At the Foot of Mt. of Olives: How Maaleh Zeitim was Built
Behind-the-scenes in the purchase and construction of the Maaleh Zeitim neighborhood. At last night’s official dedication ceremony for Maaleh Zeitim in Jerusalem – located just below the Temple Mount, Western Wall and Mt. of Olives– veteran Jerusalem lands activist Mati Dan told the audience some of what led up to the building of the neighborhood.
"We celebrate tonight the culmination of 144 years of plans for the construction of this neighborhood," Dan said, and then explained;
"Back in 1887, prominent Jerusalemites Moshe Wittenberg and Nissan Beck purchased this property in the name of the Chabad and Volin Hassidic groups; we have the original tabu [lands registry] listing. [In the realization that Chabad and Volin were not going to build there,] I met with Dr. Irving Moskowitz at around 2:30 in the morning and I told him, 'I know that you generally want to redeem property from non-Jews, but I’m telling you that if you don’t buy this property, Arab infiltrators will take it over, and it will simply be lost.'
"So he said, 'You know what, you convinced me. How much do they want?' We thereupon entered into negotiations, as is customary, and in the end, he bought it. But then began great tensions regarding if a Jewish neighborhood would be permitted to be built there, and would ever agree to risk his money doing so?
"One day I arrived at the Housing Ministry and I met with a very senior official and asked for help. He told me, 'I can’t help you, but I’ll find you contractors who will be willing to build this neighborhood and won’t be afraid of the financial risk.’ And he called who else but Nachman Zoldan… There are so many people to thank; each one deserves at least a quarter-hour of my speech… When Nissan Hatchkouri came, he told him, ‘Nachman, whether it's worth it or not, just build – and I will personally guarantee it.’ In the merit of people like them, we merited this new neighborhood."
Mati Dan then told a story that happened a City Council meeting, "one of the very last ones under Mayor Teddy Kollek’s term. I remember that they were supposed to discuss the Holyland project there. Shmuel Meir, of saintly blessed memory [after whom Homat Shmuel, or Har Homa, is named – ed.], lifted up a model of the Holyland project, and with great drama, he announced, ‘If we don’t vote now on the Ras el-Amoud project [the Arabic name for Maaleh Zeitim], we won’t discuss this project either!’
"Kollek saw that he was in a bind, because the majority was against him, so he called a recess, and then offered a deal that the vote should be held after the elections. Another council member, future-Mayor Uri Lupoliansky, consulted with Rabbi Elyashiv, who said, ‘No wheeling-dealing with Jerusalem! Vote for it now!’ – and the vote was held, and the project was approved.”