Along the Armon Hanatziv Promenade 3,000 years of history and Jerusalem's nine measures of beauty go together. Lined with walking trails, dotted with shaded grassy areas for picnics, hands down the Promenade is the most show-stopping view in all of Jerusalem.

Traditionally, this is the site where Abraham first saw the Temple Mount on Mount Moriah. The unobstructed view of Jerusalem in all its glory: the view from the Old City to the desert to the south, the view from the promenade to the Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus, and the deep bed of what was once the Kidron stream, with a panoramic view of David's City, old and new, perched on a hill, surrounded by hills, is unique.

But for some, the ridge is merely valuable real estate that can make a fortune for its developers.

Along the Armon Hanatziv ridge are several promenades, funded by the Sherover, Haas and Goldman Foundations. The promenades, whose construction began in 1982 with contributions from the Haas family, were intended to preserve and promote Jerusalem's last undeveloped ridge by creating a green public space. They are now an integral part of the "Old City Basin" that surrounds and binds the Old City.

In 1967, after the Six Day War, the Jerusalem Municipality created Building Plan 9 which outlined the boundaries of the basin around the Old City to preserve the historic landscape which it deemed "biblical." The plan includes specific building codes and guidelines for preservation of the area. And in fact, since 1967, construction has largely followed those principles, has been limited to the southern slopes of the Armon Hanatziv Ridge and has avoided the northern slopes, which look out over the Old City.

According to Michael Turner, a teacher at the Bezalel School of Art and chairman of Israel's UNESCO World Heritage committee, this area is extremely sensitive, since it is the last open ridge surrounding Jerusalem and has great historical, political and aesthetic value.

"The area is a necropolis," he declares. "It was a place where people came to bury their dead because its geomorphology allowed the carving of tombs out of soft rock. The resurrection is historically supposed to come from this area and it was always the place where pilgrims and the Crusaders knelt and prayed and rent their garments upon seeing Jerusalem for the first time.

"It is where tradition tells us that Abraham had his first vision of the city on his way to sacrifice Isaac, and the Kidron and Gehinnom valleys are described in Ezekiel's vision of Kingdom Come. It is also the place where Jesus came after his wanderings in the desert."

According to Turner, this unique combination of desert and city is one of the most important elements of the site. "The ridge is still a traditional first stop on the way into Jerusalem. Many bus-loads of first-timers to the city go to the promenade first, where they often perform Sheheheyanu ceremonies of one form or another celebrating their arrival," he says.

Though the site's beauty and historic significance is clear, its tourism potential has not gone unnoticed by various developers, who over the years have concocted many plans for the area. In the recent past, three plans for the area have been hotly debated in the public sector. One plan calls for the building of a block of nine hotels on the ridge, another for a 160-meter tower and the third for a cable car in the valley below the promenade.

Like so many other development plans in Jerusalem, opposition to the plan has been spearheaded by the Jerusalem branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) together with other urban planning organizations.

Despite the attraction it would hold for these first-timers to the city who might want a closer glimpse of the legendary valley, the cable car plan has been tabled for now.

Building plan 5125 for a 1,700 meter cable car, designed by architect Jonathan Shiloni, was designed to connect Abu Tor to Jebl Mukaber and the hotels scheduled to be built on the site.

However, during his term as mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert promised the Richard Goldman Foundation, which has funded part of the Promenade, that no such cable car would be built.

In Jerusalem has learned that sources allied with the Goldman Foundation reminded Uri Lupolianski of this pledge not long after he was elected, and in November 2004 the Regional Planning and Construction Committee repealed the plan.

When the Regional Planning and Construction Committee brought the plan up again in the spring, the Goldman Foundation immediately sent a letter to the mayor, expressing its displeasure.

The plan, therefore, has been shelved again - at least for now, although municipal councilmen have acknowledged that the developer, A. Levy, has continued to lobby them to revive the project.

And although it is still alive, the "hotels on the ridge" plan has been severely curtailed by the National Planning and Construction Council - but the fate of the controversial tower remains unclear.

