Here comes the neighborhood
A classic Jewish joke recalls the way Jewish communities began to appear in European cities centuries ago: A local bigwig would hire a Jew to work in his domain. The ruler allowed his Jewish vassal to marry (a Jewish woman, the families from both sides, the rabbi, eventually the ritual bath and the minyan to open a synagogue came as a package deal), have children (then came the Talmud Torah, the yeshiva and the kollel), and soon the bigwig would discover the wonders of a Jewish settlement in the midst of a gentile environment.
City council member Meir Margalit (Meretz) perhaps unconsciously had in mind a similar chain reaction as the result of a recent decision made by the city council. The Finance Committee, chaired by David Hadari (Habayit Hayehudi), has approved NIS 250,000 to build a mikve in the Ma'aleh Hazayit neighborhood, commonly known as Ras el-Amud, a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem. Margalit says that not only is the Jewish neighborhood there (created and funded by millionaire Irwin Moskowitz) a mistake and an obstacle to the partition of the city in an eventual peace agreement, but he is fuming at the neglect of the poor conditions of the Arab residents of Ras el-Amud. The money was nevertheless approved, Hadari arguing that an eventual split of the city was exactly what he and his peers wanted to prevent. And the municipality's official position? Well, the criteria are clear: At the moment, there are about 140 families in the Jewish neighborhood, but the plans are to have at least 500 families in the coming few years. That number would justify the construction of a mikve, financed by public moneys no doubt.
Obliterated in translation
Following an interview broadcast by Palestinian TV in which she and another guide of the Tower of David Museum denied that there are any Jewish roots in Jerusalem, Abir Ziad, until recently head of the guiding department in Arabic at the museum, was fired. Ziad's interview, first revealed by the local Hebrew weekly Yediot Yerushalayim through a monitoring provided by Palestinian Media Watch, included her admitting that she wouldn't tell Arab visitors to the museum the official version but the truth - that there is no evidence whatsoever of a Jewish presence - including the Jewish Temples - in the city. The revelation caused great embarrassment to the museum - owned by the city - and finally led to the firing of Ziad. In the framework of this incident, two other museums in the city are concerned that similar incidents could happen to them too. In the two institutions, there are many guided tours of the different exhibitions - including some connected to the ancient history of the city - that are given in Arabic, mostly for students.
Shosh Yaniv, director of the Tower of David Museum, responds: "...the statements made on Palestinian Television by a guide of the museum do not reflect the content of guided tours of the museum. That guide is no longer part of the museum staff," she says. "In the past 20 years, the Tower of David Museum has hosted hundreds of thousands of visitors in an atmosphere of respect for all the different cultures that live in Jerusalem. The permanent exhibition abstains from being political but rather tries to familiarize its visitors with the central events in the history of the city and to highlight the archeological findings that bear witness to the many faces of the city of Jerusalem throughout its long, rich and colorful history."
City attorney Yossi Havilio doesn't have a moment's peace. After the troublesome years of Uri Lupolianski's term, he might have thought his tribulations were over, but that is evidently not the case. Havilio and Mayor Nir Barkat have recently found themselves once again on opposite sides of the fence on various issues. Both of them, of course, argue that the law is their only concern. Roughly, the two are divided on matters that will, sooner or later, be connected to political issues, despite the fact that officially this is not presented as their intention. Recently, Havilio announced his opposition to legalizing Beit Yonatan, a seven-story illegal construction by Jewish residents of Silwan, a legalization considered as an acceptable price for Barkat's recent proposal: an opportunity for the Silwan residents to add two floors in their buildings and to legalize, retroactively, a large number of illegal constructions. Havilio even asked for Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to require immediate application of the court's decision to demolish Beit Yonatan and, not surprisingly, roused the anger of Barkat and his assistants. The response didn't take long: At the last city council meeting for 2009, Havilio was suddenly required to provide the city councillors with a detailed list of the cases in which, representing the city, he lost in court and their cost. It was only after Havilio managed to provide such a list that the budget for his department for 2010 was officially approved. For quite a few city council members, the incident was taken as a serious warning.
Another decision made on the last day of the past year was to officially end the activities of the Jerusalem Association of Community Councils and Centers. Following the clash that erupted between the mayor and the head of the association, the end of the story - as far as the municipality is officially concerned - was sealed by that decision, made unanimously by the 29 coalition members. The meaning of this decision remains to be clarified. A large-scale public protest led by most of the local council chairmen has already been launched, but for the moment it seems that Barkat has won the first round. In Jerusalem will monitor and report faithfully.