Toilets built over 2nd Temple ruins to be partially removed

Ein Kerem residents claim that development will irrevocably change the character of the neighborhood, discourage certain tourists.

view of Jerusalem, Old City 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
view of Jerusalem, Old City 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Residents of the Ein Kerem neighborhood of Jerusalem celebrated on Thursday when an appeals committee found that 25 percent of a building for public toilets built over Second Temple ruins must be demolished.
The 314-square-meter building in question is located across from Mary’s Well, a spot holy for Christians that attracts upwards of a million pilgrims each year. The building is part of a plan from the Tourism Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality to further develop the area and make it more accessible for tourists. It will include an enlarged plaza, public toilets and a municipality gardening storage facility.
Residents claim that the development will irrevocably change the character of the neighborhood, and discourage tourists who want to see the landscape as it looked in the time of Jesus.
The site is a point of tension for the city, which is trying to strike a balance between preservation and development.
“This is good news,” said the head of the Ein Kerem resident’s council, Ben Ofarim, on Thursday, after receiving word of the decision handed down by the appeals branch of the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee.
“We’d prefer that it’d be 100% [demolition], but to expect that the district committee that’s part of the government, to confront the other side of the government with 100% [demolition] is a little exaggerated, so we’re happy with what we got,” he said.
Residents had argued that the future public toilets were built over Second Temple ruins of a well-preserved irrigation system that used the water from Mary’s Spring to grow fruit for the Old City. They have called the hulking structure “the monster,” and worry that it will be part of a larger plan that will eventually include restaurants and cafes, cheaply commercializing the holy site.
In August 2010, the city’s legal adviser put a stop-work order on the building after it was determined that the Tourism Ministry would not be able to build a ramp to the bathrooms to make them handicap accessible, as required by law, because of the archeological ruins.
“We found game-changing archeological finds,” said Ofarim. “Anyone who has eyes and a brain in their head should have said: ‘Let’s stop and make a new plan.’ We really hope that the Tourism Ministry and the municipality will do that after they got a red card from the appeals committee,” he added.
A spokeswoman for the Tourism Ministry said it was also pleased that the appeals committee allowed the majority of the building to remain, and would examine the part for demolition over the coming week. She stressed that the ministry has been working in conjunction with the residents for more than 20 years on a development program for the area around Mary’s spring, and that the cooperation would continue after the appeals decision.
“We will continue working in cooperation with the residents – in good spirits – and together will develop this area, which is a site that is very important for tourism,” she said.