On September 6, The National Planning and Building Council convened to discuss two of the disputed initiatives: the bloc of hotels to be built across from the Haas Promenade on the ridge and the 160 meter observation tower.

The plan originally called for the construction of nine hotels with 3,500 rooms in a 500,000-square-meter area along the northern ridge, together with other tourist attractions. The brainchild of architects Pascal Broide, David Cassuto and Zev Sheinberg, the complex was designed with a 350-meter unbroken front, seven to 10 stories high, backed by a 22-story tower. The first four hotels are intended to have 1,650 rooms, which is equal to one quarter of all hotel rooms in the entire city of Tel Aviv.

According to Naomi Tsur, director of the Jerusalem Branch of the SPNI, the organization never objected to the hotel complex itself. It has, however, raised a series of three major objections to the plan.

First, the SPNI claims that the plan is too vague and allows for the possibility of severe departures from Building Plan 9. It further argued that the hotels' continuous nature and their height would interfere with views of the area.

In Jerusalem repeatedly attempted to contact the architects to discuss the plan with them, but received no response. In their Web site, the developers do claim that the view is part of Jerusalem's attraction for tourists and that people will visit Jerusalem and pay high prices in luxury hotels in order to enjoy it.

The SPNI also notes that the planned site was once home to the Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi Educational Farm, which was established in 1928 as an agricultural training institution for young female immigrants, and to the Arab Girls' College - both structures that should be preserved because of their special character and historical importance. The SPNI is therefore demanding that the developers build a museum in addition to the hotels.

The SPNI's third objection to the plan relates to the fact that the hotels are intended to be built along the watershed, which, since Roman times, has always been left open because of the traditional fear that Jerusalem would be left without water.

"In a city in which water was always a problem (and still is)," says Tsur, "this is another historical element of the ridge that needs to be preserved."

The decisions taken by the National Planning and Construction Council validated some of the SPNI's objections. The council nixed the 22-story tower, lowered all building to six stories and broke apart the contiguous face of the buildings. Additionally the council committed itself to investigating the possibilities of moving the hotels further back from the promenade to save some of the trees in the area and to provide less obstructed views.

But the issue of the tower remains open.

At that same meeting, the council was supposed to resolve the controversy regarding the Sela Observation Tower. Formally known as Municipal Building Plan 6178, the tower was designed by engineer Uzi Sela and architect Jonathan Shiloni in 1997. It is intended to be constructed near the "Hill of Evil Counsel," holy to the Christian faith, close to the High Commissioner's House near East Talpiot.

The tower is supposed to top 160 meters. Together with the planned communications tower, it would be about the height of the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv. A synagogue and restaurant are also planned, as well as Sabbath elevators to enable observant tourists to reach the top.

The developers argued that the tower would be a tourist attraction and a striking landmark, clearly visible on the Jerusalem skyline from everywhere in the city.

The view from the tower will extend from Ramallah in the north to Bethlehem in the south. The tower's planners also claim that, "From the observation floor, at 910m. above sea level, significant parts of the Old City are revealed, mainly those, which cannot be seen from ground level. Thus, one can see the Temple Mount, the roofs of the Old City, Western Wall, Armenian Quarter, etc.

"The possibility of seeing the Western Wall, every day, all day long, makes the tower very special, and increases its urban importance. At the same time, the tower is far enough from the walls of the Old City, and does not compete visually with them. The visual basin around the Old City will be preserved intact, and the southern mountain range will be panoramically and architecturally reinforced."

The planners contend that "the tower creates an interesting physical contrast as a vertical element in a horizontal landscape. This contract creates tension between the old and new, between natural and man-made elements and complements the picture of the sophisticated urban landscape... the tower makes a physical and spiritual connection between heaven and earth."

But Tsur says that "the tower utterly contradicts the values that Jerusalem represents. The magical views and the historic and holy sites are the city's true landmarks. There is no need for an observation tower to become the center of attraction."

According to procedure, the question of the tower should have been resolved several years ago.

When the plan for the tower was first approved by the Jerusalem District Planning Committee in October 2000, the SPNI and the Council for the Restoration and Preservation of Historic Sites in Israel launched a campaign against the plan, claiming the "total absence of a democratic process involving the public."

