View from the hill

French Hill is a quiet, clean neighborhood with bicycle trails, parks and a new community center.

French Hill neighborhood (photo credit: ANGLO-SAXON JERUSALEM)
French Hill neighborhood
In Jerusalem’s northeast corner, on a hill offering panoramic views of the Old City and much of West Jerusalem beyond, is the neighborhood of French Hill.
In Hebrew, the neighborhood is called “Hagiva Hatzarfatit” – the literal translation of the English name, meaning “the hill of France.” However, according to most views, this is a misnomer.
The origin of the neighborhood’s name is actually a subject of debate. Some claim it is named after General Lord John French, first earl of Ypres and one of the leading British military commanders during World War I. Just after the British conquered Palestine, they set up their Jerusalem military headquarters on that hill and called it French Camp, which later became French Hill. Others differ, claiming the name stems from the fact that most of the land belonged to the Monastery of St. Anne, which had a large number of French monks. According to that view, the British named their headquarters for the monks, who were helpful to the British in 1917.
Most, though, believe the former explanation – in which case the Hebrew name should be “Givat French.”
After the 1948 War of Independence, the Jordanians took over the hill following the cease-fire with Israel. They converted it into a heavily fortified military outpost that was meant to defend their part of Jerusalem from Israeli attack. It was not able to fulfill that role, but during the battles for Jerusalem during the Six Day War, the battle for the outpost was the bloodiest. Following that war, French Hill was annexed to Jerusalem under the Jerusalem Law in 1980.
The residential area there was built in the aftermath of the 1967 war. Work began in 1969, and it was meant to create a demographic link between Jewish west Jerusalem and the Hadassah Hospital compound at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus campus, which had been an Israeli enclave under Jordanian rule before the war.
At that time, prime minister Levi Eshkol envisioned that French Hill would become the first planned urban community in modern Jerusalem, providing as many services as possible to cater to the needs of its residents. Today, such services include a shopping center, bank, supermarket, post office, medical facilities, and schools that are considered among the best in the city.
French Hill is a quiet, clean neighborhood with bicycle trails, parks, three fitness centers, and a new community center that caters to all ages. There are many synagogues, ranging from Reform to Orthodox, as well as a mikve (ritual bath). The neighborhood is a 40-minute walk from the Western Wall, and the light rail service enhances an already efficient transportation network that provides easy access to all areas of Jerusalem.
There are two main building types in the neighborhood: the multi-storied buildings at the top of the hill, and the terraced homes in the area called Tzameret Habira. Quite a few Hebrew University professors and students live in French Hill due to its proximity to the Mount Scopus campus. There is also a large population of doctors and other medical professionals who work at the campus’s Hadassah University Medical Center.
French Hill has a population of 6,600, and residents there enjoy a relatively high socioeconomic standard of living.
Many diplomats, consular personnel and journalists own or rent apartments in the area due to its easy access to major thoroughfares leading to Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea and other parts of the country.
From a real estate perspective, the neighborhood has gone through peaks and valleys in terms of price fluctuation. It saw peaks from 1995 to 2001, when prices were high, supply was low and demand for lovely terraced homes was up. With the start of the second intifada in 2001, prices dropped dramatically due to a number of bombings around the area. By 2003, demand had dropped considerably; three-room, 60-square-meter apartments were selling for as low as $115,000, four-room apartments of 100 sq.m. for $215,000, and terraced homes for $350,000.
Consequently investors flocked to the area, knowing that the “fear factor” would end and prices would eventually rise. They were right, and since 2003, prices have more than doubled.
“Prices are creeping up and may well rise more because building land has run out, and consequently demand outstrips supply,” Savion Mass, branch manager of the Anglo-Saxon brokerage in French Hill, tells In Jerusalem. “Furthermore, there is strong demand from investors, because the proximity to the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus, as well as the Mount Scopus [Hadassah] hospital, ensures that there are no empty dwellings to rent in the neighborhood. Students and staff of the hospital and university are always on the lookout for apartments to rent.”
She adds that “the combination of high demand from potential buyers who want to live in French Hill, coupled with excellent rental incomes, makes the area an excellent investor opportunity, and this is reflected in demand and consequently prices.”
It is not only the rental yield that makes French Hill a good investment opportunity, but the price appreciation as well.
One investor, who bought a two-bedroom, 60-sq.m. garden apartment for NIS 500,000 in 2008, sold it four years later for NIS 1 million, doubling his money. During those four years, he received a rental income that amounted to 4.4 percent of the original investment.