Some 8,000 Historic Buildings in Jerusalem Set to Be Protected

Municipality to approve list Monday, although activist says another 8,000 buildings still need safeguarding from developers.

A home in pricey German Colony, Jerusalem.
Tomer Appelbaum

Thousands of historic Jerusalem buildings are to be granted protection from developers. Some 8,000 structures will be included in a list set to be approved by the municipality on Monday, although an activist says this is only half the number of buildings that need safeguarding.

Israel’s building and planning law requires every local authority to draw up a list of historic buildings that should be deemed off-limits to development. The list was meant to be approved more than 20 years ago, but Jerusalem – which has whole sections considered preservation sites and thousands of buildings of historic significance – has struggled to compile its list.

Because of the delay, several historic buildings have been damaged over the years, some by accident but some deliberately by developers looking to exercise building rights. Local activists have sporadically protested against the demolition of specific buildings or the building of additions that ruined the historic character of structures.

Haneviim Street:

In recent years, the city has spent some 10 million shekels ($2.57 million) to create a comprehensive survey of buildings that should be afforded protection. Six research teams documented and mapped out historic buildings in different parts of the city, and the list was posted online.

According to Itzik Shweki, Jerusalem chairman of the Society for the Preservation of Heritage Sites in Israel, the list only includes about half of the structures worthy of preservation in the capital, although the survey is still ongoing. Even so, in recent years numerous local construction plans have been approved promising to protect those buildings slated for preservation.

Ethiopia Street:

The list includes a large number of structures in the historic parts of the city: the downtown areas; the old ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods; Ein Karem; the German Colony, and more. The entire Old City is a preservation site, but for the first time the list also includes buildings in the historic centers of Arab villages within the city limits. In Silwan, for example, there are a few dozen buildings slated for preservation. However, the survey of the Arab neighborhoods was stopped a few months ago because of the deteriorating security situation in East Jerusalem.

Every building has its own preservation file, which includes historic photographs, maps, historical and architectural information, and the restrictions on construction imposed on it. In many instances, the entire file has been uploaded to the municipality’s special website and can be viewed by the public.

Benjamin Disraeli Street, Talibya:

The preservation committee sitting on Monday is expected to decide that all the structures appearing on the list will be protected. However, the local building and planning committee, as well as the municipality itself, can still circumvent the decision and approve changes to a specific building if it is deemed necessary.

Deputy mayor and preservation committee chairman Tamir Nir believes approval of the list will make it easier for those seeking to fight construction plans on specific historic buildings.

“This is a historic step that will protect the city’s special character,” said Nir. “Jerusalem is in the midst of an impressive building boom that will change the city and its quality of life. It’s now, in particular, that I see great importance in the examination and preservation of the city’s special history, as reflected in its streets and buildings.”

Old City:

Even after the plan is approved, protection of all Jerusalem’s historic buildings is not assured. Plans are occasionally presented that involve damaging buildings slated for preservation, and conservationists and professional planners can’t always withstand the pressures exerted by developers.

Just last week, for example, a plan was approved to install an elevator along the facade of a building slated for preservation in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. Another problem is deliberate damage done to a historic building by developers, who then claim the structure is a lost cause and may as well be completely demolished.

“We know how to deal with small-time criminals. The problem is with professional, sophisticated criminals – it’s harder to cope with them,” added Nir.