This week in Jerusalem - A round-up of city affairs

What has been going on in Israel's capital this week?

SHOWING NATIONAL pride in the Givat Hamatos neighborhood on November 16. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
SHOWING NATIONAL pride in the Givat Hamatos neighborhood on November 16.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Build my home

A European Union delegation visiting the site of the planned construction projects at Givat Hamatos encountered right-wing hecklers led by Deputy Mayor Arieh King. The delegation, invited by Ir Amim and Peace Now, expressed its concern over the plan to build 1,257 housing units that would prevent territorial contiguity for a future Palestinian state, disconnecting Arab neighborhood Beit Safafa from the city's east side. The delegation members couldn’t hold a press briefing there, moving to the nearby UN compound.

King had issued a call a day before to activists and Jewish residents to come express their objections to what they call the interference of the EU in Israel’s decisions, with some of the protesters calling the delegation “antisemites.”

The project was already approved six years ago at all planning commission levels but hasn’t been implemented thus far, apparently for political reasons. After its first draft at the local planning committee, the project was approved by the district planning committee and approved for launch by the Israel Lands Authority, and is no longer under the auspices of the Jerusalem Municipality. About eight months ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the green light to the project as since the Obama presidency, construction in areas beyond the Green Line must first be approved by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The entire project includes 4,000 housing units, 1,000 of them for Arab residents, located closer to Beit Safafa; and 3,000 – which include the 1,257 approved this week – for Jewish residents. The tender for the construction of the first 1,257 units will close on January 18, only two days before President-elect Joe Biden enters the White House. Sources at Safra Square say the date is coincidental and is not aimed at creating facts on the ground.
Another construction project beyond the Green Line set for its final approvals and tenders is in the Atarot area, where 10,000 housing units are planned, for religious, haredi and pluralist residents.

Sigd under coronavirus

Earlier this week the Ethiopian community marked the festival of Sigd, which comes 50 days after Yom Kippur and marks the commitment to vows taken by the faithful that day. Due to the pandemic, only a few kessim (spiritual leaders of the Ethiopian Jewish community) presided over the ceremonies on the East Talpiot promenade overlooking the Temple Mount, though the ceremony was broadcast live. The community was informed that diplomatic efforts are being undertaken to enable those who lost loved ones in Sudan during the long march to Israel to visit their graves.

Within the festival framework, the municipality has launched a special program to teach city children about Sigd's meaning and traditions – through a specially adapted Monopoly game with questions and events related to the Ethiopian community’s history and customs.

Tablets for all
Even before the decision on the reopening of most grades, the municipality and Education Ministry have decided to grant 15,000 tablets and computers to Jerusalem students. Some 6,000 “kosher” phones for haredi students' use will also be distributed. Earlier this week Mayor Moshe Lion and Education Minister Yoav Gallant visited schools in Gilo, Homat Shmuel and Pisgat Ze’ev and distributed the first 250 computers. Altogether, and following the needs raised by the coronavirus, 21,000 computers, tablets and kosher phones will be distributed so pupils can attend online lessons as part of the city’s Jerusalem Digital Classrooms project. The project's cost? NIS 40 million.

Holistic appreciation
The Yuri Shtern Holistic Center, which offers a wide range of alternative medicine for patients with cancer or recovering from it, has been awarded a certificate of appreciation for its innovative work. The center, founded in 2007, provides several alternative programs to alleviate the pain and suffering caused by the illness, and trains care providers.

News from the Bible
A new chief for the Jerusalem Bible Lands Museum has been nominated to replace Amanda Weiss, who is retiring. Yonit Kolb Reznitzki, until recently CEO of the U. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art, will step in as of this month. Reznitzki holds a masters degree in culture from Tel Aviv University and announced her intention to develop more digital aspects to keep the museum relevant. One of her first projects will be opening an exhibition of contemporary Israeli works of art depicting the trail of archaeology in the Bible Land.

Whose synagogue?

The city is known to grant plots or existing structures for community purposes, among them synagogues. The municipality publishes tenders regarding such available sites, and residents can apply to obtain them, as long as they fit the rules – like operating as a nonprofit or representing public interest. One such case is causing a lot of tension among Arnona residents, as at least two groups are interested in taking over a plot for a new synagogue. Both groups want an Orthodox minyan but one is Chabad, which some fear will bring a more ultra-Orthodox presence to a pluralist neighborhood.

At Safra Square, no one understands why there is so much tension, a spokeswoman said, since this is the very preliminary stage of the issue. The tender was published on Monday under the authority of Deputy Mayor Haim Cohen (Shas), and will take weeks before it is closed; then the proposals will be examined by a committee. Once there is a winner for the tender, it will be presented to the public at large so residents can present their objections. The objections will be examined again by the committee, and only at the end of this process will there be a final decision.

At that point, another Shas councilman, Moshe Gura, will appoint his own committee to guide the winner in promoting the project. Basically, they have two years to collect the funds and begin to build the project. In certain cases a time extension can be obtained, but if after that the project is still not being built, the tender is canceled and the whole process begins again.

According to some residents who represent the non-Chabad minyan, there is not enough transparency in the process and too often, residents learn about a tender published and approved too late. A high-ranking official at Safra Square admitted that things are perhaps not clear enough, adding that political representatives at city council have easier access to this kind of information. His suggestion: residents request that councilors who represent keep them informed. Another possibility would be to publish, through local neighborhood councils, all necessary information – something  not included in the current guidelines.

National forum for us

The first national museum forum on accessibility for visitors with disabilities and special needs is taking place at the Tower of David Museum this week. The forum will meet via Zoom, and aims to create a nationwide network for sharing best practices for the public with special needs and disabilities among museums, galleries and other heritage sites. It will also provide a platform where professionals can share skills and experiences; promote the necessity of incorporating these skills within every aspect of such cultural sites; and last but not least, leverage the importance of the topic to influence decision-makers and public bodies to offer support and funding.