This week in Jerusalem: Who do you belong to?

A round-up of city affairs.

 The Christian Quarter (ahead of a past christmas): Renovated Gate Street (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
The Christian Quarter (ahead of a past christmas): Renovated Gate Street
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

How dangerous?

Are the city’s residents safe from hazardous buildings?

The answer? Yes and no. The municipality is aware of the danger, and updates a list of such structures. Yet most of the implementation to solve the problem remains in the hands of the residents who informed the authorities. In October, no fewer than 99 inquiries from concerned citizens (compared to 44 during the same period last year) reached the municipal Department of Dangerous Buildings. Most of these inquiries were about cracks in walls, fences, ceiling pillars or balconies.

According to data from the 106 municipal hotline, 640 inquiries were received regarding dangerous structures during the past six months alone, compared with 460 in the corresponding period last year. Most were related to potential balcony collapses, since many were built without permits or engineering supervision. Large amounts of illegal construction in the Arab and haredi sectors, which lack professional engineering supervision, are at the center of this issue.

The municipality’s website periodically publishes a detailed report titled “List of Buildings Suspected as Pal-Kal Buildings,” which includes buildings suspected of being constructed with the system that caused the collapse of the Versailles wedding hall, but does not give too much detail, as the municipality’s policy is to only inform directly the owners and tenants of such buildings. But despite the quite up-to-date list of such buildings, the municipality has not, thus far, decided to launch a large-scale operation to take action, mostly due to a lack of professional staff, sources at Safra Square admit. 

The Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ras al-Amud is seen in front of the Dome of the Rock (credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
The Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ras al-Amud is seen in front of the Dome of the Rock (credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)

Who do you belong to?

Will Mayor Moshe Lion respond to his opponent’s demand and declare that the two city council members who recently crossed party lines have officially left their own Hitorerut party list, and thus cannot run in the next election? That is what Hitorerut chairman Ofer Berkovitch has asked from Lion in a letter sent last week, but it seems Lion is not rushing to solve Berkovitch’s problems. Whether the mayor is still hesitating as to what is the best step for him, or if he is, as some members of his coalition suggest, just enjoying the situation, things are moving and creating facts on the ground.

As of last week, and as the Hitorerut “rebels” were ousted by Berkovitch from his list, the two – Yamit Yoeli-Ella and Avishay Cohen – were appointed portfolio holders in the coalition. About two weeks ago, Lion stunned the political system when he sought to give the rebels roles and powers, a step that raised more ire among Berkovitch and his list.

For the moment, Yoeli-Ella has ironically proposed that if Berkovitch allows her and Cohen to split, she, in return, is ready to relinquish her right to continue to be called a Hitorerut memeber and will leave the name to the remaining faction. But here, too, the final decision is in Lion’s hands, who likely won’t hurry to announce his decision. 

Elections now

It seemed almost a lost cause, but finally, after months of negotiations, the municipality has agreed upon a special outline for Ramot’s local council elections, aimed firstly at maintaining the status quo between the haredim and pluralist residents there. After lengthy discussions in recent months, led by representatives of the party factions, administrations (branches of neighborhood local councils) and of the neighborhood, Ramot will have a community election. Until now, all parties have opposed holding a vote, fearing the other side would take control of the administration and its affiliates.

As part of the new outline for these elections, a municipal committee will be established composed of municipal representatives, headed by the city’s deputy general-manager and Leisure, Sports and Culture Administration head Ariela Rajwan. All neighborhood residents will be have the opportunity to submit their candidacies, and the committeewill select from all those who apply 18 candidates – nine for Ramot Alon and nine for Ma’aleh Ramot, so that at the end of the procedure, the council will be comprised of representatives who reflect both the secular and haredi communities.

Another step that could have alleviated the situation is Lion’s idea to fund the two administrations equally so as to benefit all neighborhood populations. However, it seems not all participants are happy, as chairman of the Ma’aleh Ramot haredi community administration, Yehuda Spitzer, claimed it wouldn't be fair to the haredim, who he says constitute a majority in the neighborhood. 

O Jerusalem

For the first time, the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry has kicked off an initiative for area students to spend time in the Old City, which will be implemented by the Jerusalem Development Authority. The Christian Quarter's New Gate street has been renovated and restored in recent years by the municipality, and lighting and maintenance work has been carried out, cleaning and removing obstacles for pedestrians. While until recently this Old City gem remained almost ignored by Jerusalemites, and as a result caused concern and frustration among business owners, it now seems that the great benefits of the place are yielding results. 

The new complex is part of a comprehensive program at the ministry, headed by Ze’ev Elkin, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Development Authority, whose purpose is to encourage young people to live and spend time in the capital. In the coming months, the complex will be open on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Bars and cafes as well as souvenir and Armenian pottery shops and more will open. In addition to offering students and young adults the opportunity to spend leisure time in a special location, the Christian Quarter is considered quite safe and hence will present the city, including its eastern side, with a tourist site attractive to all of Israel's residents.

120 days

A plan to move government ministries to Jerusalem, which for the first time includes sanctions on government units refusing to make the move, was approved earlier this week. It states that any government unit that has not received special permission to stay outside Jerusalem will have to submit a detailed plan for moving to the city within 120 days. If it does not move, the Finance Ministry will stop transferring budgets for renovations and furniture to the unit; moreover, as soon as a Jerusalem property is located for it, funding for both rent and property taxes will be collected from the unit’s budget, even if the property is not used.

Despite a law stating that all governmental bodies should work from the capital, there are still 100 such units, employing thousands of workers, which continue to work from other cities. The primary reason is that workers refuse to move, and the state pays about a million shekels a month for empty buildings waiting for a move that hasn’t happened. With the formation of the new government, the New Hope Party demanded that the plan be incorporated into the government’s guidelines, this time with clear schedules, as within 90 days the Exceptions Committee will be dissolved. 

Surprisingly, Lion welcomed the decision, but mentioned that prior to this, more preparatory work must be finished, like completing the light rail and constructing housing and offices for the new government staff. Berkovitch, who petitioned the High Court of Justice four years ago to implement the government’s decisions on the issue, called for it to be implemented as soon as possible.