War of Independence. On it still stands a building that once housed the Jordanian police academy. Since ’67, when the land came under Israeli control, it hasn’t been dealt with at all by the Jerusalem planning authorities, and is designated vaguely as “area for future planning.”

Three-and-a-half hectares in area, the site is state-owned, administered by the Israel Lands Administration – Jerusalem Region. No written lease exists nor do any building rights pertain to it today.

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Public roads surround the property. The Ammunition Hill light rail station with its adjacent “park and ride” car park, soon to be expanded to contain some 600 spaces, is just a short walk away.

We are speaking here of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency storage facility just north of Ma’alot Dafna (over the Green Line). The facility, which is of a clear industrial character, made up of warehouses in temporary structures and some offices, is today situated in the very midst of two Jewish neighborhoods – Ma’alot Dafna and Kiryat Aryeh. Fenced off, it blocks access from these neighborhoods to Ammunition Hill National Memorial Site and the René Cassin High School just opposite.

The UNRWA compound is, to say the least, totally incompatible with its surrounds.

Were the facility to be relocated, the site could then be developed as a new Jewish neighborhood.

Atarot offers many advantages in regard to the relocation of the facility as many large state-owned properties designated for industrial land use in the New Jerusalem Master Plan are readily available there. UNRWA could thus be offered a much larger site than the one it presently occupies. Their new facility would also be in closer proximity to the road to Ramallah and the Palestinian refugee camps it is mandated to serve. No one is suggesting getting rid of UNRWA, only moving its Jerusalem storage facility to a far more logical location, to their great benefit and ours.

The proposed new residential neighborhood, comprising some 400 housing units, associated public buildings, public and private open space, would be of medium to high density. Its openspace system with a large public park at its center would tie the new neighborhood as well as the existing ones – Ma’alot Dafna and Kiryat Aryeh, via the site, to Ammunition Hill and René Cassin. Importantly, enabling vehicular access to the new development won’t require building any new public roads; widening the existing ones will do. The fact that a very large car park and light rail station are close by will ease the private parking requirement demands of the municipality, making the project most economical.

But while no one has questioned the merits of this proposal, there’s a tiny problem: The main obstacle to the project’s development, in spite of the fact that the property is state-owned, is of course, political.

Israel’s relations with the UN and UNRWA are, as we all know, most sensitive. The Israel Lands Administration and the Jerusalem Development Authority, for example, won’t make the slightest move without a high-level government decision. Yet clearly, in order to take a decision the government needs to be presented with concrete and detailed alternatives. Catch 22.

Paralyzed by fear of the UN, the project has either been simply ignored or transferred over the years from one government agency to the other. Even the small initial step of identifying alternative sites suitable to the UNRWA facility’s relocation has not been taken. So that at this very late date, Jerusalem, in dire need of new residential developments, lies in waiting.

Forty-six years have passed since the Six Day War, during which time the entire area surrounding the UNRWA compound, stuck here like a bone in the throat, has been transformed and modernized.

Isn’t it time we had that bone removed and correct this anomaly by completing this important urban area appropriately? A modicum of political courage can make a modern Jewish neighborhood here a reality.

The writer is an architect and town planner in Jerusalem.

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