Funded by the Haas family, the SPNI put up stands throughout Jerusalem, staffed by lawyers so that citizens could register their objections accompanied by an affidavit, as required by law. Some 4,500 people signed the objection and planners, intellectuals and public figures - including former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, architect Shlomo Aronson (who designed the Sherover Promenade along the ridge), poet Haim Gouri, and environmental sculptor Danny Karavan - submitted another 200 personal objections.

This overwhelming number of objections was unprecedented. In response, in May 2002, the District Planning Committee decided to appoint architect Tibario David to investigate the plan. For a full year, David met with a number of the individuals and groups who had submitted objections and traveled to Paris and other cities to see "what towers look like."

But according to the SPNI, he heard only approximately 100 objections and refused to hear others, claiming he had not been given a budget for more. Thousands of individuals and organizations requested to appear before David, but were refused.

David did not respond to IJ's inquiries. Moreover, in his summary report, David dismissed the objections and seemed to attach importance only to considerations of real estate and finances.

He wrote, "In general (apart from a few cases or isolated issues), the objections to the Sela Tower are based on philosophical, spiritual, religious and historical grounds. Those who feel they will be injured by this plan do not put forward serious reasons that are based on property and real estate (land division, building rights, etc.); zoning; physical, economic, or financial damage; or harm to the livelihood of an organization or individual."

This conclusion, outraged SPNI officials say, is offensive. "The report has no bearing on reality. The author is completely alienated from the significance of this project and from what is truly important in Jerusalem," says Tsur.

The discussions continued. In sessions throughout 2003, the committee did agree that something should be built on the ridge, but rejected the specific plan for the Sela Tower, stating that, "The committee believes that due to the strategic location, on an international scale, it is fitting to conduct an international competition among the world's finest architects, to plan an observation tower at this site."

Initially, they appointed yet another committee, to be composed of the city engineer, the mayor, and the regional planner - not disinterested, objective parties, as the SPNI notes - who were empowered to commission plans at their discretion, including the original developers.

However, members of the National Planning and Construction Council opposed this decision, demanding that the plans be submitted in an open, landmark competition.

Since the SPNI is now resigned that the construction of some structure on the ridge is a fait accompli, Tsur says, it is demanding that, at the very least, "The competition has to be opened conceptually. It should be announced that there will be a competition for comprehensive planning of the ridge, which should not be restricted to a tower."

Likewise, she argues, "the judging should be open to members of the general public, those who love Jerusalem and who in their thousands took the trouble to sign objections in the presence of a lawyer, and whose voices were not heard by the District Planning Committee."

The Sela Tower company has been involved in various legal appeals in an attempt to open the competition in this manner.

The September 6 meeting of the National Planning and Construction Council, which is a higher authority than the District Committee, was supposed to resolve the fate of the entire hotel complex, including the question of the manner in which the tower or other structure would be decided.

But during that meeting, after discussing the hotels, the council members retired to closed chambers to discuss the tower and, by the time they emerged, the time allotted to the meeting had run out. The decision was postponed to the next meeting, held on September 27, but the issue was not raised at this meeting, either.

Officials at the National Planning and Construction Council have confirmed that the next meeting will take place on November 1.

At least until then, the fate of another potential development project in Jerusalem remains unresolved.

Unresolved, too, are the troubling political, social and economic questions regarding the balance between private development and the public interest; between the public's right to enjoy free access to sites such as the promenades and the developers' demands to make money; between the role of civil society organizations and the responsibility of public planning authorities; and between the city's need to generate revenue through development and tourism and its obligation to preserve Jerusalem's unique character for the generations to come.

Ironically, Tsur concludes, the November 1 meeting will occur during the week that the weekly Biblical portion of Noah will be read in synagogues. This portion includes the story of the Tower of Babel, and Tsur believes that the coincidence provides a lesson for all.

