This week in Jerusalem 445368

Peggy Cidor’s round-up of city affairs.

A ‘Thursday night encounter’ in Zion Square, in which young people from all over the political map gather to just listen to each other and talk (photo credit: Courtesy)
A ‘Thursday night encounter’ in Zion Square, in which young people from all over the political map gather to just listen to each other and talk
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Rising from the ashes
Having been almost completely consumed by fire, the iconic five-story Hamashbir building on King George Avenue is undergoing a major change.
The building, which has been extensively renovated over the past few months, will reopen as a hi-tech center with offices for rent – a trend introduced by leading American company WeWork.
It is not clear when the renovated building will be open to the public, but work is going on at a rapid pace. The first two stories will remain available for commercial use, while the two upper stories will be divided into offices space for hi-tech companies or other businesses, based on the concept of a rented office with all the facilities required.
The Hamashbir building, constructed right after the Six Day War and inaugurated in 1970, faced a lot of criticism about its structure, as it was considered too modern to suit the character of the city. However, over the years, it has become part of the downtown landscape.
With its current face-lift, it is ready to open a new chapter.
Two schools of thought
The prospects for a municipal project are becoming increasingly unlikely, following strong objections from several council members and the city police. A comprehensive school compound for the Arab sector that has been planned for almost two years and has reached the operative stage now faces the threat of being shelved or at least significantly reduced. Although the municipality submitted the project proposal to the local planning and construction committee almost two years ago, apparently no one realized until recently that the large building – five stories built on a 7,000-square-meter plot – was located very close to a Border Police base.
City councilmen Aryeh King (United Jerusalem) and Dov Kalmanovich (Bayit Yehudi) are adamantly opposed to the construction of the school there, arguing that some Arab students might target the base and endanger the lives of the policemen.
Yochanan Weitzman (United Torah Judaism), a member of the planning and construction committee, opposed the project at first. At the latest meeting of the committee weeks ago, a new proposal to reduce the building by two stories diminished Weitzman’s opposition, but he said he was still not convinced that this was the best location for a school for Arab students, considering the current security issues.
High-ranking officials at Safra Square expect to receive a long list of objections to the plan from human rights organizations, as well as opponents from the right wing. However, the Parents’ Association announced that it will not accept any changes in the planned building. The school is meant to provide a solution for about 800 students – a significant step in light of the lack of some 1,000 classrooms in the city’s Arab public education sector.
Big Brother, Safra Square style
Ever noticed the new elevators in the municipality’s main building? Elegant, rapid, smart – all the reasons to please.
Until one realizes that there are mini-cameras and microphones to monitor the behavior of users.
Officially, the cameras were installed to prevent any acts of vandalism.
Employees who found out about the devices in the elevators they use every day have expressed their negative feelings about them, saying that they don’t feel comfortable being watched and having their private conversations overheard.
While it is certainly good to know that violence or vandalism will be prevented, said one of the employees, “I don’t feel good about it. How can we be sure that nothing said between employees in the elevators won’t be used against us?” So the next time you use the elevators in the municipality’s Building No. 1, don’t do anything untoward, as it may appear on camera.
Parliament’s help
The head of the Knesset’s Interior Committee, MK David Amsalem (Likud), continues to highlight issues regarding the situation in the city. At last week’s committee meeting, he brought up the issue of the lack of independence of local neighborhood councils, particularly in Jerusalem. There is an ongoing struggle between the municipality, the haredi representatives on the city council and the Kiryat Hayovel council.
Amsalem emphasized that the main idea behind the establishment of the local councils was to “ensure their independence and save them from the involvement of the mayor (any mayor) who might not like some of the council’s activities or decisions.”
Deputy Mayor Tamir Nir (Yerushalmim), who participated in the debate, added that the problem centered mainly on approving or not approving the funding necessary for the activities of the local council – “as occurred recently in Kiryat Hayovel, where haredi representatives voted against the budget.”
Capital of poverty
It’s not news, but it’s still shameful: Jerusalem, the nation’s capital, has the second-highest poverty rate in the country (behind Bnei Brak) – a situation that no one has been able to remedy within the past 20 years.
Last week, Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz (Hitorerut), head of the committee on economic development in the city, dedicated an entire committee session to the issue. The guest of honor and keynote speaker was MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union), who presented the case in detail.
Trajtenberg said that was the responsibility of the leadership – both local and national – to do whatever was necessary to pull families out of the cycle of poverty. Some 35 percent of families in Jerusalem are living below the poverty line, and about the same percentage live just above it. This situation has a great impact on the city’s economy, as less spending affects businesses and so on.
Trajtenberg believes that to curb the cycle of poverty, which continues from one generation to the next, one must identify the factors that lead families into poverty. The best way to bring families out of that situation is to develop methods adapted to the special character of the residents, he added.
Berkowitz concluded the meeting by announcing that a long-range plan to deal with poverty in the city was in progress.
Fair and square
It’s official – the municipality is spearheading a major change to Zion Square, aiming to make it a sort of urban monument to promote tolerance.
The square will be renewed in the spirit of Shira Banki, with a smaller square named for the 16-year-old girl who was stabbed to death at the Gay Pride Parade last August.
For months – even before the murder of Banki, but with increased impetus after the event – the square has been the site of unexpected encounters. City activists, bolstered by the Yerushalmit Movement, have established a sort of tradition there, inviting young people from all sides of the political map to just listen to each other and talk, in a different manner than the usual virulent rhetoric used there. The encounters are not always calm or easy, but Thursday evenings have become a tradition, with dozens of young people sitting on the ground and trying to reach some sort of common narrative.
The Yerushalmim members at city council (Tamir Nir and Aaron Leibowitz) have promoted the idea that the square be recognized in the spirit of these encounters, obtaining the green light from Mayor Nir Barkat. The official announcement was made last week, and a call for proposals by architects will soon be published to present plans for refurbishing the square; Barkat also appointed Shira’s mother, Mika Banki, to be his special adviser on the proposal selection committee.