Jerusalem: Looking ahead

“It is not only a matter of money; it is primarily a matter of a bold political decision, a change in mind-set, followed and backed by huge budgets."

Israel Kimhi
He was here before the Six Day War – a high-ranking urban planning official at the municipality under mayor Teddy Kollek.
Almost immediately after the last bullets were fired in the Old City streets, Israel Kimhi – today the head of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies’ Jerusalem desk – recalls that he and his colleagues were asked to open the existing maps of Jerusalem and work on a physical reunification of the two parts of the city that had been divided for 19 years.
Walls separating the two parts of Jerusalem were promptly demolished, streets were widened, and residents from east and west Jerusalem quickly went out to see the other side of their city.
But today, almost 50 years later, Kimhi concedes, with more than a hint of bitterness, that he is not optimistic about Jerusalem’s future. In fact, he emphasizes, he cannot be optimistic, given the current realities. “I was born here and I love this city, but I see friends of my generation, people who were involved at the highest level of the city’s affairs, leaving – following their children and grandchildren,” he laments.
At a recent meeting at the Jerusalem Press Club on the occasion of Jerusalem Day, Kimhi presented his JIIS desk’s findings on current major trends and forecasts for the capital on the 49th year of reunification. The figures are on Kimhi’s side: Issues such as poverty, negative migration, lack of affordable housing and the sense that there is no place for the non-haredi population have greatly marred the city’s image.
However, Kimhi admits that there is still the possibility of turning things around: “It is absolutely not on the municipal level. It is the duty of the mayor to say so, and this mayor does it all the time. In order to change the course of things, what is needed here is governmental involvement.
“It is not only a matter of money; it is primarily a matter of a bold political decision, a change in mind-set, followed and backed by huge budgets. Nothing can be done at the level of a local administration like a municipality. But alas, I don’t see it on the horizon,” he says.
What is needed is not the current government budget of some NIS 800 million in various streams, but at least four or five times more, Kimhi says.
But he is quick to add that he doesn’t see any indication this will happen in the near future.
“I believe it is first and foremost a political decision, which requires a lot of courage. Money will follow such a decision – that Jerusalem is reunited and is our capital for all eternity – when this is not just a declaration but a reality.”
Kimhi says that due to the laws regarding the city’s status and the fact that any serious decision regarding Jerusalem cannot be made by Israelis alone but must also involve Diaspora Jewry, there is no indication that such a new allocation is realistic. “So what is left is the urgent need to do something to improve things here and now.”
Asked what he would recommend doing if the situation were to dramatically shift and the required funds were in his hands, Kimhi says that among the long list of issues, two take priority.
One is to invest enough money in east Jerusalem to truly enable the capital to become one city.
“Since neither we nor the Palestinians are going to leave here, we should do everything we can to make their conditions acceptable,” he maintains.
“For example, if Arab children had enough public parks, it might keep them off the streets, where they spend their time throwing stones.”
As for the second salient issue, Kimhi says that serious efforts should be made to keep the young and pluralistic generation here, such as creating affordable housing and providing job opportunities. But again, that is possible only on a governmental scale.
“There is no municipality anywhere that could do this with its own resources,” Kimhi asserts.