"Like the Tower of Babel, and like most towers throughout the world, this tower, too, is just another expression of our power and might and attempt to reach the heavens, disregarding what is important here on earth," she warns.Along the Armon Hanatziv Promenade 3,000 years of history and Jerusalem's nine measures of beauty go together. Lined with walking trails, dotted with shaded grassy areas for picnics, hands down the Promenade is the most show-stopping view in all of Jerusalem.

Traditionally, this is the site where Abraham first saw the Temple Mount on Mount Moriah. The unobstructed view of Jerusalem in all its glory: the view from the Old City to the desert to the south, the view from the promenade to the Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus, and the deep bed of what was once the Kidron stream, with a panoramic view of David's City, old and new, perched on a hill, surrounded by hills, is unique.

But for some, the ridge is merely valuable real estate that can make a fortune for its developers.

Along the Armon Hanatziv ridge are several promenades, funded by the Sherover, Haas and Goldman Foundations. The promenades, whose construction began in 1982 with contributions from the Haas family, were intended to preserve and promote Jerusalem's last undeveloped ridge by creating a green public space. They are now an integral part of the "Old City Basin" that surrounds and binds the Old City.

In 1967, after the Six Day War, the Jerusalem Municipality created Building Plan 9 which outlined the boundaries of the basin around the Old City to preserve the historic landscape which it deemed "biblical." The plan includes specific building codes and guidelines for preservation of the area. And in fact, since 1967, construction has largely followed those principles, has been limited to the southern slopes of the Armon Hanatziv Ridge and has avoided the northern slopes, which look out over the Old City.

According to Michael Turner, a teacher at the Bezalel School of Art and chairman of Israel's UNESCO World Heritage committee, this area is extremely sensitive, since it is the last open ridge surrounding Jerusalem and has great historical, political and aesthetic value.

"The area is a necropolis," he declares. "It was a place where people came to bury their dead because its geomorphology allowed the carving of tombs out of soft rock. The resurrection is historically supposed to come from this area and it was always the place where pilgrims and the Crusaders knelt and prayed and rent their garments upon seeing Jerusalem for the first time.

"It is where tradition tells us that Abraham had his first vision of the city on his way to sacrifice Isaac, and the Kidron and Gehinnom valleys are described in Ezekiel's vision of Kingdom Come. It is also the place where Jesus came after his wanderings in the desert."

According to Turner, this unique combination of desert and city is one of the most important elements of the site. "The ridge is still a traditional first stop on the way into Jerusalem. Many bus-loads of first-timers to the city go to the promenade first, where they often perform Sheheheyanu ceremonies of one form or another celebrating their arrival," he says.

Though the site's beauty and historic significance is clear, its tourism potential has not gone unnoticed by various developers, who over the years have concocted many plans for the area. In the recent past, three plans for the area have been hotly debated in the public sector. One plan calls for the building of a block of nine hotels on the ridge, another for a 160-meter tower and the third for a cable car in the valley below the promenade.

Like so many other development plans in Jerusalem, opposition to the plan has been spearheaded by the Jerusalem branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) together with other urban planning organizations.

Despite the attraction it would hold for these first-timers to the city who might want a closer glimpse of the legendary valley, the cable car plan has been tabled for now.

Building plan 5125 for a 1,700 meter cable car, designed by architect Jonathan Shiloni, was designed to connect Abu Tor to Jebl Mukaber and the hotels scheduled to be built on the site.

However, during his term as mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert promised the Richard Goldman Foundation, which has funded part of the Promenade, that no such cable car would be built.

In Jerusalem has learned that sources allied with the Goldman Foundation reminded Uri Lupolianski of this pledge not long after he was elected, and in November 2004 the Regional Planning and Construction Committee repealed the plan.

When the Regional Planning and Construction Committee brought the plan up again in the spring, the Goldman Foundation immediately sent a letter to the mayor, expressing its displeasure.

The plan, therefore, has been shelved again - at least for now, although municipal councilmen have acknowledged that the developer, A. Levy, has continued to lobby them to revive the project.

And although it is still alive, the "hotels on the ridge" plan has been severely curtailed by the National Planning and Construction Council - but the fate of the controversial tower remains unclear.

