(photo credit: )
Undermining the housing platform
During the years dedicated to the different stages of approval of the new master plan for the city, city councillor Yair Gabbai (Habayit Hayehudi) hasn't voiced any particular opposition to Mayor Nir Barkat's decision to include thousands of housing units for the Arab population. But it seems that things have recently changed. It appears that Gabbai was the driving force behind the major change in the plan regarding Arab housing, as announced last week by the Interior Ministry (Shas). After requiring a total freeze of the plan a few weeks ago, we have now learned that the plan has been sent back for another round of debates at the district planning committee, this time without the Arab housing projects promoted by Barkat. All the plots that Barkat had asked to transfer from "open spaces" to construction plots have been returned to Mother Nature, thus prohibiting any construction plan whatsoever. True, city council members from United Torah Judaism and Shas have also tried to derail the plan, but the "success" this time is clearly due to Gabbai, who has managed to convince all the parties involved, as well as the minister, to cancel the first plan to allow Arab residents of the city to legally build some 13,000 housing units.
Following a hot summer of haredi riots and demonstrations, and more recently the protests against Intel, it seems that the non-haredi public in the city has reached boiling point. Two organizations, Wake Up Jerusalem (Hitorerut) led by Merav Cohen, and Yerushalmim led by the modern Orthodox Rahel Azaria, have managed to achieve the inconceivable: to rally some 2,000 residents - secular, Conservative and modern Orthodox - to demonstrate in the streets of Jerusalem last Saturday night against haredi hegemony. For Hitorerut, the major concern is the fear of losing the city to the pressure of the haredim, which stains its reputation in the eyes of Israelis; for Azaria and her followers, their anger stems from what they believe the haredim have done to the public at large: alienated them from anything Jewish because of their extremism and use of violence.
Both succeeded in bringing out a large number of demonstrators, who said, loud and clear, that the non-haredi population and, more specifically, the relatively young and secular, are awakening and want to regain some control of the city they don't want to leave.
However, there is one haredi who apparently believes that the haredi society and its interests are best served by a secular mayor. In an interview with the haredi weekly Mishpaha, Deputy Mayor Yitzhak Pindrus admitted that he was not considering running for the next elections, explaining, "This mayor has implemented only his engagements to the haredi society. What more do we need?"
Pindrus, who does not represent the radical members of the Eda Haredit, is not highly regarded by its representatives, who had to face a few non-conventional weapons aimed at them last week, such as pornographic material sent to them and graffiti versions of the name of God sketched on the sidewalks in their neighborhoods.
The meaning of all this is that the city is going to witness a long succession of agitated Shabbatot, full of demonstrations from both sides. Who knows, perhaps this could be considered a new and effective means of attracting tourists. After all, the goal set by the mayor of 10 million tourists has to start somewhere.
Chaim Miller, once a loyal deputy mayor to Ehud Olmert and today a kind of rebel inside Gur Hassidism, has been busy for the last few years promoting the need to rehabilitate Jewish holy sites, mainly the Mount of Olives cemetery. Recently, Miller heard about a decision taken by the court for local administrative affairs to rule on a demolition order for four synagogues built illegally in a haredi housing compound in Romema. "This is an outrageous decision of this municipality," said Miller. "Is Jerusalem going the way of Gush Katif? Is it really this mayor's desire to be remembered as the first Jewish mayor who destroyed prayer sites in the most holy city for the Jewish people?"
As far as the facts are concerned, this situation is the result of the lack of coordination between the rapidity of construction and the time required to submit plans for public structures. Sources at Kikar Safra have indicated that in any case the synagogues will have to be demolished once the permits are lawfully obtained in order to build the two institutions planned: a Lithuanian and a Hassidic synagogue.
The sixth annual Speaking Art conference, an encounter for artists - Jewish and Palestinian musicians, actors and dancers - will take place at the YMCA on December 9-10. Speaking Art allows Jewish and Arab performing artists to learn about each other, explore partnerships and help one another develop their craft. The conference aims to support the arts as a meaningful way to bring Jews and Arabs together. It will include workshops on dance and movement, as well as public sessions and group discussions with Palestinian and Jewish performers from music and theater. Music workshops will be held to discuss the influence of music on the identity and work of Jewish and Palestinian musicians. There will be also a workshop on photography. Actress Salwa Nakara, winner of a best actress award, will discuss plays that address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Rounding out the event, on December 10 at 5 p.m. a jam session will be held at the YMCA, with participating Jewish and Palestinian musicians, followed by a special concert by David D'Or and Lubna Salameh performing songs in Hebrew and Arabic.
Gigantic Jerusalem grill
As part of Hamshushalayim - the three-weekend winter cultural event - the Mahaneh Yehuda market witnessed a successful attempt this week to earn a Guinness nomination with the largest pita and Jerusalem mixed grill (me'urav yerushalmi). The pita was 1.7 meters wide and the mixed grill included 32 kg. of meat and 2 kg. of spices. Eight of the capital's most prestigious chefs gathered to create the popular dish, tightly surrounded by a battalion of PR people who made their way specially from Tel Aviv to enjoy the atmosphere of the most famous shuk in the country. Not all the passersby understood what it was about (a few of them thought it was some charity event to distribute food for the needy), but the outcome was definitely impressive.