This week in Jerusalem 499731

Peggy Cidor’s round-up of city affairs

A historic home in Beit Hakerem (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A historic home in Beit Hakerem
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Climbing vineyard
Have a last look at one of the oldest parts of the Beit Hakerem neighborhood before its character completely changes. The local planning and construction committee at Safra Square has finally – despite the significant opposition and anger of many residents – approved a pinui/binui (evacuation/ construction) plan for Ha’arazim Street.
Instead of the present 154 housing units in four old buildings on that street, the plan is to erect 13 towers – seven of them of 19 stories and six additional lower towers of six stories – altogether providing 401 housing units.
When originally submitted to the committee about six months ago, the plan rejected outright by its chairman, deputy mayor Meir Turgeman, who called it “unsuitable, incomplete and wrong.” The city’s engineer and planning department were asked to work on it again from scratch before resubmitting it, but now it seems that only minor changes were made, according to residents opposing the plan.
As the plan was submitted to the district committee last week, the public now has an opportunity to submit objections before it moves to final approval and implementation. Most objections raised so far center on the lack of public spaces, traffic issues and a dramatic change in the relatively pastoral character of the neighborhood.
Haredi protest, something new
Residents of the haredi Geula neighborhood are fed up with the chaos caused by the ongoing violence of extremist groups protesting the enrollment of yeshiva students in the IDF.
The local council and community center made a difference by enabling residents to work together with authorities perceived as secular. Following one of the latest disturbances last week, “residents felt that enough was enough,” reports a resident active in one of the Geula local council committees.
“They burn the municipal bins, block the streets, make a lot of noise and leave lot of dirt. Our life is unbearable as a result,” said an activist at a meeting between the local council members and representatives of the municipality and the police.
The residents request that the police and municipality grant fewer protest permits, at least until things calm down. It is noteworthy that haredi representatives at city council – including the four who live in the Geula area, have so far remained uninvolved in the matter.
Never too late
There is a happy ending to last week’s drama over the municipality’s financial support for the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, which serves the city’s LGBT population.
Due to the last-minute intervention of Mayor Nir Barkat, a solution was found. Barkat managed to convince the association of Orthodox synagogues to back off from their request for financial support matching the funds allocated to the JOH, and the way was cleared for approval of the JOH’s request for this year.
NIS 500,000 was thus allocated to JOH activities for this year, the first of them being next month’s Pride Parade.
Separation of church and state
A stormy meeting of residents on the matter of plots owned by city churches has brought the issue to the attention of the Knesset. Many of the plots on which houses and even neighborhoods in the city are built are on lands owned by several churches.
Most of these lands were purchased during the 19th century, and construction on them has been authorized through a lease for 49- and 99-year contracts, many of which have been renewed several times.
For various reasons, the contracts with the churches to renew the leases or acquire the plots have been neglected or simply forgotten by the state. As a result, and despite the fact that according to these contracts the tenants have first priority to purchase the plots, the situation on the ground has of late become worrisome for the tenants.
With lease renewal time just around the corner, and the state asleep at the wheel, some real estate sharks have sidestepped Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund and the Israel Lands Authority and purchased the plots directly from the churches. As a result, upon the imminent expiration of the current leasing contracts, the new property owners will have the right to expel the tenants from the houses they have lived in for decades.
“This is an emergency situation,” said city council member Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who organized the first meeting on the matter, which took place two weeks ago. “It affects one of the most basic of human rights – the right to have a roof over your head.”
The lion’s share
Whether he’s preparing to become the next mayor or simply leveraging his present position to do the right thing, Deputy Mayor Moshe Lion has managed to resolve a situation that no one else has been able to until now.
Thanks to his ties with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and rabbis from the national-religious camp, he brokered an agreement to keep open a military preparatory school near Jerusalem, which faced closure. Indeed, one of Lion’s best assets seems to be his good relations with some of the most influential people in government.
Together we stand
The Jerusalem Parents’ Association was joined by the municipality in its claim to the High Court of Justice on the lack of budgets for new classrooms in the city.
According to both, there is a shortage of some 3,800 classrooms in the public education system – 1,938 in the Arab sector, 1,419 in the haredi sector and 505 in the general public sector.
Building classrooms is the prerogative and the duty of Education Ministry, financed by the Treasury. After repeated and failed attempts to obtain the necessary budgets for the construction of these classrooms, the association decided to take the matter to court.
An appeal was submitted to the High Court of Justice last week, against the Education and Finance ministries, and as of this week, the municipality has joined the claim. The estimated cost of the proposed construction stands at NIS 380 million, a sum that the municipality cannot, under any circumstances, bear alone and which will require the government’s involvement.
Healing hatred
Two conferences took place almost simultaneously this week that explored themes of hatred and forgiveness.
At the second annual conference of the International Association for Spiritual Care, which ran from Sunday through Tuesday, spiritual challenges in the context of political conflict took center stage. The conference took place at Hebrew Union College and in Beit Jala, and explored ways to learn from the experiences and activities of spiritual leadership from Christians, Muslims and Jews, here and abroad.
The IASC conference, which was devoted to the theme of “Healing Hatred,” was inspired by a joint project of the same name conceived of and implemented by Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Institute of Religion, the Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue and the Holy Land Trust.
On Monday and Tuesday, a two-day conference titled “Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness for the Renewal of Individuals, Families and Communities: Rising Above the Storm Clouds,” took place at the Notre Dame Center. The conference focused on what it means to forgive, the importance of forgiveness, and how to better interact with others through forgiveness. The theme of forgiveness was explored through Judaism, Christianity and Islam.