Jerusalem Residents Enraged by U.S. Embassy's New 20-foot 'Defense' Wall

A few weeks ago, residents learned that the embassy had received a permit to almost double the wall’s height - blocking neighborhood views

U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, August 2019.
Emil Salman

The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem has begun work on a 5.8-meter-high (19-foot) wall around the building, which neighbors say will block their view and mar the neighborhood.

When the embassy opened in 2018 in the U.S. Consulate building in the south Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona, it received a permit to build a wall 3.2 meters high, and security around it was tightened. The Americans demanded that an escape road be built, with a concrete wall around it, and queried the Foreign Ministry, which in turn approached the Finance Ministry.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon signed an order exempting the embassy from obtaining a building permit for the wall and the road. The order was also approved by the High Court of Justice, which rejected a petition by neighbors and the nonprofit group Ir Amim.

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Until recent weeks the embassy has sufficed with a temporary wall at the originally approved height of 3.2 meters. But a few weeks ago neighbors noticed that construction was underway at the site and learned that the embassy had received a permit to almost double the wall’s height.

Officials at the Jerusalem municipality said that the embassy had asked the Defense Ministry for permission to raise the wall to 5.8 meters at its highest point.

Residents turned to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon, expressing their anger over the development. “We, residents of Talpiot Arnona, were shocked to discover that on Kfar Etzion Street in our neighborhood a 5-meter-high (!) wall is to go up that will completely block our access to the view that is part of our lives in the area,” they wrote.

The neighbors said the wall was to be built “using the pretext of ‘defense,’ but any rational person knows that to the south the building is completely exposed to an Arab village, while we’re required to pay a heavy price in quality of life for something that has no purpose or logic.”

Miriam Shomrat, who lives near the embassy, agreed. “We came to live here because of the view and the character of the neighborhood. This neighborhood is slated for conservation and not even Tama 38 changes are allowed,” she told Haaretz, referring to a master plan to upgrade older apartment buildings and reinforce them against earthquakes. “Now they’re building a solid wall the height of a two-story building.”

Shomrat, who has held senior positions at the Foreign Ministry and has served as Israel’s ambassador to a number of countries, said that in every country she worked in, the embassy had to conform to the demands of the local municipality.

“In the embassy in Oslo we didn’t want to build a wall, we only wanted to raise the height of the fence so it couldn’t be climbed,” she said. “The municipality refused. We weren’t even allowed to install a camera looking toward the sidewalk.”

None of the officials whom Haaretz asked for comment denied that the wall was expected to be 5.8 meters high.

“The periphery fence is an exception for security needs in the framework of emergency regulations that were approved by the National Planning and Building Council and the Defense Ministry, and therefore authorization by the municipality is not required,” the Jerusalem municipality said.

The U.S. Embassy said that it was aware of the concerns of some residents of Arnona and that it was operating according to the law. Because of very serious security issues, all U.S. embassies worldwide are built with security infrastructure similar to that under construction in Arnona, it said.

The planning administration said it was not aware of any change to the plan, while the defense and foreign ministries declined to comment.