Last Vestiges of Jerusalem Transit Camp Bite the Dust

City razes remaining historical hut, despite preservation efforts.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

In his 2010 book, "From the Four Winds," rabbi and author Haim Sabato describes the ma'abara (immigrant transit camp ) in Jerusalem's Kiryat Hayovel area, which he knew from his youth.

He describes the asbestos-and-concrete huts in the camp, erected in the early 1950s and called Beit Mamzil, after the Arab village originally located there. Half of each dwelling was painted light blue, the other half pink.

Beit Mamzil in 1959, left, and the remains of the last hut that was torn down last week.

Each half was a separate housing unit, with two rooms. During the winter, the ma'abara would sink into the mud as rain water swept into it from the surrounding hills. Residents spread out stones and planks, Sabato writes, and would hop from one to the other to avoid the streaming water. The new immigrants came both from North Africa and East Europe, and they erected two huts which served as synagogues, on which they put a menorah symbol; one was for Sephardic Jews, the other for Ashkenazim.

One of two large transit camps established in Jerusalem, Beit Mazmil had hundreds of asbestos huts, most of which were torn down by the state during the 1960s and replaced by tenement buildings. The demolition was done to prevent residents who had reservations about moving to the new buildings from returning home.

Only two original dwellings survived the destruction of the '60s. As the years went by, the municipality planned a major project involving construction of 350 housing units, as part of which these huts were slated for demolition.

In recent weeks, Itzik Shweky, director of the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Site, tried to stop the process, arguing that the remains of the ma'abara belong to Jerusalem's heritage.

The municipality's preservation committee devoted two meetings to the issue, but the city engineer declared that they could not remain on the site.

For his part, Ofer Gridenger, the Jerusalem city planner, informed the municipality that while the huts "belong to an important period in the history of Jerusalem, they are located in the area where the new Kiryat Hayovel housing project is to be carried out. The project involves changes in the local topography, and the structures must be removed."

"People who don't respect their past have dull present and uncertain future," Shweky says, quoting Yigal Alon. "The ma'abarot characterize the period, and we should not forget it. This was a good opportunity ... but the city didn't find cause to preserve the dwellings."

Part of the state's development

Dr. Martin Weil, former director of the Israel Museum and a resident of Ein Kerem, also tried to persuade authorities to prevent the demolition.

"The ma'abarot camps were an important component of the state's development, and if [the authorities] have spent a lot of money to create a replica of an illegal immigration ship, there's also good reason to preserve an example of ma'abarot housing," Weil says. "Unfortunately, this didn't happen."

The Jerusalem municipality's response: "The two dwellings in question are not included on the municipality's preservation list, and a building plan had been authorized for this region; the demolition is part of this plan. During a meeting of the preservation committee on February 6, a representative of the national heritage society submitted a request to preserve the huts, but one of them had already been destroyed before the request was submitted. The professional staff from the municipality's planning department reviewed the issue and concluded that the other structure could not be saved."

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