As Jews around the world conduct the rituals of mourning in remembrance of the destruction of two Holy Temples in Jerusalem and the suffering of exile from the center of Jewish life, an ambitious plan and timeframe are afoot to rebuild Jerusalem and turn it once again into the pulsating heart of the Jewish world.
In an interview with the Jewish Press’s Yishai Fleisher, Director and Founder of the Israel Land Fund, Arieh King, described his organization’s efforts to reclaim stolen properties in eastern Jerusalem, and to expand the borders of the entire metropolis.
After Fleisher described an ambush he underwent in a narrow street in the Arab-dominated Wadi Joz neighborhood to the north of Jerusalem’s Old City, King warned that any area which does not have a Jewish population could become a hotbed of terrorism.
“There’s no question that once Jews are not there, there is no sovereignty, police are not entering there, this is the basis for anti-Israeli organizations to put their roots …There’s no question, if Jews were living there, things like that would not happen”.
King got his start as a security guard in the City of David in 1997. Then most commonly known as Silwan, the area was wrought with strife and was targeted frequently by local Arabs for attacks, despite his position just adjacent to the most significant place in the city, the Old City of Jeruasalem. Born on Kibbutz Alumim, King, is one of the ten original residents of Ma’ale Zeitim (Ras-Al-Amud) where he currently resides with his wife and children. He started the Israel Land Fund while trying to recover property on the Mt. of Olives in 2007.
According to King, the battle for Jerusalem is fierce and “desperate”.
“The changes are daily. Unfortunately, of course, people are attacked, and there are bad things still happening, but if we compare it to other periods, we are [going in the] the right direction,” King said. “ I think that our success, not just the Israel Land Fund, but other organizations… in general, the major successes are building in Beit Orot a neighborhood of 16 apartments, in Shimon HaTzaddik at the Shepherd Hotel we built 76 Jewish apartments… this is something that is making our enemies almost desperate and because of that, they are allowing themselves to also attack us and to use a kind of weapon or kind of language that they never used, because they saw and they see almost daily that with all of their support that they get from the media, from the United States leadership, even from Israeli even politicians… they are not able to stop us. And this is making them desperate, because they see the Jewish nation from all over the world is much stronger than what they thought it is.”
Up until now, King’s focus has been on areas specific to eastern Jerusalem – the Mount of Olives, Shimon HaTzaddik (the burial place of Temple high priest Simon the Just), Beit Hanina, Beit Tzafafa,and Jabil Mukaber, areas he said nobody was talking about 10 years ago.
In those areas, King has set about not only buying up Arab properties, but determining which properties were previously owned by Jews but are now being squatted on by Arabs. During the interview, King described how he worked with local Arabs in the Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood to determine who properties belonged to before the Jews were evicted by the Jordanians in 1948, and what the properties were used for.
His future plans for those areas include housing for 500 families (thanks in part to some anonymous donors- Canadian businessmen), 120 additional apartments in an area called Nachalat Shimon (which King says currently houses 3 large hotels), and a new complex which will be used by Yeshivat Ohr Somayach.
Now, King and a group of experts and city planners have come together to make plans for the rest of the city – proposals which will revolutionize the capital in just 38 years.
Though the plans of King and his architects, civil engineers, tourism experts, hoteliers, transportation, financial, and demographic experts – “most of them are leftists”, says King – were initiated before the recent government report by Edmund Levy, which said Israel has the right to act with sovereignty across Israel, King called the report “a big blessing”. “I hope [the report] will be a good platform to start this movement of asserting sovereignty first of all around Jerusalem. First.”
Called Jerusalem 5800, the plan is to expand Jerusalem to the east, north, and south by the year 2050. As part of the plan, Gush Etzion in southern Judea will become a suburb of Jerusalem, as will Maale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev.
King noted that the expansion will not occur to the west, because of issues pertaining to forestry and rainwater collection.
The plan also aims to introduce a Jerusalem International Airport between Maale Adumim and the Dead sea in the Horkania valley, complete with cable cars and an underground tunnel to the Old City, to accommodate the estimated 10 million tourists the UN has predicted Jerusalem will host in the next 10-15 years.
“It will be a disaster,” King said. “Where will all the people come? Where will they stay? In order to make it happen, we must change Jerusalem and to build and to dig underneath to make many tunnels to make the Holy Basin accessible.”
The stalwart activist also told Fleisher that a key component in the battle for Jerusalem is aliyah. “People [making aliyah] from Zionism, from Zionist reasons…. Any person that calls himself a Zionist is a Jerusalemist –Zion is Jerusalem. When people are making aliyah, they are making aliyah because of Jerusalem,” King said. “And by making aliyah, they are strengthening Jerusalem.
“I hope that each one who is making aliyah will come and live in Jerusalem, but even if they would choose, Raanana, Netanya, or Tel Aviv, it is strengthening Jerusalem, and we need all the time to think about Jerusalem and how we can strengthen Jerusalem,”
For those who have not yet come home to Israel as a way of strengthening Jerusalem, King says Jerusalem consciousness can do a lot for the city. “We are now in the… Nine Days… this is the time for any Jew in the world to think – what did he do for Jerusalem. Every day,” King said. “I’m thinking about it every hour, but ok, every hour for me and for you Yishai, we are here, we see this ugly thing on the Temple Mount every day. So we cannot forget, it’s all the time in our minds, but people in the Diaspora need to think once in a day – what did they do for the sake of Jerusalem.”
“Jerusalem needs help,” King said. And so does he.
“I’m working daily. For me, when I see people that personally decided to change their way of thinking about Jerusalem, this is for me much more strengthening myself than if we found another Jewish property, because I think the most important things is to educate the people that Jerusalem needs their help,” King said. “It’s not something that a few individuals can take care of. Jerusalem is too big for me, too big for our organization, it is too big for all the organizations together – we need everybody to participate somehow – make one day [of the week] Jerusalem day, pray another prayer, stay after davening, say a perek of [Psalms] for Jerusalem. When you come to Netanya,[also] come one day to Jerusalem.”
“People don’t understand how much it strengthens the people that are daily in the front line, suddenly to see people who are coming from afar and just saying hello, saying [way to go] about what you do.”
With all the progress, King wants Jews around the world to know there is much left to be done. “Now we are in the Three Weeks, it’s important for people to know that Jerusalem is still a ruin,” King said. “Many ruins in Jerusalem are waiting to be built.”