Protesters use helium balloons in fight against hotel

German Colony residents, Armenian Church oppose high-rise construction project in the capital

german colony 311 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
german colony 311
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Residents hoping to illustrate the true size of a proposed hotel in Jerusalem’s German Colony released giant helium balloons on Sunday afternoon, in an effort to show the neighborhood how tall 34 meters looks in relation to the rest of the buildings in the area.
Around 75 residents took part in a protest against the proposed eight-story Colony Hotel, which is in the planning process for the lot at the intersection of Derech Beit Lechem and Rehov Emek Refaim.
The rally, organized by the Community Council, was built from a special partnership between residents and the Armenian Church, whose Saint Gregory Church may be turned into an events hall if the plan goes forward. The event featured local musicians and a performance by an Armenian chanting choir.
“It’s simply a monstrosity in the heart of the neighborhood,” said Yossi Saidov, a local resident and a media adviser to the council.
Residents were careful to stress that they are not against tourism and hotels in the neighborhood, but rather the size of the project, which would tower over the Templer-style stone buildings in the area.
“We simply want them to build according to the style of the Colony,” resident Ronit Lombrozo said.
The project, which is to include a 200-room hotel, an events hall and a detached lobby with high-end jewelry stores, has already been approved by the Local Planning and Building Committee.
On September 16, the proposal goes before the District Planning and Building Committee, which is under the direction of the Interior Ministry. The project is to be implemented by Morad Zamir contractors.
Part of the plan, according to community organizers, is to evict the Armenians from the Saint Gregory Church and turn it into a community center or events hall. The church holds services once a week.
“Armenians have been here for more than 60 years, and we’re not giving up on our church,” said Father Koryoun, a priest who has been in Israel for 15 years.
“We’ll work until the end to ensure that the church will continue as a house of prayer, because according to the Armenian religion the church is a holy place and if they use it in a nonreligious way, it is a desecration of a holy place.”
Koryoun noted that because of previous protests, the contractor had scrapped an earlier plan to demolish the house of an Armenian family on the same lot. The Community Council has had other successes – last year the construction of a 14- story hotel at the same intersection was postponed indefinitely.
Unfortunately, the wind and the trees conspired against Sunday’s balloons, which were raised to a height of 20 meters before their string became tangled in branches and released the balloons into a cloudless sky.
“We hope that the Colony Hotel will fly away, just like the balloons!” improvised Ora Simchovitz, a local who ran the event.
“I have no complaints against the contractor; he’s just doing his job,” Simchovitz told The Jerusalem Post.
“We’re just trying to pressure the municipalities and the committees to do their job to save this neighborhood. This neighborhood brings tourists and people to live here because of the way it looks. They built a big apartment building across the street, but that’s OK because it’s hidden by the trees.
“That’s what we want: the trees to be higher than the building. Here, you walk on the streets and when people say ‘Shabbat Shalom,’ they answer you. That’s what we want to save – the look and spirit of the neighborhood. The spirit of a place is very delicate. With one hotel, you can ruin it,” Simchovitz said.