Historic Jerusalem Home Slated for Demolition Wins Reprieve

Jerusalem municipality hands unexpected victory to preservation activists who fought a plan to demolish the early 20th century home for more than seven years.

The Jerusalem Municipality has withdrawn a plan to demolish a stately home on Emek Refaim Street, handing an unexpected victory to preservation activists who fought the plan for more than seven years.

The home, built in the early 20th century, is considered highly representative of the period's architectural style. Nonetheless, over the past several years, Jerusalem-area planning committees repeatedly approved plans to demolish the building and build a mixed residential and commercial project in its place.

Jerusaelm home
Emil Salman

The Society for the Preservation of Israeli Heritage Sites and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel mounted repeated objections to the plans, but they failed to persuade any of the planning committees.

After the plan received final approval, the groups went to court, claiming that the municipality had been misled into believing that the developer's building rights couldn't be met without tearing down the building.

"We approached the hearing believing it was a lost cause, but we were going to fight to the end, as is our custom," said Avraham Shaked, who represents the SPNI before the planning committees.

Two days before the hearing, to everyone's shock, the municipality informed the court it was withdrawing the plan and would allow submission of a new plan that would be less destructive and preserve the historic and architectural elements of the building.

As a result, last week Jerusalem District Court Judge Nava Ben-Or accepted the green groups' appeal and sent the plan back to the drawing board. The ruling was publicized only yesterday.

Developer Avi Ruami was incensed.

"This was a cowardly decision," Ruami said. "This is a city that is chasing away its developers. I wanted to build in Jerusalem out of love, and now I'm embarrassed to be part of this city. I'm not building here anymore."

Asked about claims that he had put undue pressure on the decision makers during the planning hearings, he replied, "Do you think there's a developer in the world who could influence six different committees over many years unless his plan was good?"

The Jerusalem Municipality said that it merely brought the facts to the court as it was asked to do.

"The city was careful to leave the decision to the court," it said.