The Jerusalem Municipality approved Wednesday the construction of the Ohr Sameach yeshiva building in the Shimon Hatzaddik / Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem. The neighborhood is largely Arab but has a growing Jewish population.
The building is to be constructed behind a gas station in the neighborhood, in a vacant lot that belongs mostly to the Israel Lands Authority. It is to be nine stories high,and have three more stories underground. Its total area will be 9,615 square meters.
The plan was approved by a large majority of hareidi and religious-Zionist members of the municipality's Planning and Construction Committee, despite the objections of the head of the Meretz faction, Pepe Alalu.
Councillor Aryeh King told Kikar Hashabat after the vote that “there is nothing that makes a person more happy than building yeshivas in the Land of Israel, and especially in Jerusalem, and even moreso in view of the fact that this specific yeshiva had to pass numerous obstacles put up by racist elements that went against a Jewish interest only because the people involved are Jews.”
The struggle has ended in victory, he said, but he warned that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may still try to delay the approval.
Alalu told Kikar Hashabat that the decision is not the final chord in the struggle. “There is the court and there are other ways to stop it. There is a well-known status quo that says one can build whatever one wants to in the Jewish neighborhoods, but not in the Arab ones.”
Alalu said that the hareidi and Arab sectors in Jerusalem lack 1,000 classrooms each, and these should be granted priority. “Kids are in the streets and have nowhere to learn and we will not bring in a yeshiva most of whose students live abroad?”
The Arab Ma'an news agency quoted activist and Sheikh Jarrah resident Salih Diab who sais that the building of the Jewish religious school, and the implementation of evacuation orders against Palestinian residents, will turn Sheikh Jarrah into a "Jewish neighborhood."
The land was confiscated in the 1980s under Israel's Absentee Property Law of 1950.
Aviv Tatarski, a spokesperson for far-left group Ir Amim, which campaigns for Arab control over Jerusalem, has claimed that the project was part of a plot to displace local Arabs.
But Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Dov Kalmanovich denied the yeshiva was somehow a provocation, noting that Shimon Hatzaddik was no isolated outpost.
"The location is not in the middle of a casbah. The neighborhood, which we call Shimon Hatzaddik, is located just a few dozen meters from neighborhoods populated with tens of thousands of Jews," he pointed out.
The Shimon Hatzaddik (Simon the Just) neighborhood gains its name from the tomb of the Talmudic Jewish scholar of that name which is located there. The tomb and surrounding lands were purchased by the local Jewish community in 1876. However, following the ethnic-cleansing of the area's Jewish residents by the Jordanian Arab Legion in 1947, the neighborhood was taken over by Arab settlers and renamed "Sheikh Jarrah", after a prominent Muslim figure buried nearby.
Since the unification of Jerusalem in 1967 the Jewish community has been revived, but Jewish families have faced hostility from local Arabs, as well as harassment from foreign anarchist and left-wing activists.