New status for Old City

What's the likely impact of municipal decision to grant preferential status to Jewish Quarter?

Jewish Quarter 224.88 (photo credit: Israel Marc Sellem [file])
Jewish Quarter 224.88
(photo credit: Israel Marc Sellem [file])
At the most recent city council meeting, David Hadari, deputy mayor and chair of the Finance Committee, passed a decision that could change the status of the Old City, particularly the Jewish Quarter. Although at the moment it has no financial backing, the decision states that the Old City will be granted special status, regardless of the number of residents or any other municipal regulations. The new city council consists of 30 coalition members (including the mayor), and only one opposition member. As a result, and out of concern that the city council meetings might become uneventful, a recent decision was reached to allow even coalition members to present a proposal that the city council has to vote on, which until recently had been the prerogative of the opposition. One of the first to make use of the new decision is Hadari (Habayit Hayehudi). Considered to be to the right of the religious Zionists, Hadari always expressed his concern for the welfare of the residents of the Jewish Quarter in the past; but now he has found a way to implement that concern. According to Hadari, who presented his proposal with the support of Deputy Mayor Yitzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism) and Didi Hershkovitch (Israel Beiteinu) at the last city council meeting, from now on the residents of the Old City will have special priority status: special conditions, special funding - if available - and a top priority in any decision made by the city council. The proposal was adopted, as even the opposition member did not vote against it. How much will this decision affect the residents of the Old City (about 80,000) and the Jewish Quarter in particular? Says city council member Shmuel Yitzhaki (Shas), "Nothing beyond the declaration itself." He adds that as long as the government is unwilling to approve substantial funds for the Old City, nothing will really change. But is that really so? Hadari is convinced that his proposal will bring about tremendous change, even if not immediately. "It's true that for the moment we do not have additional funding to offer, but money is not the only way to bring about change. Take for example the case of Tipat Halav [well-baby clinics]. Despite the promises made by the former municipality not to close them, many of the branches have in fact closed down, in accordance with the new rules stating that any branch serving fewer than 200 babies and toddlers will be closed and the family assigned to another clinic. At present, residents of the Jewish Quarter have to take their babies, in rain and in heat, all the way to the Straus dispensary (near Geula) to obtain this service. This is one thing that will be stopped immediately. According to the new status of the Old City, no branch of Tipat Halav will be closed there, regardless of the number of babies registered." Another issue will be public transportation which, according to residents of the Jewish Quarter, is practically nonexistent. "In general," says Hadari, "every decision that up until now would have been made according to the number of residents it would involve will not apply to the Old City quarters, whether it is Tipat Halav, kindergartens, elementary schools, parks and so on. We will also pay special attention to the parking problems encountered by the residents. They have to be assured of a certain quality of life, especially since this is a location highly visited by tourists - and that is not the case at the moment." In fact, a group of residents from the Jewish Quarter is taking the case of poor parking conditions to court. Gaby Shinin, a resident of the Jewish Quarter for some 33 years, says that "This is really good news" and describes life there as "deplorable." Due to the harsh conditions there, he says, "We cannot even enlarge a window or dream of adding a balcony - it is absolutely forbidden. We don't have public transportation, and the parking conditions are impossible - no place, no special rates, nothing." Regarding the fact that Hadari's decision has no financial backing, Shinin says, "At least someone is paying attention to us. That's already a good and promising beginning. And we welcome it for all the residents of the Old City - Arabs, Christians and us Jews as well. We all deserve better living conditions. After all, everybody agrees that the Old City and the Jewish Quarter have tremendous importance for the country and our people, so why should we be punished by intolerable conditions? This is good news. I really wish him success for all our sakes." Another aspect of Hadari's proposal concerns the construction rights for residents of all four quarters of the Old City. The city council recently approved a decision to allow private construction - such as adding parts to existing housing for residents. However, it is still not clear how this will work in the case of the Muslim and Christian quarters, where the majority of the land and housing is not registered. That is the reason very few construction permits have been granted. On the other hand, the same week Hadari's proposal was approved, the Planning and Construction Committee approved a plan to add two floors to the structure at the entrance of the Western Wall plaza. The new construction will serve as a police station, despite the fact that a large police station already exists less than 100 meters away. City council member Meir Margalit (Meretz) thinks this plan should not be approved. "There is no real need for that additional police station so close to the Western Wall, which is already too crowded on the High Holy Days. And since the area is a preserved one according to the UNESCO rules, I plan to appeal to them to prevent this plan. The Old City and its four quarters deserve special attention, and that includes not building unnecessary new structures."