THIS WEEK IN JERUSALEM: Fast lane to the future

Peggy Cidor's round-up of city affairs.

Traffic was brutal near the city entrance this past week; relief is expected starting today. (photo credit: TNS)
Traffic was brutal near the city entrance this past week; relief is expected starting today.
(photo credit: TNS)
Fast lane to the future
Roadwork to create a new lane for public transportation caused traffic jams at the entrance to the city this week. Officially, the work should be completed by today (Friday) and the relief to drivers of private vehicles as well as bus riders should be felt immediately. Buses and cabs will no longer contribute to congestion on Yermiyahu and Weizmann streets when entering or exiting Jerusalem, but instead will make use of the dedicated public transportation lane. These improvements are part of a much larger plan to completely transform the access roads to the city entrance – for today’s needs as well as for the expanded needs of the new “business neighborhood” under construction in the area of the new Yitzhak Navon railway station and the International Conference Center.
Vox populi
Former mayor Nir Barkat, who recently finished his second term here and moved to the national political arena, has apparently successfully expanded his constituency among Likud voters. Reaching a highly respectable sixth place in the Likud primaries, he is well-poised to become a minister in the next government (provided that it will once again be formed by the Likud). Barkat has more than once expressed his will to remain connected with the capital and as an MK, he would be a logical choice to take care of Jerusalem’s affairs. 
In contrast, longtime Likud member Elad Malka’s (Hitorerut) quest to be elected in the Likud primary as representative of the party’s young generation did not meet with success. Consequently, he will continue to serve Jerusalemites from Safra Square as a member of city council, albeit from the opposition benches. 
Punishment policy
Mayor Moshe Lion pledged to improve the conditions of small and medium businesses in the city, in terms of easing permit procedures and reducing taxes for signs. However, some three months into his term, a growing number of small-business owners, mostly in the city center, are complaining about what seems to be a new and harsh policy by Safra Square. 
Most of the complaints focus on repeated cases of inspectors issuing tickets and fines for petty offenses, including a ticket given for leaving a cart of Shabbat hallot outside the shop for a couple of hours. 
Support for small businesses with specific problems regarding permits and rules has been in the hands of Hitorerut for years, but now that this list is in the opposition at city council, there is concern among owners that nobody represents them. No one at the association of small businesses seems to know the logic behind this new aggressive policy. Over the years, especially during periods of tension, attention to businesses owners’ needs came not from the various permit and regulation authorities, but as a result of a larger policy decided upon by the highest echelons surrounding the mayor. For now, there seems to be a lack of communication and coordination between Lion’s declarations and the municipality’s employees. 
More than a matter of taste
Is municipal financial support to the Jerusalem Cinematheque endangered? Perhaps, judging by the urgent letter to Mayor Lion sent by five city council members. Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum and Hagit Moshe, as well as future deputy mayor Arieh King (through a rotation), Yonatan Yossef (Meuhadim/United) and Yehuda Freudinger (Bayit Yehudi), announced their intention to to reduce the 2019 financial support and even cancel next year’s budget completely. 
The reason behind this tough decision is the recent “Nakba Festival” hosted by the cinematheque with films depicting the narrative of the Palestinians following the War of Independence. Some of the films amplified their will to return to what they view as their lands and towns. 
The whole project was organized and produced by the NGO Zochrot, aimed at promoting the “right of return” for Palestinians. The festival’s guest of honor was actor Muhamad Bacri, director of Jenin, Jenin, one of the most controversial films in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In their letter, the five city councilors pointed out that without any intention to disrupt freedom of art, culture and expression, they cannot agree to the use of public monies to support such a project. 
Facelift in progress
If all goes well, the ugly, abandoned and neglected structure at the corner of Shlomo Hameleh Street and Jaffa Road, overlooking Jaffa Gate, will soon get a complete renovation. The Pninat Dan Hotel will finally be renovated and reopen as a luxurious hotel with 150 rooms and some 20 luxury apartments added, as well as business areas on the ground floor. The new project has been submitted to and approved by the district planning and construction committee and should soon change the landscape after 16 years of neglect in that part of the city. 
No clean slate
Parents of special-needs children in east Jerusalem complain that the dedicated sanitation company is not supplying an adequate level of services in schools. Following their complaint to the Arab sector education administration, the director of the sanitation company was asked to upgrade services. 
Unfortunately, the result of the complaint was the opposite of what parents expected. The company argued that their fees had been lowered in violation of agreed-upon tender conditions, and as a result, they had no choice other than to reduce their workforce – hence the deterioration of sanitation and cleaning services in these schools. An additional complaint filed by the parents ended in a non-official strike among sanitation employees and now, the situation in the schools has deteriorated to the point that it endangers the health of the children and parents are considering launching a strike of their children. 
“We cannot allow these children to be exposed to such conditions,” said Shaher Shabane, president of the parents’ association. “The municipality and Education Ministry have to solve this problem immediately, we cannot risk our children. If nothing improves, we will keep them at home.”