It Pays to Stick to Your Guns
18-Year Battle to Save Jewish-Owned Land Pays Off

An 82-year-old American finally succeeds in getting Arab squatters off his property and including it in a new Jerusalem zoning plan.

Hillel Fendel,

Herskovitz on his property
Herskovitz on his property
Israel news photo

Yitzchak Herskovitz's tenacious legal battle, over the course of 18 years, to save his land from Arab squatters has paid off big-time: The land, on the edge of the Arab neighborhood of Beit Tsafafa in southern Jerusalem, is now to be included in a new city zoning plan for the Jewish neighborhood of Givat HaMatos.

That is, not only is the plot of land recognized as Jewish-owned, it will now be part of a Jewish neighborhood. Herskovitz's long, expensive, arduous battle was thus a victory on both the individual and national planes. (Read his account of the miraculous nature of his victory here.)

Peace Now is Enraged

According to a new zoning plan on its way to final approval by the Jerusalem City Council, some 3,000 new housing units will be built in the enlarged Givat HaMatos south Jerusalem neighborhood. Its importance can be gauged by the near-hysterical reaction of Peace Now, whose goals are a two-state solution and as few Jews as possible in Judea, Samaria and reunited Jerusalem.

"The plan is a threat to any chance of a two-state solution," Peace Now wailed when the plan was first released. "A diplomatic bombshell," it called it, "that will block any possibility of an arrangement [with the Palestinian Authority] in Jerusalem… It completes the separation between Bethlehem and [Arab] eastern Jerusalem."

"I went through 18 years of legal battles," the 82-year old Herskovitz said, "to have the Bedouin-Arab squatters removed from my property. I won the case in the Jerusalem Magistrates Court, as well as the appeal in the District Court, and the last appeal as well in the Supreme Court. It was not easy."

The feisty Herskovitz, who doesn't seem to know the meaning of "How about just giving up?", has grand plans for his plot of land. "I'm too young to retire," he insists – not to mention that "the elation I feel from the panoramic view of practically the whole city of Jerusalem I enjoy from my house is simply indescribable."

Currently occupying the land is a structure that is over 80 years old. Although he has carried out some basic renovations to render it habitable, Herskovitz, who lives in Kiryat Arba, says he has no plans to renovate the old house. "I want to take it down and start from scratch – so that I can build affordable housing for young couples who cannot afford to buy their own apartment."

He is well aware that with the construction of the new neighborhood, his property will increase significantly in value. "But I want to repress my ambition to make a big profit by selling it," he says, "in favor of a more important goal: affordable rental housing."

To do this, Herskovitz is seeking investors, with whom he plans to share the profits equally.

This is not his only problem, however. A former bonded building contractor in the United States, Herskovitz knows what goes into and behind plans for construction and zoning – and feels that the current plan is not doing him justice. The ins and outs of the matter are complex, but he did say that one of the problems is that a dirt road - which could easily become a street - is currently the only access to his property, but according to the new zoning plan, will become a walkway, leaving his building inaccessible to ambulances and other vehicles.

"Yes, I know that a street is planned for the other side of my building," Herskovitz says, "but it might be built a decade from now! What do I do until then?" And the planned street chops off about 10% of his property.

He has another problem with that dirt path: It has legal status as an "easement" to his property, he says, yet its owner – the Greek Orthodox Church – refuses to recognize this. Herskovitz has already begun the process of taking the Church to court on the matter.

Never a dull moment in the ongoing struggle to retain Jerusalem's Jewish-owned land for Jews.

Hillel Fendel is a veteran reporter who formerly wrote at Arutz Sheva. He followed this story from the beginning, and offered to write its happy ending for A7.