This week in Jerusalem 456481

Peggy Cidor’s round-up of city affairs.

Muslims making their way to the mosque for Ramadan at the Lions’ Gate in the Old City (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Muslims making their way to the mosque for Ramadan at the Lions’ Gate in the Old City
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Drama in Ramot
A dramatic development occurred last Wednesday when, on the second day of the hearing for all 12,000 objections to the Mitzpe Neftoah construction project submitted to the national board for prioritized residential projects (VATMAL), the committee’s sudden decision was to cancel all planned additional objections and to send the project back to the committee at the Interior Ministry.
In fact, VATMAL has renounced its promotion of the controversial project, against which even Mayor Nir Barkat filed a court appeal.
For the moment, it is unclear what will come of this plan, but the adamant objections of many organizations – including an ad-hoc association of local Ramot residents – may remind us of a decade-old precedent: the aborted plan to construct luxury housing on what has become, against all odds, Gazelle Valley, a 26-hectare open park on the edge of Givat Mordechai.
The Interior Ministry committee, as well as the municipality, will have to find an alternative solution – and site – for the 1,400 housing units planned on the slopes of Ramot, one of the last green lungs in Jerusalem’s northern area. Stay tuned.
Jewish-Arab cooperation
Another residents’ struggle against a decision that can have a negative impact on their quality of life is the attempt to prevent the proposed installation of a refuse dump in Nahal Og. Close to the neighborhoods in that part of the city – French Hill, Givat Hamivtar, Ramat Eshkol and Isawiya – it could harm the health of some 100,000 residents.
Jewish and Arab residents alike have joined in the struggle against the plan.
The proposal has undergone a minor change since its first appearance three years ago, yet still threatens the area’s air quality. According to the residents’ committee, the proposed dump, which will receive all the city’s construction waste and detritus, is to be located less than 130 meters from homes in French Hill. The proximity could cause health complications such as lung disease and the “Rose of Jericho,” which causes boils and sores.
The local planning and construction committee is still debating the issue. Residents have expressed their concern and opposition to the project, but have not proposed any alternative. One resident told In Jerusalem that this is not the residents’ responsibility anyway, but insisted that their committee, now also backed by Arab residents of Isawiya, met last Tuesday to formulate their next steps – and have decided they will not give up until another solution is found.
East side stories
MATI, the Jerusalem small-business development center, recently organized a meeting for Arab businessmen from the city’s east side, which was very successful and attended by more than 150. Gathering at the Ambassador Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah, attendees were presented with many options and tips for greater business success – through leadership, initiatives, branding, cooperation and more.
One of the results of the meeting was the realization that despite the recent wave of violence and its effect on tourists and visitors, Arab businessmen from the east side are more than willing to cooperate with official Israeli initiatives to improve their businesses.
Gift of life
A moving ceremony took place at the Knesset last week to grant recognition to the work of Rabbi Yeshayahu Heber, president of the Matnat Haim (Gift of Life) association, which encourages voluntary kidney donations and makes connections with potential matching recipients.
Heber, who has previously been honored with the 2014 Presidential Volunteer Medal for his work, was awarded the Health Minister’s Shield by Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman at the Knesset last Thursday.
Linking totally unknown persons – donors and receivers – in the altruistic action of kidney donation, Matnat Haim has been able to reduce suffering, save lives and to accelerate, as much as possible, the bureaucratic side of the process.
The long fast
Muslims started the month-long fast of Ramadan this past Sunday evening. Jerusalem, with about 320,000 Arab residents, has done extensive work to make this period more enjoyable for them: special festive lighting in the Old City, an extensive cleaning operation there and in the surrounding Arab neighborhoods, a series of cultural events, an open-door fair at the entrance to the Umm Tuba and more.
Additionally, the Department of Social Services has distributed food vouchers to thousands of families living below the poverty line to enable them to celebrate the end of the fast every evening with appropriate food, and the light rail will increase the frequency of trains so Arab residents can visit their families in various neighborhoods.
The daily fast starts at about 3 a.m. and ends at 8 p.m.
to the sound of an old cannon. If you wish to greet those celebrating, the traditional blessing is Ramadan Kareem (Generous Ramadan).
Dark side of the sound
The Yad Elie Foundation aims to provide children – Jews and Arabs alike – with essential nutrition their families cannot afford. Almost entirely volunteer-based, the association was awarded a prize last year by Mayor Nir Barkat for its dedication to the city’s poorest children.
An original play, Last Night – The Dark Side of the Soundtrack (with songs in English but the rest of the text in Hebrew), will be the center of its annual fund-raising event on June 15 at 8 p.m. Based on popular songs and music, but with a totally different message, it will feature no fewer than 100 singers, a choir and an orchestra from the Rubin Academy of Music.
The performance will be at Beit Shmuel, 6 Shama St.
Tickets are available at (02) 620-3464, with all proceeds going toward food for the children.
In the year 2025
Less than a decade from now, if all goes well, we may all – locals and visitors – experience a very different city, at least in terms of mass transportation from all sides. This past Monday, Mayor Barkat presented to the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee the overall plan for Jerusalem’s transportation, set for completion by 2025.
Three long light rail lines – red, blue and green – will connect Gilo to Har Hotzvim and Ramot, Gilo to Mount Scopus. The already existing red line will reach Hadassah University Medical Center at Ein Kerem. It will transport about 140,000 passengers daily – higher than Israel Railways’ current figures. The cost of this line will reach NIS 1 billion; budgets and routes have been approved at all levels.
As for the blue line, things appear more complicated, since the route for this line crosses some of the city’s most crowded byways. Blue line passengers will ride from Gilo, continuing on Hebron Road to King George Avenue, through a tunnel under Yehezkel Street and from there up to Har Hotzvim and Ramot.
What the mayor did not elaborate too much at this presentation was the controversy over the segment of the blue line going from Hebron Road to the Katamonim neighborhood toward Gilo, on its way back from Ramot.
For the moment, according to sources at the municipality and at the Ginot Ha’ir local council, that part of the line is still not finalized. The major concern regards the alternatives proposed – either through or along the Hamesila Park line; or through the German Colony’s central Emek Refaim Street, with a very short segment through Hamesila Park.
Most of the opposition to the option of Emek Refaim comes from German Colony residents, as the construction may not only harm the character of the street, dealing a serious blow to its businesses, but may also affect the quality of life of residents, many of them seniors, living in the little streets and alleys between Bethlehem Road and Emek Refaim.
The project’s legal aspects are set for completion by 2018, but the first approval of the Interior Ministry’s planning and construction committee should take place this summer – and it will then be open to objections and debate. In total, the project will cover 60 kilometers and will cost NIS 25b.