Photo Credit: Jewish Press
Practically the primary front in the Arab war against Israel is Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority and its Arab allies have made no secret of their intention to turn the Jewish nation’s eternal holy city into the capital of yet another Arab state – as merely the first step of their plan to render the entire area Jew-free.
Indications abound that Atarot and northern Jerusalem are a weak link in Israel’s grasp on the capital – and Jews around the world must be made aware: Atarot, whose biblical Jewish roots were renewed nearly a century ago, is in danger of being lost to the Jewish people once again.
As we have detailed several times in this series, the division of Jerusalem entails various calamitous dangers, including in the spheres of security, demographics, religion, nationalism and more.
In this two-part article, we will briefly review the history of Atarot; note the short-lived, hot-potato plans to build a large haredi neighborhood there; and discuss the possible ramifications of the current alternative: a hi-tech industrial park in and near the Atarot Airport.
Given that the security wall already physically separates several northern Jerusalem Arab-populated neighborhoods from the rest of the city, thus encouraging the Arabs in their goal to create an Arab contiguity from Ramallah to Bethlehem, we will ask: Will this new alternative impede the division of Jerusalem – or, Heaven forbid, facilitate it?
Atarot is first mentioned in Joshua 16:2 as a town along the border of the Tribe of Efraim, not far from its current location. Little is known of its history since then, but in 1912, Jews purchased land north of Jerusalem and settled there for several years, left because of World War I, returned in 1922, and formed what was to become the new-old Jewish community of Atarot.
Two years later, N’vei Yaakov was founded nearby, and soon afterward the British built an airport, also in the same vicinity. The residents of both communities flourished but were forced to abandon their homes and flee on foot – on the night of the declaration of the State of Israel – because of ongoing and worsening Arab attacks.
After 1967, when the entire area was liberated during the Six-Day War and became part of municipal Jerusalem, Israel took over the airport and began massive housing construction in N’vei Yaakov – but showed no interest in renewing a settlement community in Atarot.
Instead, the Atarot Industrial Zone – Israel’s largest – was built nearby. It boasted at its heyday over 200 companies, including Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, and Israel Aircraft Industries. Some 4,000 people were employed there, two thirds of whom were Arabs.
Then came the Oslo War, which some know as the Second Intifada, beginning in late 2000. Several months after it began, when the Atarot Airport came under attack, it was decided to close the field and give it over to IDF use. At the same time, the industrial zone began to deteriorate, as travel to the area became difficult and dangerous for Jews, and inconvenient for Arabs.
Then came what could have been a knockout blow: Among 31 Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists around the country in February 2002, two of them were from Atarot – a guard and an official of the Rejwan Coffee company; eight others were killed in three incidents elsewhere in the vicinity.
Companies began moving out of the Atarot industrial zone, and the situation looked bleak. One company that managed to hold on was Israel Consolidated Laundries, Ltd., Israel’s largest laundry service. Owner Bernie Moskowitz recalls those times, and says that if Atarot is ever separated from Jerusalem, “the first to lose will be the [many] Arabs who work here. I can tell you for sure they are not interested in dividing the city; they have good jobs, are able to travel . Most of them have been with me for some 30 years, and they bring their sons and brothers as well.”
Moskowitz still arrives at work almost daily – aided by the relatively new Modiin-Jerusalem highway, Route 443. “I simply take the Begin Highway to 443 and turn right to Atarot,” he says, “a ten-minute drive from my office in Givat Sha’ul. Without it, I’m not sure that Atarot would be able to survive” – considering that the only other route leads through southern Ramallah’s El Bireh and Shuafat. As it is, it is barely hanging on, with only about 80 businesses remaining.
With the security situation improving, and the industrial zone showing signs of recovery, city planners began to entertain the idea of massive housing construction for a hareidi neighborhood in Atarot. After all, Jews lived there during the times of both Joshua Bin-Nun and Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook; why not now again?
On the other hand, at least one source in the know – Meir Margalit, a former city councilman and former Peace Now activist – has said that Israeli negotiators have passed maps to the PA indicating that “all areas of the city north of N’vei Yaakov will pass to the PA.”
Clearly, for Israel as a sovereign country to give up parts of its capital because of demographic and political pressure bodes ill for other areas of the country – such as Ramle, Nazareth, and even Safed – that have growing Arab minorities. But let us concentrate for now on Atarot.
In our next coulumn we will explore what came of the idea to build a hareidi neighborhood in Atarot, what alternative is being touted to take its place, and whether the new plan can truly impede the division of Jerusalem that Peace Now would like to see.
For more information on how to participate in keeping Jerusalem Jewish, via updates, bus tours of critical parts of Jerusalem, and more, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech website at www.keepjerusalem.org.
Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem–Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel’s minister of tourism.
Hillel Fendel is the senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7 and an author.Both have lived in Jerusalem and now reside in Beit El.
Their column appears every other week.