This week is in Jerusalem

Peggy Cidor’s round-up of city affairs.

Summer is bursting out all over on Hahavatzelet Street (photo credit: ERICA SCHACHNE)
Summer is bursting out all over on Hahavatzelet Street
(photo credit: ERICA SCHACHNE)
... and the living is not always easy, but it certainly will be colorful. We’ve had 25,000 butterflies affixed all over Bezalel and Shmuel Hanagid streets, and now it’s time for umbrellas, flowers and Chinese lanterns to hang above most of the city center’s streets. And they will not be alone. During July and August, there will be an international aura almost everywhere we look.
From India, through Thailand, Japan and China, to Portugal, Mexico, Brazil and Russia, the streets of downtown Jerusalem will be festooned with inspiration from these countries’ arts and crafts. From street performers, restaurants and cafes to the night markets along Jaffa Road, get ready to enjoy summer fever and fun, conceived, produced and presented by Ariel and Eden, two subsidiaries of the Jerusalem Development Authority.
Need some constructive advice?
For those residents who would like to get into a Tama 38 project (buildings reinforced to withstand earthquakes), the city hears you. The municipality has established a special administration for city renovation plans (Hit’hadshut Ironit), where residents can receive all the necessary information, as well as consultations on specific plans, all free of charge. Contact (02) 629-5597 or or visit to get the answers to questions regarding the steps in your plan to renovate, restore or reinforce your house or apartment.
Underlying this service is the municipality- promoted decision to provide more housing solutions for Jerusalemites, veterans and newcomers by upgrading existing structures.
Making a splash
Last Monday morning, a large group gathered to celebrate and raise a toast (more specifically, a glass of juice or a cup of coffee) to mark a victory over the system. The celebrants were all Jerusalemites who for the past two years have led the struggle to obtain the right to immerse in ritual baths without the supervision or presence of mikve attendants.
Let Us Immerse in Peace was a local initiative that involved many religious women who refused to accept the principle that such an intimate mitzva should be performed in the presence of a stranger. After the Chief Rabbinate’s recent refusal of the request, the matter was brought to the High Court of Justice, where the state’s response was that indeed there was no reason to enforce such supervision.
Among those celebrating the victory was city councilman Aaron Leibowitz who, despite being an Orthodox rabbi, was one of the leaders of the struggle.
Ghosts pay more
After more than two years of debate, battles with the Interior Ministry (the body with decision-making power over city tax affairs) and an aggressive campaign to raise awareness about the matter, the city finance committee finally approved the decision to double the municipal property tax (arnona) on “ghost apartments” in Jerusalem. Approved on June 29, the decision states that as of now, the basic tax per square meter on uninhabited apartments will be between NIS 123 and NIS 215 – double the regular tax.
The implementation of this decision will bring in millions of shekels to the city coffers, which – as Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz (Hitorerut) promised since he launched this campaign a few years ago – will be invested in creating more affordable housing in Jerusalem. Many observers believe that in most cases the owners of such ghost apartments – people who spend only a few days or weeks a year in their Jerusalem properties – will not change their habits. They certainly will not rent out their luxurious homes and will probably simply pay the extra property tax without coming here more often.
United in saving lives
A moving ceremony was held on Sunday at city hall in honor of the organizations dedicated to saving lives in Jerusalem. The worthy recipients of certificates of commendation from Mayor Nir Barkat included emergency and trauma unit directors at Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Hadassah University Medical Center; members of Magen David Adom, United Hatzalah and ZAKA; and police personnel and firefighters.
Over the years, the sight of volunteers helping to save the lives of victims of terrorism or accidents in the city streets has become almost familiar, but the people behind the lifesaving efforts often have to carry on despite the trauma of what they have seen. For all those – and for their families – the evening was a small but meaningful reward.
Retaliation building
Following the terrorist murder of Rabbi Michael Mark of Otniel last Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his decision to allow construction permits in Gilo and Har Homa. While continuing to build in the city – despite international opposition to constructing beyond the Green Line – has always been the public policy of Mayor Barkat, this time his reaction was ambivalent. Barkat did approve the decision and welcomed it but insisted that construction in the capital should not become an act of retaliation.
In a press release his office published on Sunday, following his speech at a meeting of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip that day, Barkat stated that “it is a mistake to allow construction in Jerusalem only after a terror attack. We have to build Jerusalem on a continuous basis and without hypocrisy, both in the western and eastern parts of the city.”
The mayor added a message to “our American and European friends: There is no way we will build according to one’s religion or ethnicity. Should we build for Arabs and freeze construction for Jews? That is unacceptable.”
Darkness in the tunnel
Last October, the first sign appeared and raised concern – a collapse in one of the tunnels for the high-speed being constructed between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. An independent team of Dutch experts was immediately asked to check the matter, and earlier this week the report was published after being handed to the Transportation Ministry. The report reveals that the collapse appears to not be an isolated issue that could be easily repaired but an underlying problem with the construction methods used in the project.
Israel Railways, which is building the railway, has on the basis of this report already been required to do extensive repair and consolidation work on 23 tunnels (out of the 33 tunnels already constructed). The report also pointed out that 70 percent of the 46 tunnels planned along the more than 13 kilometers between Sha’ar Hagai and Mevaseret Zion have a lack of drainage capacity, leading to fissures in the ceilings and sides of the tunnels, and eventually to collapses.
The railway is scheduled to be operational by the first half of 2018. For the moment, it is not clear if these findings and the ensuing repairs will affect the timetable.