This week in Jerusalem: Spread of the red

Peggy Cidor's round-up of city affairs

Work being done to renew the Tower of David. (photo credit: TOWER OF DAVID)
Work being done to renew the Tower of David.
(photo credit: TOWER OF DAVID)
Spread of the red
The corona czar and health authorities are expressing concern that Beit Safafa and other predominantly Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem are again becoming virus red zones. Key reasons for the rise: 1) Many Arab residents who come back from Turkey ignore the required 14-day isolation; 2) Residents avoid taking tests. Sources at Safra Square say the drive–in stations in Arab neighborhoods are almost empty of residents coming to be tested. 3) Large weddings are being held in neighborhoods located beyond the security barrier, where the police avoid entering to check.
Zoning and groaning
A week ago, the local affairs court ruled that the New Hevron Yeshiva is not authorized to operate from its Gad Street building in Baka. Earlier this week (on Sunday), the court reversed its decision.
Having no alternate accommodation solution available, the yeshiva management appealed the original ruling, pleading that immediate implementation would force the 130 students to the streets. Justice Tamar Rappoport froze the court’s decision to enable a solution to be found, but clarified that the building is zoned for residential use only, so alternative accommodation must be arranged for the students.
Aid Genomix comes to town
The Aid Genomix company has opened the country’s largest coronavirus test lab in Har Hotzvim – able to run up to 50,000 tests a day with results available within three hours.
The cost of the tests for individuals not sent by the health authorities (for example, if a test is needed for flying abroad) will be only NIS 150 – merely 25% of the cost currently charged by other private labs.
At the inauguration of the new lab on Sunday, Mayor Moshe Lion announced this will be a key tool to revive arts and culture in the city, as there will be many testing stations across Jerusalem that will give near-real time results. Moreover, 150 Jerusalemites have been hired by the company to conduct the tests and the check results, helping to alleviate unemployment a bit here.
Tower power
The Tower of David Museum is launching one of Israel’s largest conservation projects, beginning with a historic revitalization of the Jaffa Gate area. The $40 million renewal plan is led by the Clore Israel Foundation with the support of the City of Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry and the Tourism Ministry, with the Israel Antiquities Authority supervising the archaeological excavations and project conservation.
This renewal project will preserve and conserve the historic citadel and archaeological park while doubling the current museum area to 20,000 sq. meters, with a new sunken-entrance visitor center, café, additional public bathrooms as well as seven new galleries, with expanded exhibition spaces and two elevators making the ancient citadel accessible to all.
Archeological excavations will be reimagined into new spaces. The history of Jerusalem will be brought to life through found stones, tracing Jerusalem’s timeline in the “Kishle” site – offering a multi-sensory experience, with significant Roman-Byzantine excavations discovered below the Jaffa Gate Plaza. A new educational complex of offices, classrooms and an auditorium will be constructed in this area, forming the education wing. A promenade lined with archaeological findings from the site will take visitors from the new museum entrance to the educational complex and will also link to the parking lots beneath the Mamilla Mall across the street.
The work will go on for about two years, but during this period the Tower of David Museum will remain open for the general public (within Health Ministry guidelines) with temporary exhibitions, guided tours and cultural activities. Last year, over 500,000 people visited the museum.
“I am navigating between the excitement of building for the future and the concern about paying for today: providing salaries for our staff, planning for the future for our team that is on furlough and trying to create content with a next-to-nothing budget,” notes museum director Eilat Lieber.
Funds released for the east
The Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry has approved a NIS 116.5 million loan to the municipality for development projects on the city's east side (with part of the loan, NIS 8.3 million, financed by the Mifal Hapayis). This will help advance the upgrading of the Arab neighborhoods that began two years ago to narrow social, development, education and business gaps between different parts of the capital.
The investments will fund renovations and installations of sports grounds, parking facilities and more. Solar renewable-energy projects will enable public institutions in Arab neighborhoods to lower energy expenses. A new family center will provide educational, social and health services for special-needs youth. An additional project involves proper registration of Old City properties, to clarify who actually owns much of the real estate there – instead of the present situation in which few land plots are identified and most use is based on often uncorroborated testimony of self-proclaimed local mukhtars (chiefs).