This week in Jerusalem - A round-up of city affairs

What has been going on in Israel's capital this week?

BEIT HAKEREM school building: Gone to the dogs. (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
BEIT HAKEREM school building: Gone to the dogs.
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
 Blue Line: Still not on track

After almost three years of debates, the light rail’s Blue Line route is still not finalized. Last week the district committee sent the contentious issue back to the local committee to give a fair hearing to the claims of both sides. Within less than 48 hours, the local committee again issued the same recommendation to run the Blue Line through Emek Refaim Street – to the obvious displeasure of the members of the Refaim association, which represents some 5,000 residents of the German and Greek Colonies who oppose that route, which they feel will adversely affect their quality of life.

Sources at the association say that they are considering their next steps, which could include an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Feeling like a million

Jerusalem’s population is approaching 1 million. On Rosh Hashanah eve, some 945,900 Jerusalemites were found to live in the capital: 583,500 Jewish residents and 362,400 Arabs (Muslims and Christians).

Of the Jews, 35% are haredim, 31% religious and 34% secular and/or traditional.

Due to the coronavirus, more than 100,000 Jerusalemites are unemployed, which brings the rate of city unemployment to an unprecedented peak of 31%, compared to 3.1% before the pandemic era.

Broadly speaking

The undertaking to open a broad and inviting street in the Old City’s Armenian Quarter is now completed. It will serve the quarter’s residents and visitors as well as pilgrims to the Old City and residents of the nearby Jewish Quarter.

The yearlong NIS 30 million project modernizes the area’s century-old infrastructure (pipes, electricity, pavement, etc.) and makes the entire street wheelchair-accessible as part of the ongoing campaign to make the Old City accessible to all. The renovated street spans the kilometer from the Jaffa Gate to the Western Wall along the Patriarchate of the Armenian community and the Jewish Quarter. Like the large-scale Old City accessibility program, this project was planned and executed with extensive collaboration and coordination between the residents of the two quarters, the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality.

Second time around

As in the first lockdown in March, the municipality is again opening a framework for youngsters whose parents must continue to work: city medical workers and special-education teachers whose classes meet even during this lockdown.

The childcare framework will operate near the two Hadassah hospitals, and will each include some 150 children from kindergarten to the second grade. The classes will be operated by the instructors of the Lavi nonprofit specializing in informal education programs.

Special-education teachers’ kids will be administered by Lavi staff inside the relevant schools (27 institutions in all) scattered across the city.

Your dogs or your students

The classroom shortage in all education streams has plagued Jerusalem for decades. In the early 2000s, the issue in Arab neighborhoods even reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that the municipality had to provide at least 3,000 classrooms.

Two decades later, the situation has improved; classrooms and schools have been built throughout the capital, including in the Arab sector, but there is still something of a shortage, since the birthrate in all sectors is high. So imagine the surprise of Beit Hakerem residents upon discovering that a plot of land designated for a new school building was repurposed at the last moment to become a community dog park.

The decision to change the plot allocation was made with the full involvement of the local neighborhood council in response to the growing demand of local dog owners.

From high in Dubai to Jerusalem

Proposals for towers in Jerusalem (the project for a pyramid on King George Avenue, for example) rarely survive the planning stage. Now, perhaps drawing inspiration from the recently signed peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates, someone had the idea to walk in the footsteps of the planners of the giant skyscrapers there.

Earlier this week, sources at Safra Square confirmed that Adrian Smith – the architect who planned the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure, located in Dubai – is coming to Jerusalem to promote a project to build the highest (for now) tower in our capital. The envisioned 40-story tower on Shmaryahu Levin Street would be mixed use for both housing and business.

Time will tell whether this structure will become a reality, since it is not planned to be built along one of the light rail paths, but the project will be submitted to the district planning committee in the coming weeks.

A vote for Atarot

After years of debate, the municipal planning and construction committee has finally voted to approve the Atarot development project. Accordingly, the program enlarging the industrial zone there by 117 dunams has been submitted to the district committee.

Haredi city council members are trying to convince the Prime Minister’s Office to enable even more development in this area for housing and business. Until recently, the haredi members opposed this project, including housing solutions for their sector, arguing it is too far from the city’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Don’t skip the Sage stage

There was drama at Safra Square earlier this week when Shas city council members discovered – a little late – that the project to run a cable car from the First Station to the Old City and Western Wall hadn’t been submitted to the movement’s Council of Sages. One problem is that the cable-car route is planned to run above an ancient Karaite graveyard, which would prevent kohanim from using it due to issues of halachic purity.

Deputy Mayor Haim Cohen (Shas) expressed anger at the fact that no one at the municipality or the Jerusalem Development Authority, which is promoting the project, checked with the Council of Sages. “Our highest halachic authority, Rabbi Shalom Cohen, lives in the Old City, and nobody thought to consult him before advancing with this project?” he demanded.

Haredi city councilman Yohanan Weizmann convinced the head of the local planning and construction committee to remove debate on the project from the committee’s agenda until the issue is clarified. The cable-car project is raising significant opposition from architects, archaeologists and others, for fear it will harm the unique character of the city landscape.