Originally published 21 May 2003
About a month ago, after four years of building, the Jerusalem
neighborhood of Maaleh Zeitim was reborn. Located just east of the Old City
in Ras al-Amud, Maaleh Zeitim has been populated once again by Jews - this
time in permanent homes. The neighborhood has been surrounded by political
controversy in the past - including an attempt by US President Bush to prevent
its construction. The relative quiet that accompanied its opening makes it
difficult to understand what all the fuss was about.
neighborhood consists of 51 brand new housing units, 35 of which have already
been purchased. The planned second stage of construction will add 68 more
residences, bringing the total to 119. Maaleh Zeitim is located about 400
yards from the Temple Mount and its Western Wall as the bird flies, and ten
minutes away by foot. There is also a glorious view. From one side the Judean
Desert can be seen, the other overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem. The center
of the neighborhood includes a large square and public garden for use by
residents and visitors. There is even a huge underground parking garage (1,800
square feet). The Judea and Samaria region police station is attached to
"The group that put this all together was the all-time
greatest," exclaimed Nachman Zoldan of Kedumim 3000, which built the neighborhood.
"Most of the residents see Maaleh Zeitim as a regular Jerusalem neighborhood,"
says Aryeh King, one of the first pioneers of Maaleh Zeitim and the heart
and soul behind the project. "They are coming to a finished neighborhood
with the temporary trailers and political struggles behind it. The neighborhood
simply fills their needs: It is close to the center of Jerusalem, to work,
and to religious and educational facilities. A large percentage of the residents
are very connected to the Old City's Jewish Quarter which is very close by,
and certainly there is an ideological dimension as well."
price to move to the new neighborhood is not especially cheap. An apartment
bought from the local council costs around $200,000. "For its special location,
proximity to the center of Jerusalem, and high living conditions and building
standards, we are talking about a very cheap price tag," explained King.
"The prices in the neighboring Jewish Quarter of the Old City are much, much
The original idea behind the new neighborhood was
to obstruct the implementation of the "Beilin-Abu Mazen Plan." According
to the plan (drawn up by Oslo Accords architect Yossi Beilin and recently
appointed Palestinian prime minister Abu Mazen), an area was to be created
allowing Arabs to travel from Abu Dis and Azariya to the Temple Mount and
all the way to the Jericho road without passing through Jewish communities.
The new neighborhood connects Ir David (City of David) with Har HaZeitim
(Mt. of Olives) and Har HaTzofim (Mt. Scopus). "Between the Old City and
Abu Dis/Azariya there is now a greatly expanding Jewish presence," says King.
Jewish Ownership From the 19th Century
story of the Maaleh Zeitim neighborhood begins at the end of the 19th century,
when two Jews, Wittenberg and Nissan Bach, bought the land it stands upon.
They set it aside to be used for Jewish burial and entrusted it to two local
Hassidic sects, Lubavich and Volin. However, the Turks, who ruled at the
time, forbade the burial of Jews south of the Jericho highway and the land
During the British Mandate period Arabs grew wheat
on the land, which was used to bake the Passover shmura matza (unleavened
bread which is guarded from harvest until baking to prevent any leavening)
for Jerusalem. With the end of the Mandate and the ensuing Hashemite occupation,
the land was made into the private property of the King of Jordan and soon
returned to its desolate state.
Immediately following the liberation
of Judea and Samaria in the Six Day War, the controversy began with an Arab
who claimed to own the land according to the Jordanian land registry. After
a lengthy court case, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that the Arab's documents
were forgeries and returned to land to its former Hassidic owners. Ten years
passed before the land was purchased by Dr. Irving Moskowitz, who decided
to found a Jewish community at the site.
On the day before Rosh HaShanah
(Jewish New Year) of 5757, three couples and six young men moved to Maaleh
Zeitim, with the help of the Ateret Kohanim association. The new residents
moved into two temporary homes - but then-Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
ordered the evacuation of the area. In the end, the families agreed to leave,
but ten young men stayed to strengthen the location.
to use the two structures, one as an office and one for living," explained
Aryeh King, one of the ten residents at the time. "During the first months
we really felt like we were running a covert operation. Sometimes the police
would come to make sure we were only ten people,and if needed we would hide
in the back of closets."
Netanyahu Prevents, Barak Permits
was married about six months later. "We wanted to be married at Maaleh Zeitim,"
he said, "but the Prime Minister's Office refused." In the end they agreed
that the wedding would take place in nearby Beit Orot, but the private room
for the newly married couple would be in Maaleh Zeitim. "Even then, the police
did a search," King remembers. Before the year was up, four of the ten original
residents were married. There were now four families and number of single
people. Settlement never ceased, even after the permanent building began.
The structure in which the four families lived was only destroyed in 2001.
during the Netanyahu government construction was frozen. Netanyahu put severe
pressure upon Moskowitz and Ateret Kohanim at the behest of the Americans.
