Cornerstone laid in e. Jerusalem's Nof Zion

Bringing a Sefer Torah i

Dancing and jumping joyously through the streets of Jebl Mukaber on Wednesday night, hundreds of Jewish well-wishers joined in a ceremony held at the Nof Zion housing project to welcome a new Torah scroll into the budding east Jerusalem community's temporary synagogue, and to lay the cornerstone for an additional 105 housing units. In light of the recent violence in east Jerusalem, which has brought tensions in the area to a boiling point, a large contingent of police and Border Police were on hand, blocking off traffic and providing general security while the parade made its way up and around the existing complexes, which house some 90 new luxury apartments inside the predominately Arab neighborhood. For their part, Arab residents of the neighborhood could be seen watching the festivities from their balconies, but no disturbances were reported and the event concluded without incident. While organizers stressed that the event had been timed to coincide with Succot, when many people are off of work, MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), who was also in attendance, said the throngs of celebrants rejoicing in the streets were "a victorious message to [Sheikh] Raed Salah and his gang." Salah, who heads the Islamic Movement's northern branch, based in Umm el-Fahm, was banned from Jerusalem for 30 days on Tuesday night after being arrested in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz on suspicion of inciting the recent Arab riots in the capital. In response to accusations of incitement, Salah had stated prior to his arrest that if forced by the Israeli government to choose between imprisonment and defending the Aksa mosque "and occupied Jerusalem," he would choose the former without hesitation. But Ben-Ari on Wednesday dismissed Salah's claim, saying, "They're not fighting for the Temple Mount, they are trying to rid Jerusalem of all Jewish 'occupation.'" "But this is our response," Ben-Ari added, referring to the new building slated for Nof Zion and the celebration over its new Torah scroll. "Not just words, but action." MK Uri Ariel (National Union) and former chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel Yisrael Meir Lau were also present, and could be seen dancing with the Torah scroll under a huppa, the traditional Jewish wedding canopy, as music blared from loudspeakers nearby. Many in the crowd had come from nearby neighborhoods to "show their support and strengthen Jerusalem," as one participant, who only gave his name as Michael, told The Jerusalem Post. "We're here to strengthen all of Jerusalem, a Jewish Jerusalem," he said, holding his young daughter on his shoulders. "Even if it's difficult, even if there are Arabs nearby, we believe that this is our home, and we need to be here." "It's really a matter of faith," Michael continued. "We have faith that our presence here is necessary, and that by being here, we're living the dream our ancestors held onto for over 2,000 years. We've waited for it, and now the time has come." The construction of Nof Zion, which was a private project built on Jewish-owned land, also included much-needed infrastructure work in the area, including electric and sewage work along with the paving of roads, which began after the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from local Arab residents who had claimed some of the land in question belonged to them. The new neighborhood will eventually include 480 apartments, including 80 flats that will be attached to a luxury boutique hotel, two synagogues, a kindergarten, a community center, a country club and a small shopping mall. A small police station and the local UN headquarters are just up the block. "It's just so beautiful to see so many people out here enjoying themselves," said Rinat Sylvester of L.R. Properties, which is marketing the project. "And that in such a short time, we have so many families living here, and more apartments on the way."