On September 6, The National Planning and Building Council convened to discuss two of the disputed initiatives: the bloc of hotels to be built across from the Haas Promenade on the ridge and the 160 meter observation tower.

The plan originally called for the construction of nine hotels with 3,500 rooms in a 500,000-square-meter area along the northern ridge, together with other tourist attractions. The brainchild of architects Pascal Broide, David Cassuto and Zev Sheinberg, the complex was designed with a 350-meter unbroken front, seven to 10 stories high, backed by a 22-story tower. The first four hotels are intended to have 1,650 rooms, which is equal to one quarter of all hotel rooms in the entire city of Tel Aviv.

According to Naomi Tsur, director of the Jerusalem Branch of the SPNI, the organization never objected to the hotel complex itself. It has, however, raised a series of three major objections to the plan.

First, the SPNI claims that the plan is too vague and allows for the possibility of severe departures from Building Plan 9. It further argued that the hotels' continuous nature and their height would interfere with views of the area.

In Jerusalem repeatedly attempted to contact the architects to discuss the plan with them, but received no response. In their Web site, the developers do claim that the view is part of Jerusalem's attraction for tourists and that people will visit Jerusalem and pay high prices in luxury hotels in order to enjoy it.

The SPNI also notes that the planned site was once home to the Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi Educational Farm, which was established in 1928 as an agricultural training institution for young female immigrants, and to the Arab Girls' College - both structures that should be preserved because of their special character and historical importance. The SPNI is therefore demanding that the developers build a museum in addition to the hotels.

The SPNI's third objection to the plan relates to the fact that the hotels are intended to be built along the watershed, which, since Roman times, has always been left open because of the traditional fear that Jerusalem would be left without water.

"In a city in which water was always a problem (and still is)," says Tsur, "this is another historical element of the ridge that needs to be preserved."

The decisions taken by the National Planning and Construction Council validated some of the SPNI's objections. The council nixed the 22-story tower, lowered all building to six stories and broke apart the contiguous face of the buildings. Additionally the council committed itself to investigating the possibilities of moving the hotels further back from the promenade to save some of the trees in the area and to provide less obstructed views.

But the issue of the tower remains open.

At that same meeting, the council was supposed to resolve the controversy regarding the Sela Observation Tower. Formally known as Municipal Building Plan 6178, the tower was designed by engineer Uzi Sela and architect Jonathan Shiloni in 1997. It is intended to be constructed near the "Hill of Evil Counsel," holy to the Christian faith, close to the High Commissioner's House near East Talpiot.

The tower is supposed to top 160 meters. Together with the planned communications tower, it would be about the height of the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv. A synagogue and restaurant are also planned, as well as Sabbath elevators to enable observant tourists to reach the top.

The developers argued that the tower would be a tourist attraction and a striking landmark, clearly visible on the Jerusalem skyline from everywhere in the city.

The view from the tower will extend from Ramallah in the north to Bethlehem in the south. The tower's planners also claim that, "From the observation floor, at 910m. above sea level, significant parts of the Old City are revealed, mainly those, which cannot be seen from ground level. Thus, one can see the Temple Mount, the roofs of the Old City, Western Wall, Armenian Quarter, etc.

"The possibility of seeing the Western Wall, every day, all day long, makes the tower very special, and increases its urban importance. At the same time, the tower is far enough from the walls of the Old City, and does not compete visually with them. The visual basin around the Old City will be preserved intact, and the southern mountain range will be panoramically and architecturally reinforced."

The planners contend that "the tower creates an interesting physical contrast as a vertical element in a horizontal landscape. This contract creates tension between the old and new, between natural and man-made elements and complements the picture of the sophisticated urban landscape... the tower makes a physical and spiritual connection between heaven and earth."

But Tsur says that "the tower utterly contradicts the values that Jerusalem represents. The magical views and the historic and holy sites are the city's true landmarks. There is no need for an observation tower to become the center of attraction."

According to procedure, the question of the tower should have been resolved several years ago.

When the plan for the tower was first approved by the Jerusalem District Planning Committee in October 2000, the SPNI and the Council for the Restoration and Preservation of Historic Sites in Israel launched a campaign against the plan, claiming the "total absence of a democratic process involving the public."

