(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jerusalem city engineer Shlomo Eshkol tried to strike an optimistic note on Monday, during a Knesset Interior Affairs Committee meeting to discuss the current status of construction in the Holyland project.
“I suggest that you examine the Holyland question not through spectacles of beauty,” he told the MKs, even though he himself is an architect. “Look at Paris and its symbol, the Eiffel Tower. When it was built, there was a terrible outcry about it also.”
Not everyone in the room, however, was cheered by his somewhat surprising comparison.
“If this is what the Jerusalem city engineer has to say, I am very worried,” said Dov Henin (Hadash).
The committee met to discuss what measures could be taken at this point – most, but not all, of the buildings planned for the neighborhood have already been built.
The MKs did not have much to go on. Deputy Mayor Naomi Tzur informed the committee that the members of the local planning committee were due to meet in the afternoon to carefully examine the current situation and to see what, if anything, could be done.
Tzur said there were three towers still to be built in the project, two
of them 20 stories high and another, taller, structure. All of them had
“We are trying to look into the smallest details to see if we can prevent them from being built,” she added.
Eshkol later added that archaeological excavations were currently
taking place on the sites of the three buildings, a standard
requirement before construction can begin. The city, he said, had
suspended the excavations for the time being.
Tzur said that another issue the municipal representatives will have to
investigate was whether the city was empowered to cancel or reduce the
improvement tax as it did on behalf of the Holyland contractors.
“By doing so,” she said, “they cheated the poor people of Jerusalem who
were denied services the city could have provided with the money they
Many of the MKs were thinking ahead to the battle over the building and
planning reform initiated by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which
aims to speed up the planning process by removing many of the checks
and balances that exist in the current planning and building law.
Yaakov Edri (Kadima) said that it was good that the Holyland affair had erupted at this point.
“Otherwise, the coalition majority would have trampled all over us,” he
explained. “The Holyland was approved when there were two planning
committees. What will happen when there is only one?”
Aryeh Bibi (Kadima) called for an immediate stop to the planning and
construction of buildings of more than 22 stories. He warned that
Israel did not have ladders high enough to rescue occupants beyond that
height in case of fire.
Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said the Holyland project must be halted immediately.
“You have a chance to stop it,” he told Tzur, adding that he was not
opposed to high-rise buildings but that it depended where and how they
were built. “The Holyland is inappropriate,” he said. “You have the
chance to repair the awful impression created by these buildings,
especially when we know how they came about.”
Eitan Cabel (Labor) described the Holyland as a “thorn in the eye” and
said there should be as few such projects as possible in the country.
But, he added, that was not an easy task. “We know how hard real estate
people are. It is difficult to stand up to them. In the local planning
committees, everyone knows everyone. The discussion about the Holyland
project is a corridor leading to the planning reform. We have to give
weak people all the tools to help them cope with the pressure.”
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