Long-time Jerusalem lands activist Aryeh King told the audience at the 8th Annual Jerusalem Conference on Tuesday that eight Jerusalem neighborhoods are actually off-limits to Jews. The news, backed up by video clips showing soldiers refusing to allow Jews to enter while Arab cars entered freely, caused a stir not only in the audience, but also among the panel of speakers.
The session dealt with Jerusalem, how to prevent its division, and how to strengthen its status as the capital of the Jewish People. Speakers included Education Minister Gideon Saar, who was praised for his initiative in which pupils throughout Israel visit Jerusalem at least three times during their school careers.
"Our common vision and dream, throughout the generations, to reach Jerusalem and Zion," Saar said, "is what enabled us to exist as 'one nation,' as Haman said in the Book of Esther that we shall soon read, even though we were also 'scattered and separate.' ... More than we succeeded in preserving Zion, Zion was able to watch over us."
Saar said he believes it was his first decision upon becoming Education Minister two years ago "to ensure that pupils get to know Jerusalem. A survey beforehand had shown that a full 50 percent of those who graduated from our schools had never been to Jerusalem! ... So we instituted a program, fully funded and recognized, by which students in 5th, 7th and 10th grades take official school trips to Jerusalem, where they visit sites such as the Western Wall, the Western Wall Tunnels, the City of David, Ammunition Hill, and more. Sites that had been all but closed but were opened, with the cooperation of the police, as a result of this program, which brings over a half-million students to our capital every year."
King Attacks Netanyahu
In contrast to the positive picture painted by Saar and succeeding speakers, King, a familiar face on the Jerusalem activism scene and head of the Israel Land Fund, began his talk aggressively: "Bibi [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] has already divided Jerusalem! Not with words, but with actions…. There are seven neighborhoods - and now another one has just been added, Isawiya, very close to here – where Jews are not permitted to enter! … In addition, 7% of Jerusalem area has been transferred to the control of the IDF, in violation of the Basic Law: Jerusalem.
"The Israel Police do not enter these neighborhoods, while the PA police direct traffic there! … Bibi also allows illegal Moslem burials outside the eastern wall of the Temple Mount – something that no prime minister before him allowed... The PA has also paved several kilometers of roads in Jerusalem… Bibi is doing terrible things, things that Barak in Camp David [in the late 90's, when he agreed to give 95-98% of Judea and Samaria to the PA] never dreamed of doing."
King screened three video clips, one that showed how soldiers did not allow a Jewish car to enter an Arab-populated neighborhood "just 250 meters from French Hill," while allowing Arabs to pass through unhindered.
Another member of the speakers' panel – Shlomo Attias of Shas, head of the Jewish Quarter Development Company – acknowledged that he did not know much of what King reported, and that it was shocking news.
Danon Agrees - Mostly
MK Danny Danon (Likud) told how he and King worked together to salvage Jewish-owned land in Jerusalem 13 years ago: "At one point, we went to a building in Maaleh Zeitim [Ras el-Amoud], but even though it was totally and legally ours, we had to go at night so as not to [arouse problems]… Arabs saw us and started attacking us with rocks. We called the police, located at the time just 300 meters away, and they made us wait for three hours before arriving! They did it purposely, so that we would get scared and leave altogether – but we didn't, and finally the police arrived and dispersed the attackers. Today, of course, dozens of Jewish families live there, with dozens more set to move in these very weeks…"
Danon also related that several years ago, the neighborhood of Har Homa – now populated by close to 30,000 Jews – was the main issue of contention: "Clinton and Albright ordered Netanyahu, who was Prime Minister at the time, not to sign the tenders for construction, because Arafat would never agree to have Bethlehem cut off from the Temple Mount. But we gathered some MKs and exerted pressure and made it clear that the government would fall on this issue – and Bibi signed the papers."
Danon agreed that "the situation in Jerusalem is a catastrophe… Just a few weeks ago, plans for developing some new neighborhoods were abruptly removed from the planning committee's agenda…"
Despite this, he did not agree with Aryeh King's implied call to replace Netanyahu, and said that it is best to be part of the government and to struggle for change from within.
What Happened With Atarot?
King said that the solution for Jerusalem is to build large housing projects in and around Jerusalem: "For instance, there was a plan to build 10,000 units for the hareidi-religious public in Atarot, in northern Jerusalem – but for some reason, Mayor Barkat shelved it. It is projects like these that will save Jerusalem!"
Barkat had been listed to speak at the session, but canceled his participation shortly beforehand. He recently said that he would like the government to help the city rezone Atarot, until recently the site of an airport, into a 200-acre industrial and hi-tech park.