Funded by the Haas family, the SPNI put up stands throughout Jerusalem, staffed by lawyers so that citizens could register their objections accompanied by an affidavit, as required by law. Some 4,500 people signed the objection and planners, intellectuals and public figures - including former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, architect Shlomo Aronson (who designed the Sherover Promenade along the ridge), poet Haim Gouri, and environmental sculptor Danny Karavan - submitted another 200 personal objections.

This overwhelming number of objections was unprecedented. In response, in May 2002, the District Planning Committee decided to appoint architect Tibario David to investigate the plan. For a full year, David met with a number of the individuals and groups who had submitted objections and traveled to Paris and other cities to see "what towers look like."

But according to the SPNI, he heard only approximately 100 objections and refused to hear others, claiming he had not been given a budget for more. Thousands of individuals and organizations requested to appear before David, but were refused.

David did not respond to IJ's inquiries. Moreover, in his summary report, David dismissed the objections and seemed to attach importance only to considerations of real estate and finances.

He wrote, "In general (apart from a few cases or isolated issues), the objections to the Sela Tower are based on philosophical, spiritual, religious and historical grounds. Those who feel they will be injured by this plan do not put forward serious reasons that are based on property and real estate (land division, building rights, etc.); zoning; physical, economic, or financial damage; or harm to the livelihood of an organization or individual."

This conclusion, outraged SPNI officials say, is offensive. "The report has no bearing on reality. The author is completely alienated from the significance of this project and from what is truly important in Jerusalem," says Tsur.

The discussions continued. In sessions throughout 2003, the committee did agree that something should be built on the ridge, but rejected the specific plan for the Sela Tower, stating that, "The committee believes that due to the strategic location, on an international scale, it is fitting to conduct an international competition among the world's finest architects, to plan an observation tower at this site."

Initially, they appointed yet another committee, to be composed of the city engineer, the mayor, and the regional planner - not disinterested, objective parties, as the SPNI notes - who were empowered to commission plans at their discretion, including the original developers.

However, members of the National Planning and Construction Council opposed this decision, demanding that the plans be submitted in an open, landmark competition.

Since the SPNI is now resigned that the construction of some structure on the ridge is a fait accompli, Tsur says, it is demanding that, at the very least, "The competition has to be opened conceptually. It should be announced that there will be a competition for comprehensive planning of the ridge, which should not be restricted to a tower."

Likewise, she argues, "the judging should be open to members of the general public, those who love Jerusalem and who in their thousands took the trouble to sign objections in the presence of a lawyer, and whose voices were not heard by the District Planning Committee."

The Sela Tower company has been involved in various legal appeals in an attempt to open the competition in this manner.

The September 6 meeting of the National Planning and Construction Council, which is a higher authority than the District Committee, was supposed to resolve the fate of the entire hotel complex, including the question of the manner in which the tower or other structure would be decided.

But during that meeting, after discussing the hotels, the council members retired to closed chambers to discuss the tower and, by the time they emerged, the time allotted to the meeting had run out. The decision was postponed to the next meeting, held on September 27, but the issue was not raised at this meeting, either.

Officials at the National Planning and Construction Council have confirmed that the next meeting will take place on November 1.

At least until then, the fate of another potential development project in Jerusalem remains unresolved.

Unresolved, too, are the troubling political, social and economic questions regarding the balance between private development and the public interest; between the public's right to enjoy free access to sites such as the promenades and the developers' demands to make money; between the role of civil society organizations and the responsibility of public planning authorities; and between the city's need to generate revenue through development and tourism and its obligation to preserve Jerusalem's unique character for the generations to come.

Ironically, Tsur concludes, the November 1 meeting will occur during the week that the weekly Biblical portion of Noah will be read in synagogues. This portion includes the story of the Tower of Babel, and Tsur believes that the coincidence provides a lesson for all.

"Like the Tower of Babel, and like most towers throughout the world, this tower, too, is just another expression of our power and might and attempt to reach the heavens, disregarding what is important here on earth," she warns.


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