In Case You've Forgotten, Jerusalem Is Dying

The Greens reject one idea after the other while forgetting that Jerusalem is mortally ill.

The Greens object! They are opposed to construction in West Jerusalem, they are opposed to tall buildings in the center of town, they are opposed to building in the visual basin of the Old City and yes, they are opposed to building on the Armon Hanatziv ridge ("While the city dies in the background," Esther Zandberg, Haaretz, September 6). What do the Greens support? In light of all their objections one can only conclude that they support the paralysis of Jerusalem and its continued accelerated decline into a heap of rubble, as it was described by Mark Twain in the 19th century.

Jerusalem has been declining constantly since the 1950s as the government, the burghers of the city and planners have been systematically "eating" its heart. Instead of clustering development around the city center, they built and are building remote neighborhoods. First there were the mekasher (connection) neighborhoods - Beit Hakerem, Kiryat Yovel and Kiryat Menachem, and afterward, in the wake of the Six-Day War, the neighborhoods of Gilo, Ramot, French Hill, Armon Hanatziv, Neveh Yaakov, Pisgat Ze'ev and Shuafat. To this glorious list can be added the neighborhood planned by Moshe Safdie for the western part of the city right now. As if all this were not enough, they have added Ma'aleh Adumim to the east and Modi'in to the west. Over the years, this wild construction has moved the inhabitants of the city away from its center.

Even this was not enough. At the same time, an effort was made to distance any significant activity from the downtown area. The government ministries were moved out. The university was transferred to closed camps, first to Givat Ram and then to Mount Scopus as well.

The Bezalel Museum was moved out and turned into another closed camp on an isolated hill, and renamed the Israel Museum. The Knesset was taken to the ghost town opposite the museum called "the National Compound." The Supreme Court was also moved there.

All they left in the city center is cheap eateries, cheap clothing stores, poverty and filth. After all this, it is no wonder that the life of the city has moved to the sterile atmosphere of the Malha Mall, which for very good reason holds the championship in turnover among all the malls in Israel, even though Jerusalem is the poorest large city in the country.

Jerusalem is mortally ill. Urgent resuscitation and intensive care are needed to prevent the collapse of its systems and death. Superstars in the form of architects Santiago Calatrava and Frank Gehry are not even aspirin. What is needed, and urgently, is a massive transfusion of people into the city center. Such a transfusion must be performed by adding thousands of housing units and hotel rooms downtown, the cancellation of any expansion of "technological parks" outside the city center, the addition of tens of thousands of square meters of commercial space downtown and a massive addition of trees along the city's streets.

Additions on this scale cannot be implemented without slaughtering the sacred cows of preservation of entire areas and without massive high-rise construction in the internal valleys and the visual basin of the Old City.

The plan to build hotels - as opposed to unnecessary Disneyland-style attractions like the proposed observation tower - on the Armon Hanatziv ridge is a move in the right direction. Jerusalem attracts tourists because it holds an asset that interests them - the Old City with its holy places.

This is Jerusalem's sea, and it is this sea that tourists want to see from the balcony of their hotel room. For this sea, they will pay double for a room that faces the view, double for a cup of coffee that faces the view and double for a table in a restaurant that faces the view.

Had the Greens been active during King Solomon's time, they would apparently have opposed the erection of the Temple on Mount Moriah. In Herod's time, they would have prevented the expansion of the Temple compound and the construction of the supporting wall; thus the Western Wall would not have been built. They would have prevented the construction of everything that attracts tourists to Jerusalem today. We would have been left today with a primitive landscape of rocky hills that would not draw a single inhabitant to the city, never mind tourists.

The writer is an architect and head of the Azrieli School of Architecture at Tel Aviv University.