Changing times

When Ramot Eshkol was built after 1967, the government wanted to create a continuous chain of houses linking the estates on Shmuel Hanavi Street, French Hill and the Hebrew University campus at Mount Scopus.

Ramat Eshkol 521 (photo credit: Courtesy of RE/MAX Vision)
Ramat Eshkol 521
(photo credit: Courtesy of RE/MAX Vision)
Construction work in northeast Jerusalem’s Ramot Eshkol neighborhood started in 1968.
Consequently the neighborhood, named after prime minister Levi Eshkol, was the first to be built beyond the pre-1967 frontier in the aftermath of the Six Day War.
Until that war, the 1949 cease-fire line with Jordan was Shmuel Hanavi Street. In the late ’50s, the government built a string of shikunim (large apartment blocks) there out of thick reinforced concrete walls, more a fortress than a home. Beyond that was noman’s- land, and beyond that the fortified area of Ammunition Hill, a warren of Jordanian bunkers and trenches.
The name “Ammunition Hill” goes back to the British Mandatory government that was in place from 1917 to 1948; adjacent to the academy was a hill where the police kept their ammunition. It was connected to the police academy compound by a fortified trench. One of the most famous and bloodiest battles of the Six Day War took place on the hill, which Israeli paratroopers took in hand-to-hand combat reminiscent of the trench warfare of World War I.
Jerusalem is different from many other cities in that it has self-contained neighborhoods. Historically this occurred for both commercial and security reasons as neighborhoods sprang up beyond the city walls, and this self-containment has continued to this day.
Ramot Eshkol was planned as such from the beginning , with tree-lined streets, small parks, a neighborhood health clinic, a small commercial center, a retirement home and a supermarket. Most of the apartment buildings are not more than four floors high. There are some high-rise apartment buildings on Eshkol Boulevard, but these are the exception, not the rule.
All buildings in the neighborhood are clad in stone in accordance with the building rules of the Jerusalem Municipality, which wanted all the facades of the city’s buildings to have a “common look.”
Construction work was not easy.
Ramot Eshkol was located in a former military frontier containing both Jordanian and Israeli minefields, which first had to be cleared. This was done by the IDF Engineering Corps and supervised by Lt.-Col. (res.) Israel Levitt, who was reenlisted especially for that purpose. Levitt, an architect in civilian life, also designed the first apartment buildings in the area.
By 1970, the first residents started to move in, even though the infrastructure was poor and there were few roads and no public transportation, at a time when few people owned cars.
The building of Ramot Eshkol was meant to provide places to live, but the government also wanted to create a continuous chain of houses linking the estates on Shmuel Hanavi Street, French Hill and the Hebrew University campus at Mount Scopus. The historic No.
9 bus was re-inaugurated to link the Mount Scopus campus with Jewish Jerusalem and extended to the new campus in Givat Ram, built when the road to Mount Scopus was blocked by the Jordanians according to the 1948 cease-fire agreement.
In those years, work also started on the Givat Hamivtar neighborhood. This was adjacent to Ramot Eshkol, but in contrast, it was built as a garden suburb of single or semidetached homes. As such, it was the first suburb in Jerusalem to be built with countrystyle homes and large gardens.
Plots of land were raffled off, but the response was not so good. There was a time limit to construction, and access was difficult. Eighty percent of the dwellings were earmarked as semi-detached houses, while 20% were single-family homes.
The owners built the 250-square-meter houses themselves on 500-sq.-m. plots.
Givat Hamivtar gave residents a feeling of suburban life, with pastoral streets, parks and a small shopping center. Today, it is quite an affluent area.
“These large spacious houses attract large families, but since they sell for anywhere from NIS 3 million to NIS 5m., local Israeli buyers find it difficult to acquire, so foreign buyers, both French and Anglos, have become the predominant buyers for these highend properties,” Michael Liben, a realtor with RE/MAX Vision, told In Jerusalem.
“Many families have divided the house into two or sometimes three units to allow grown children and their families to live on the property as well, while other owners have found additional income sources by renting out the smaller units and living in the larger section,” he said.
Ramot Eshkol has a park dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved many Jews during World War II. The neighborhood’s largest park is Gan Hahamisha Asar (Park of the 15), commemorating 15 soldiers killed in 1969 in one day of fighting during the War of Attrition with Egypt, opposite the Suez Canal.
The neighborhood also boasts architectural finds. The Eshkolot Tomb, named for a stone carving depicting a cluster of grapes over the entrance, was discovered there in the early 1970s during building work.
Today Ramot Eshkol is a bustling neighborhood populated primarily by religious families. Although prices are relatively high compared to the neighboring French Hill, these young families are buying because of the religious atmosphere and the proximity to the Sanhedria neighborhood. Prices on average range from NIS 1.4m. for a standard three-room apartment to NIS 1.6m. for a four-room apartment.
Unlike in other places in Jerusalem, the lower the apartment in Ramot Eshkol, the better, and the more expensive. As many religious families have a lot of children, climbing stairs and dragging strollers can be a big bother, especially since not all religious families use Shabbat elevators.
The area has a large internal upgrading trade in real estate. Many residents like the area and therefore just sell their smaller apartments and upgrade to larger ones. The neighborhood is also attracting young couples who rent while the husbands study at nearby yeshivot. Quite a few of these young couples decide to remain and later purchase properties in the neighborhood.
Liben explained that “many of those students study for up to three years before returning home, and some parents buy apartments as an alternative to renting.”