Rooftop Promenade to Link Old City's Jewish and Muslim Quarters

In S.Y. Agnon's story "As a Musician Playing," a character, Avigdor, stands on the roof of his house and looks out over the Old City of Jerusalem. "House touches house and roof touches roof. A person can pass from one end of Jerusalem to another by the roofs, as a city built connected together, Avigdor said, alluding to the Psalms, sighing deeply. Jerusalem is connected by its houses and divided by its inhabitants."

It is hard to know whether the the Jewish Quarter Development Company's inspiration for the rooftop walk came from Agnon, but it will link, at least to some extent, the Jewish and the Muslim quarters.

The Old City is divided into quarters more or less according to the identity of its residents - Jews, Muslims, Christians and Armenians. In the Camp David summit of 2000, Ehud Barak expressed willingness to divide the Old City between Jews and Arabs, leaving Israel the Jewish and Armenian quarters and giving the Palestinians the Muslim and Christian sections. Now, with the approval of the government, the Jewish Quarter Development Company is planning a rooftop promenade that will extend from south to north, linking the Jewish and Muslim quarters.

A million and a half tourists visit the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall annually, but only about one third visit the other quarters. The company hopes the development of the promenade will change all that, with tourists first visiting the rooftops, and eventually the quarters as well.

The existing access to the rooftops affords a view of all four quarters of the Old City, as well as the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives with its historic monuments, and beyond to the Judean Desert and the mountains of Moab across the Dead Sea. It has been a popular site for a variety of tour groups for years; from on high it is easier for guides to explain to their groups the conflict of the last century over Jerusalem, the siege of the Jewish Quarter in 1948 and the the Six-Day War.

Most of the planned promenade will travel over buildings administered by the Custodian of Absentee Property. The Jewish Quarter Development Company has already come to an agreement in principle to rent and develop the area, and is now negotiating with the city over ongoing maintenance - landscaping, cleaning, lighting and the like.

The roofs have long been used as passageways by pedestrians looking for shortcuts through the crowded Old City markets. They also serve as ad-hoc playgrounds for children of both the Jewish and the Muslim quarters, although they do not play together. The plan calls for installation of plants and benches, paving of part of the roofs, and the construction of shafts through which visitors can look down at the markets. The cost of the initial development is estimated at NIS 1 million.

The rooftop walk will include the Muslim Quarter markets as well as the Galicia Courtyard, which until 1936 was settled by Jews, and to which a number of Jewish families have come to live in recent years, along with a yeshiva. "The Old City, and the Jewish Quarter in particular, is an open-air museum," the director of the Jewish Quarter Development Company, Nissim Arazi, says. "The promenade, which will operate at no charge, is a strategic site in terms of the flow of tourists through the entire Old City." Arazi says that beyond encouraging tourism, the promenade will offer "an opportunity to bring Jews, Arabs and Christians together," and will also be "an element that strengthens in general the Jewish hold and Israeli sovereignty in the Old City."