Jerusalem residents were recently reminded how, for “political reasons,” projects can sometimes end up a far cry from the original plan. Despite being an eternal city that could subsist on food for the soul alone, an initiative to open a local “Cinema City” was nevertheless approved and advanced. Anywhere else on the planet the only relevant considerations would have been financial and planning issues, but here, besides the inevitable what-do-we-need-another-place-of-moral-depravity reactions in the city council or the predictable debates over where and under whose auspices it should operate, the major concern that eventually arose was – you guessed it – would it be open on Shabbat?

Any publicly funded project in Jerusalem must take into account Shabbat observance, which means that there was never any way the cinema city would be open on Shabbat. And thus, the desire expressed by Deputy Mayor Pepe Allalu, for one, to see it operate on Shabbat was no more than wishful thinking. Just as the desire to see the theater closed on Shabbat expressed by another deputy mayor, David Hadari from Habayit Hayehudi, was part of the script. But politics has its prerogatives.

Since the project was originally conceived at Kikar Safra during former mayor Ehud Olmert’s term according to some sources, its purpose was also to persuade young and secular individuals and families to stay put: a movie theater at the entrance to the city, as a symbolic way to prevent people from leaving town. But would a modern cineplex be reason enough to stay? Weren’t we told all these years that lack of job opportunities, a second-rate education system and a unique stress syndrome caused by “the haredi invasion” of once-secular neighborhoods were the primary reasons for the migration from Jerusalem? The pressing need for a movie theater – was that the real reason?

In any case, the cinema project slowly but surely reached its final stages a few days ago at the Local Planning Committee – and was approved, on condition (surprise, surprise) that it remain closed on Shabbat. Besides the underlying question of whether it will still keep young residents from leaving (and if not, why spend our tax money on this extravagance?) one wonders why some people (the secular and left-wing parties in the city council, for instance) continue to be taken by surprise again and again, whereas anyone with the slightest knowledge of local politics should have anticipated this demand.

So, for the sake of those who still don’t get it, here are the rules: Any project that relies on public financial support has to take into consideration the sensitivity of the political game and its delicate equilibrium. Even before the religious bloc of the local coalition fully understood just what a cinema city is all about, it was clear they would never agree to its operation on Shabbat, which of course makes this idea to induce secular residents to remain in the capital a farce.

PRESERVATION OF historical sites is a serious issue, which calls for consultations with experts and of course – funding. At the local branch of the Society for the Preservation of Historical Sites there is an understanding that the current municipal administration is doing better on this issue. Better, but apparently not good enough: last week, the level of vandalism at the Old Train Station (dating from the Ottoman Period and which even made the national heritage sites list) has reached new heights: a fire was set inside, causing irreversible damage to the second floor. What is so aggravating in this case is that the Jerusalem Development Authority has already approved a plan to restore and renew the complex, and a tender will soon be issued. So what’s preventing the authority or the municipality from posting some guards there before it’s too late?
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