Jerusalem Cancels Debate on Plan for New Yeshiva Building in Arab Neighborhood

City had been pushing plan for Jewish learning center in East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah despite objections from its own experts and likely opposition both internationally and at home.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The Jerusalem Municipal Planning and Building Committee decided Wednesday at the last minute to pull from the day's agenda deliberations on the construction of a nine-story structure for a yeshiva in the predominantly Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Ohr Somayach, a yeshiva that has operated in Jerusalem for decades and serves mostly newly religious students, recently submitted the plan to the city’s local Planning and Building Committee, which initially decided to put it on the agenda despite objections from some of the city’s own employees who say the plan would not serve the area’s local population.

The building is planned for an empty lot, most of which belongs to the Israel Lands Authority, and is located behind a neighborhood gas station. In addition to the nine stories, the new yeshiva building would also consist of three more floors underground, spanning a total of 9,615 square meters.

The city was pushing the plan even though its own department for planning policy has said, “The construction of the yeshiva in this area, which is characterized by a population with different religious characteristics and is close to hotels and the light rail line, is not the optimal use [of the property].” The plan is also likely to raise serious diplomatic opposition from the United States and other countries, which object to Israeli construction beyond the Green Line, and to draw objections from local residents.

Sheikh Jarrah has become a symbol of the Palestinian popular struggle in Jerusalem in recent years, and a flash point where local residents and left-wing activists have protested the entry of Jewish settlers into the neighborhood and the evictions of Palestinian families from their homes. About 10 families are now waging legal battles to overturn eviction orders against them, which were issued at the request of Jewish building and land owners, mostly the heirs of residents of the neighborhood who lived there before 1948 and were forced out of their homes. After a drawn-out legal battle, the Supreme Court ruled against one of the families, giving it a year to leave the house.

Jerusalem’s local planning committee was expected during its Wednesday meeting to discuss another controversial plan for a large construction waste disposal site to be situated at the exit leading from Jerusalem toward the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. This plan would require the evacuation of a nearby small Bedouin encampment named Jadua–Kabua. A few dozen people live in the village, most of whom are residents of Israel. According to the plan, the disposal site would operate for 20 years and fill a large stream bed with building waste and dirt from Jerusalem and the region. After those two decades, the area will be landscaped and a park built on the site.

Yosef (Pepe) Alalu, a member of the Jerusalem city council from left-wing party Meretz, responded to the plan, saying the local planning committee and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat are doing everything to undermine the peace efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is working to reach a framework agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Alalu called the plan a “provocation” that he said violates the understanding that Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would remain in Israel in the event of a deal, while the Arab neighborhoods would become part of the Palestinian state when it is established. Alalo also criticized the planned waste site, saying that the Palestinian neighborhoods only come to city officials’ minds when they need to build a garbage dump.

A protester waving a Palestinian flag shouts at an Orthodox Jewish man in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, May 17, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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