IDF to leave historic Jerusalem camp next week

150-year-old Schneller Camp to be turned into NIS 80 million haredi housing project.

schneller base 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
schneller base 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
A historic central Jerusalem military camp which was used by the IDF since the establishment of the State of Israel sixty years ago and dates back to the middle 19th century is being converted into a haredi residential complex, with the compound's historic Ottoman buildings to be preserved as public sites. The Schneller Camp, named after the German Lutheran missionary who originally established the complex 150 years ago, is now most commonly known for its military health clinic, although it has housed an array of army units over the last decade and a half, including the district military headquarters of the Home Front Command. The land on the compound, which is located on the edge of the city's Mea Shearim neighborhood, was sold by the Defense Ministry to haredi entrepreneurs four years ago at over NIS 80 million for the construction of a 620-unit haredi residential complex, said Col. Yoram Lev-Ran, the Commander of the Jerusalem district of the Home Front Command in an interview in his office in the compound. Lev-Ran said the decision to sell the land had been taken as part of an IDF economic efficiency plan, coupled with the need of the haredi public for housing in the area and the dearth of available land in central Jerusalem. By the end of the year the site would be completely cleared out, he said. The eight Ottoman buildings on the compound would be preserved by the Israel Antiquities Authority and maintained for public use, he added. A new military clinic to replace the popular one at Schneller is under construction at an outlying military base behind The Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus and will be ready by 2010, with an as-yet undetermined temporary site to be used in the interim. During the division of Jerusalem from 1948-1967 the site was the command headquarters for the IDF unit responsible for security convoys to cut-off sections of the city such as Mount Scopus. The origins of the site, though, date back to the middle of the 19th century when a devout German Lutheran missionary, Father Johann Ludwig Schneller, came to Jerusalem at the age of 34, intent on serving the local population. Schneller bought land from the Arab villagers of Lifta in 1856 and brought skilled laborers from Bethlehem and neighboring Beit Jalla to construct eight buildings, which were completed in stages between 1856 and 1903. After thousands of Maronite Christians in Lebanon and Syria were murdered by the Druse in 1860, Schneller headed up north, returning with nine orphaned boys who formed the nucleus of what would become the largest Protestant educational facility in the region at the time. During World War I, the Schneller Compound was turned into an army camp by the Turks. In 1939, with Palestine then under control of the British, the place was shut down, the German teachers were kicked out of Palestine and the children were placed in other Christian establishments. The site was subsequently taken over by the British Army, which added several huts and watchtowers. In 1947, the camp was partially destroyed after being bombed by the Irgun. Less than a year later the British abandoned Schneller, and the Hagana used it as a base for Jerusalem-area operations during the War of Independence. "We are leaving with mixed feelings," Lev-Ran concluded. "Schneller is part of the page-book of history of the State of Israel."