Fresh off three weeks of mourning over that which is still missing in “rebuilt Jerusalem,” let us now take an optimistic look at the ongoing expansion of the Holy City. We would like specifically to look toward the sun: the east of eastern Jerusalem.
Jerusalem has traditionally expanded toward the west. This is true not only of the modern era but even during the times of King Hezekiah of Judea nearly 3,000 years ago. Visitors to the Old City are likely familiar with the “Broad Wall,” much of which (over 200 feet) is preserved “as was” amid today’s modern Jewish homes.
King Hezekiah built it to the west of what was then Jerusalem, for the purpose of protecting the most recent olim chadashim (new immigrants) to the city – refugees from the exiled Ten Tribes who made their way to the Holy City. Upon their arrival, the king expanded the small city to the west – marking the direction for generations to come.
We have seen the westward expansion in recent decades and centuries most clearly. Ever since the city was walled in the early 16th century by the Turkish Sultan Suleiman, the Jews and other residents basically clung to the safety of the enclosure and did not move outside the walls. Even when leaving the city for business, they would return at night, locking the gates behind them.
Only in the 19th century did several brave Jewish pioneers seek to “break out” – to the west. In 1860, the first residential neighborhood outside the Old City was dedicated: Mishkenot Shaananim, just west of Mt. Zion. The site had been purchased by Sir Moses Montefiore from funds left for him in Judah Touro’s estate. The original plan was for 20 new apartments, with an accompanying modern bathhouse and a mikveh, to be used by families of the kollelim of the Old City for three years at a time. The objective was to enable as many families as possible to enjoy the modern homes and non-crowded living conditions.
It turned out, however, that the demand did not quite meet the supply, because the residents were afraid to leave the safety of the walls. In the end, families had to be offered not only permanent residence there but also a monthly stipend in order to move in.
Despite its rocky start, it led to the founding of other new neighborhoods outside the walls, including the Russian Compound to the north of Mishkenot Shaananim, Meah She’arim still further north, and many others.
In 1967, when the Old City and environs were liberated, the same trend continued: new neighborhoods to the west, north, and south. What of the east? All the growth, expansion, and dynamism passed it by, and it was left to the foreigners, most of whose ancestors had arrived only in recent decades from Syria, North Africa, and other Muslim areas.
Rabbi Yisrael Rosenne, author of a column in one of Israel’s longest-running weekly synagogue Torah sheets, Shabbat B’Shabbato, dedicated his thoughts last week to the “rays of light” coming from the east. He noted the small but blossoming sites of new Jewish settlement in what is truly, and not merely in political jargon, eastern Jerusalem. They deserve to be mentioned here as well: Beit Orot, Beit HaShiv’ah, Maaleh HaZeitim, Nof Tzion, the City of David, Kidmat Tzion, and others.
One new Jewish site in eastern Jerusalem is Beit HaHoshen, two adjacent buildings atop the Mt. of Olives purchased by a Jewish group in April 2006. A giant Israeli flag unfurled above it can be seen from any high point in Jerusalem – a symbol of the Jews’ return to their homeland after nearly 2,000 years of wandering.
The Yemenite Village in eastern Jerusalem is another site that deserves our attention. Founded in 1885 by Yisrael Dov Frumkin, he built a synagogue there and paved the way for some 65 Yemenite Jewish families to live on the slopes of the Mt. of Olives. The settlement thrived, but the Arab riots that engulfed the Land of Israel in the 1930s defeated it. The British rulers told the Jews they couldn’t protect them and that they must leave, but promised they could return. Little did anyone realize the promise would be fulfilled not by the British, but by the state of Israel, and only many decades later. Over the years, many Jewish families have returned to the various “new” homes in the area: Beit Yehonatan, Beit HaDvash, Beit Ovadiah, Beit Frumkin, and more.
E-1: #1 in the East
Yet the largest of all projects east of Jerusalem is essentially frozen without even having gotten off the ground. Two decades ago the government of Israel decided on a large-scale housing project east of the capital. It was called E1 – E stands for “east” – and was planned to be built on a large tract of land to create a contiguity of Jewish presence toward Maaleh Adumim.
The E-1 site covers an area of largely uninhabited, state-owned land, and is of critical importance. Without control of the E-1 area, wrote the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs back in 2009, Israel must worry “about a Palestinian belt of construction that will threaten Jerusalem from the east, block the city’s development eastward, and undermine Israel’s control of the Jerusalem-Jericho road. This major artery is of paramount strategic importance for Israel in order to transport troops and equipment eastward and northward via the Jordan Rift Valley in time of war.”
Despite this, alas, E-1 remains a reality only on paper, due to international fears fueled by Arab pressures. The claim that a Jewish E-1 would cut in half the PA-controlled areas of northern Judea and undermine PA contiguity is false. Israel has actually planned a new highway, with no security roadblocks, that would allow northbound Arab traffic to pass east of Maaleh Adumim.
Most unfortunately, the frozen E-1 program is barely even mentioned these days in public discourse. The only encouraging news on E-1 in recent months has been the confiscation or destruction by the IDF Civil Administration of EU-funded structures for Arabs, in various stages of construction.
KeepJerusalem has long emphasized the importance of more and more construction in all parts of Jerusalem, as well as the need to stand up for Israeli interests even in the face of strong Arab and international pressure. Construction and increased housing will solve many of Jerusalem’s long and short-term problematic issues, and must become a top priority of the city and national government. For more information, to help out, and/or to participate in bus tours of news-making areas in Jerusalem, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hillel Fendel and Chaim Silberstein / KeepJerusalem.org