The construction only resumed the day Ehud Barak took office as Prime Minister.
Even on Election Day, the bulldozers took up their positions, beginning work
immediately upon Netanyahu's defeat in order to create facts on the ground.
"We understood that Netanyahu was on his way to lose, and so we prepared
accordingly," explained King.
Unfortunately, although there was no
doubt about the legality of the neighborhood, the political left-wing dedicated
their energy toward preventing continued building. Lawyer Danny Zeidman,
one of the heads of "Ir Shalom," a left-wing organization based in Jerusalem
that demonstrated against the building, admits that its legality was not
the issue. "We feel that although this construction is legal, it is incorrect.
There is an attempt here to create facts on the ground before negotiations
and this is a big mistake," he explained. "There are different laws for Jews
and Arabs. When we asked [Jerusalem Mayor] Olmert why they build neighborhood
for Jews only, he proclaims that from the 11th century there were only homogenous
neighborhoods in Jerusalem. But when it comes to Ras al-Amud he explains
that Jews have a right to live wherever they choose. What happens when Arabs
want to return to the now-Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods of Baka or Talbieh?",
Only the Far-Left Rioted
Zeidman is also certain
that the neighborhood will not remain once a future agreement is reached
with the Arabs. "When the Arabs fired on Gilo [a Jerusalem neighborhood built
on land freed in 1967], even they knew that there wasn't enough energy in
the entire Arab world to remove the Jews from Gilo. But in the case of Ras
al-Amud, 30 families will not stand in the way of an agreement. It's just
enough to create a violent conflagration."
Zeidman admits that up
to this moment the new neighborhood has yet to be the cause of any conflagration
- but he is concerned about what he terms "the Hevron-ization of Jerusalem."
He sees Maaleh Zeitim as similar to the Jewish community in Hevron, and he
considers it a great danger.
The new residents don't really understand
what Zeidman is talking about. "This new neighborhood gives life to both
Jewish and Arab residents of the area. There are no fights. The Arab neighbors
even come over to ask if we need help with anything," says Zoldan.
Now has tried and continues to make attempts to inflame the neighborhood,"
says King. "But, to our great satisfaction, good relations with the Arab
neighbors have withstood all their attempts."
Moti Dan tells of Peace
Now members who use all means, including monetary ones, to try to mobilize
the Arab public against the neighborhood. But says that the local Arabs do
not take an active role in the demonstrations.
"A majority of Jerusalem's
Arabs want to stay under Israeli rule. They don't want tyrannical police
and don't want a ra'is [ ed. - Arabic for president], " explains King. The
benefits and public works that are brought to the area are not only provided
to Maaleh Zeitim, but the entire Ras al-Amud.
But demonstrations are
not the only way Peace Now has attempted to put an end to the neighborhood.
From the moment the neighborhood began, the left-wing has applied pressure
from every possible angle, in an attempt to bring building to a halt. "They
didn't go to the Supreme Court, because we are speaking about private initiatives
here. Instead, they put intense pressure on whomever they had access to,"
says Moti Dan. The pressure was applied mainly to Chaim Ramon, Uzi Baram
and David Levy, who each served as Ministers of the Interior at different
times. The pretense was the claim that the neighborhood disrupts the public
order. "Peace Now are inciters of controversy," accuses Moti Dan. "They
are funded heavily by the European Union specifically for that purpose, and
are basically a foreign threat."
The Neighborhood Moves Forward
despite all the attempts, the neighborhood is doing incredibly well in every
respect. Beginning with Teddy Kolek, who in his last meeting as Mayor of
Jerusalem certified the program; continuing forward with Aryeh Deri serving
as Interior Minister and Eli Suissa as head of Jerusalem's Interior Ministry;
and on top of it all, the man who finally signed the final permit was Ehud
Barak, while serving a short stint in the Interior Ministry. "Who knows if
he was appointed just for that one task," says Zoldan.
Until the last
minute, attempts were made to prevent the opening of Maaleh Zeitim. The day
after the first residents began moving into the finished homes, the US Consul
General passed a letter to acting Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lopolianski, signed
by US President Bush, asking him to prevent the inhabitation of the neighborhood
until after the war with Iraq. Lopolianski, however, made it clear to the
Consul General that the neighborhood possessed all the necessary permits
and that residents had already begun living there.
will be the center of Jewish life east of the Old City. Har HaZeitim will
become a Jewish focal point," envisions King. "We will continue to build
and the public will continue to buy," promises Zoldan, whose company, Kedumim
3000, builds in all areas of Yesha ("We don't cross over the Green Line -
because we're already on the other side!, he says.) "During the course of
the Oslo War, we have built in Kedumim, Eli, Elon Moreh and of course Maaleh
Zeitim, and people have bought nearly everything."