This week in Jerusalem: Saved by the committee

A weekly round-up of city affairs.

 ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS protest the municipality’s plan to build thousands of housing units in Reches Lavan, 2020.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS protest the municipality’s plan to build thousands of housing units in Reches Lavan, 2020.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Saved by the committee

The district planning and construction committee issued on Sunday a decision stating that the construction of the police station on the site of Lupine Hill in East Talpiot should be halted until an update of the municipal nature survey is completed, and measures are proposed to reduce the impact on natural resources. 

This is the first time the committee has requested such a survey, a decision that sources in the East Talpiot local council attribute to large public opposition to the plan. The decision is considered a temporary victory for residents over this struggle regarding the police station construction plan of a huge complex that would be on thousands of square meters of the Lupine Hill. 

The original police construction plan submitted to the committee was accompanied by an ecological opinion that presented the location as a neglected area, ignoring the fact that it is also a popular tourist site and widely considered a local treasure. The survey requested by the district committee will be carried out by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), the municipality and the Environmental Protection Ministry. 

Though there is hope that some changes will be included in the original plan, there is no indication that the plan will be canceled. Deputy Mayor Yossi Havilio, who was deeply involved in the struggle against the plan, declared that it is beginning to bear fruit, and might show the way to any future environmental struggles concerning nature in urban areas. Stay tuned.

The water pools and flowery terraces of Reches Lavan are in danger. (credit: AVRAHAM SHAKED)The water pools and flowery terraces of Reches Lavan are in danger. (credit: AVRAHAM SHAKED)
White Ridge and dark days

Following Mayor Moshe Lion’s decision to considerably reduce, but not fully scrap, the construction project at Reches Lavan (White Ridge), two senior SPNI planners have resigned over their organizational management’s support of the reduced plan.

Sources at SPNI say the two are the head of the planning team and the representative of district green bodies. The two senior SPNI members could not abide a plan that even if scaled back, is still one that in their opinion destroys nature.

Malha – time for struggle

Malha residents are fighting a construction project that will double the height of buildings in their neighborhood. Tenants in the old part of Malha (which was an abandoned Arab village from 1948, first inhabited by new olim) have filed an objection to a renovation project that would double the existing construction height, objecting on the grounds that the structure is within the boundaries of the “historic village.” 

The residents are fighting against the TAMA 38 entrepreneurs, filing an objection to the permit application submitted by the TAMA 38 project developer. Project opponents found out that as part of the permit application, the developer requested the demolition of a two-story building on the street that includes two housing units, to enable the construction of a four-story building that will include eight housing units, above a parking floor and warehouse. The project, they say, will double the height of construction in the neighborhood and harm its special character. 

Entering Jerusalem

The new traffic arrangements at the entrance to Jerusalem, implemented this past Sunday, are making it a little harder for those entering the city from Highway 1. As part of the work, there are lane blockages at the Moriah Gate interchange project site both day and night. 

Traffic is also expected, raising concern this could affect traffic flow throughout the capital. The roadwork will continue until Thursday, March 31, and conclude the work for the Moriah Gate project's final phase.

Secular on duty

Are we witnessing the first signs of the next mayoral and city council elections, due to take place in October 2023? This week, Deputy Mayor Havilio and city councilwoman Laura Wharton are launching a lobby for the preservation of secular values in Jerusalem. 

The lobby wants to consolidate the values, rights and needs of the secular population of the city; both insist this will not be against haredim, but for the rest of the residents. The percentage of Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox voters is much higher, they point out, adding that it is a mistake that non-haredi residents choose not to vote. 

Havilio remembers growing up in an open and liberal city, adding that his children grew up in a city that was already a little less open and liberal; now he is afraid that his grandchildren will not live in Jerusalem at all. 

“The main problem of Jerusalem is that it is losing its secular and traditional population to Tel Aviv, Gush Dan, Modi’in, Tzur Hadassah and Gush Etzion. The new lobby is aimed at finding solutions to preserve the diversity of the city’s population, encouraging non-haredim to remain or come back to live here.” 

Nutrition deficiency

National Insurance Institute data shows that one in 10 Israelis suffers from food insecurity, highlighting the current challenges for building a healthy, fair and sustainable food system that will ensure national and personal food security in Israel. 

Jerusalem is still the second-poorest city in the country, especially among its children, mainly among the haredi and Arab populations. A conference on the issue will be held at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities on March 31, from 9:30 a.m to 6 p.m, and will be broadcast live on the academy’s website. 

According to surveys from the last two decades, there are large population groups in Israel that suffer from food insecurity, with dramatic gaps between socioeconomic strata – again, many of them in the capital.

According to the 2021 National Insurance Poverty Report shows the food insecurity breakdown as 12% among the elderly, 21% in children, 16% among haredim, 42% of the Arab population, 26% among the unemployed and 16% in single-parent families. The conference will present ways to fight this problem. 

Seniors, photos and life stories

A social-awareness photography project involving third-year students from the photography department at the Musrara School of Art and Society in Jerusalem, and senior residents of the Nofi Motza, has resulted in a photography exhibition, to be shown at the retirement facility starting April 3. 

Between the House and the Landscape presents a series of portraits of nine tenants, taken in the environment of the sheltered housing and the nature around it, along with short text by the students about the life stories of the people they photographed.

“The joint photography project embodies learning, communication and personal dialogue between generations,” noted Ayelet Hashachar Cohen, head of the photography department at the school. “The project combines a connection between the young generation and the people who belong to the generation of the founders of the state.”

Sunrise is here

Sunrise Israel, an association supporting oncologic patients, is coming to Jerusalem and will run initiating relief, play and creative activities with an emphasis on developing social skills in oncology departments for children. The programs run by the association will allow young patients and their siblings to participate in the bilingual summer camps it initiates each year free of charge. Hadassah University Medical Center is the first hospital where Sunrise Israel will start operating in the capital.

Established in 2010, it accompanies hundreds of children dealing with cancer alongside their families, and aims to help and provide a holistic response to these children and their families, with an emphasis on social framework and childhood experiences. Sunrise Israel operates throughout the year in a variety of oncology departments in hospitals, as well as initiating and operating dedicated camps during the spring and summer holidays. It should be noted that these camps are intended for children ages three and a half to 17, and can be attended together with their siblings.

Cry for Ukraine

On Monday, dozens of Christian, Druze and Muslim religious leaders arrived in Moscow Square in Jerusalem (in the Russian Compound in the city center) and called for an end to the fighting in Ukraine. The event took place near the Russian Church. Among the speakers were the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Rabbi David Rosen and Muslim and Druze religious leaders. This initiative was taken in order to encourage the Russian Patriarch Kirill, as head of the Russian Orthodox Church, to make a move for peace.

A few days earlier, a letter on the subject was delivered to the Russian-Orthodox patriarch Kirill, calling on him to talk to President Vladimir Putin in order to bring an end to the fighting and achieve peace, signed by 150 religious leaders and clerics in Jerusalem and around the world, including Pizzaballa, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Swami Rameshwarananda Giri, Imam Mustafa Ceric and Rabbi Michael Melchior.