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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pushing Jerusalem's housing envelope to the East

I have mentioned several times that I believe that Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert agreed to a building freeze within the city of Jerusalem. Olmert has denied it. A group of private entrepreneurs are about to push the envelope by building a new neighborhood in a vital strategic location that is practically in the center of the city. To give you an idea, go to this map. At the top, towards the right side you will see an area marked in blue that is shaped a bit like a tree with a brown area jutting into the middle of it. On the trunk of the tree is an area called Ma'alot Dafna. Ma'alot Dafna is a Jewish neighborhood built in an area that was no man's land until after the 1967 war. But it's on Israel's side of the 'green line.' Immediately to the right of Ma'alot Dafna (there is a four-lane major boulevard between them that runs along what was the former border) is an area called Ash Shaykh Jarrah. That's the area under discussion in this article:
The Yemin Yehuda non-profit association has begun building 200 housing units in the Shimon Hatzaddik compound, in the heart of East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarra neighborhood. In the process, the organization intends to demolish the homes of dozens of Palestinian families who live there.

This neighborhood is in a strategic location: If Yemin Yehuda completes its plan, it will cut the Old City off from the Palestinian neighborhoods in northern Jerusalem.

MK Benny Elon (National Union-National Religious Party), who supports building the new neighborhood, says it is designed to create a Jewish continuum surrounding the Old City, where there currently is a massive Palestinian majority.
The 'Palestinian' families are squatters. The buildings are owned by Jews - or their descendants - who were expelled from the area in 1948.
The new neighborhood is slated to cover 18 dunams next to the tomb of Shimon Hatzaddik. According to the plan submitted to the Jerusalem municipal planning commission, Palestinian buildings must be demolished to make room for 200 housing units.

The plan states that open areas will become residential, and that the construction density in the area will be increased to include five- and six-story buildings, which will require changing the Municipal Construction Plan.

Deputy Mayor Yehoshua Pollack, who heads the local commission, says he is not familiar with the new plan, but that he seeks to "advance any construction plan, be it by Jews or Arabs."

Pollack noted that contrary to reports that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had ordered a halt to construction in East Jerusalem, the municipality has not been informed of any such restrictions.
This area is less than a two-minute walk from Ma'alot Dafna - a neighborhood I lived in for three years in the 90's. People walk to the tomb of Shimon HaTzadik regularly and take their sons there for their first haircut (called a Halaka in Hebrew or an Opshirin in Yiddish) at the age of 3. But note the part I highlighted. I have no doubt Pollack believes it's true. But is it?
In 2004, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski sought Housing Ministry permission to build a Jewish neighborhood adjacent to the Simon Hatzaddik tomb, "in order to strengthen the connection between the Jewish neighborhoods" in East Jerusalem.

Currently, about 40 Palestinian families live in the area, which is very close to the American Colony Hotel, one of the most important centers of Palestinian and international activity in East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the American Jewish millionaire Irving Moskowitz already has purchased the nearby Shepherd's Hotel, and wants to build several dozen housing units there for Jews.

Furthermore, about two months ago, Haaretz reported that the Israel Lands Administration had leased the Ateret Cohanim organization a large area known as Kerem Hamufti, opposite Shepherd's Hotel.
Recall what has been going on with Beit HaShalom in Hebron. You can bet that similar attacks will be made on any Jewish land purchases in 'East' Jerusalem.
Connecting all these dots could create a significant Jewish continuum and cut Sheikh Jarra and the Old City off from the Palestinian neighborhoods to the north.

A Jewish neighborhood had existed at the Shimon Hatzaddik compound until 1948, when the Jewish inhabitants fled during the war. The area was settled by Palestinians fleeing from West Jerusalem.

After the Six-Day War, the Sephardic Community Committee and the Ashkenazi Community Committee initiated proceedings to claim the area, on the grounds that it had belonged to them since the 19th century.

About 30 years ago, some of the Palestinian families agreed to start paying rent to the two organizations.

A few years ago, the Nahalat Shimon association received the rights from the two organizations. It is initiating the construction of the new neighborhood.

The Palestinian residents, represented by attorney Salah Abu Hussein, argued that the land belongs to a Palestinian who lives in Jerusalem. [That's likely a lie. CiJ]

The Supreme Court rejected the Palestinian's ownership claim two years ago, but refused to state who does own the land.

Abu Hussein says the Palestinian residents have been paying rent for decades under an agreement that grants them ownership after 30 years.
I wonder if anyone has told Condi yet.

Stay tuned. This should be interesting.


At 7:37 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 7:38 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The only way Jerusalem can expand is to the east. Housing is already expensive in Jerusalem proper and to attract jobs and investment, people have to live somewhere.

Whatever Ehud Olmert may have told Condi Rice, I'm quite sure he didn't tell her a building freeze extended to private housing development. And a lot of that will happen "under the radar" without state involvement. As Jews become a majority in East as well as West Jerusalem, the current fashionable talk of redividing the city will rapidly become both a historical as well as a political anachronism.


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