Background: East J'lem housing project to go up at residence of former mufti

Site owned by right-wing US businessman Irving Moskowitz.

irving moskowitz 88 (photo credit: )
irving moskowitz 88
(photo credit: )
A defunct east Jerusalem hotel overlooking Mount Scopus purchased a quarter century ago by an American millionaire who is an active funder of Jewish housing projects in east Jerusalem is at the heart of the latest dispute between the Obama administration and Israel. The abandoned site, which became the focus of international media attention on Sunday following a report in Yediot Aharonot that the US informed Israel's ambassador to Washington that the project must be halted, is one of several compounds in predominantly Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem bought over the last decades by Irving Moskowitz and secured for Jewish housing. The 80-year-old businessman is most prominently known for his patronage of the right-wing Ateret Cohanim organization, which seeks to settle Jews throughout east Jerusalem. Moskowitz's name is most commonly associated with the establishment of a small Jewish housing compound, known as Ma'aleh Hazeitim (Olive Heights) in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras el-Amud, which Ateret Cohanim established with his financial backing. The complex, which straddles the ancient Mount of Olives cemetery, is expected to include more than 110 apartments when completed. The first 51 units of the project were populated several years ago, while the remaining 60 are currently being built and sold, Ateret Cohanim spokesman Daniel Louria said Sunday. More recently, Ateret Cohanim has been working to populate the adjacent site of the vacated east Jerusalem police headquarters, which is privately owned by the Bucharan community. Several hundred apartments are planned in the area, but the project is still pending municipal approval. The American mogul was also behind the establishment of the Beit Orot Yeshiva next to Mount Scopus in 1990, and various projects in the Old City. But Moskowitz's crown jewel has always been considered his 1985 purchase of the property which was once the east Jerusalem residence of the mufti of Jerusalem. Last month, the Jerusalem Municipality quietly approved plans for the construction of 20 apartments in two new residential buildings at the site, in addition to a multi-level underground parking lot. The historic site, located on the edge of Sheikh Jarrah, around the corner from Israel police headquarters and several government ministries, was originally built in the 1930s for Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al-Husseini, an Arab leader in the 1920s and 1930s who collaborated with the Nazis and incited three waves of Arab riots against Jews during this period. At the end of the Mandate period, the building was transferred to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which administered east Jerusalem between 1948-1967, and the building served as the Shepherd Hotel. After the reunification of the city during the Six Day War, Israel designated the plot as "absentee property," and the hotel was used by the Justice Ministry as well as a district court. In 1985, Moskowitz bought the building and surrounding land from the government. After the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987, the Border Police rented the building and stayed there for about 15 years before moving to their new headquarters nearby, alongside the city's main north-south road. Since the Border Police quit the site earlier this decade, it has remained empty. The Jerusalem Municipality said Sunday that the "historic structure" at the site will be preserved. The city added that the owner cannot begin work at the site until completing several unspecified conditions decided by the municipal planning committee.