Light rail construction in downtown Jerusalem
Light rail construction in downtown JerusalemIsrael news photo: Flash 90

In the wake of the bribery scandal surrounding the Holyland project in Jerusalem, civilians and local politicians are asking police to look into other projects approved from those suspected of taking bribes in the Holyland affair. Among the projects now under suspicion are the Jerusalem light rail train and the Assuta Bauhaus Village project in Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem Councilwoman Yael Entebbe has sent a letter to Police National Fraud Unit head Ziva Agami, asking that the Jerusalem light rail project be investigated. Entebbe argues that approval for the light rail project was not logical at the time, and that the project has been given major financial backing for reasons that are not clear.

The light rail has cost far more than it was supposed to, and has taken much longer than planned to build. Entebbe told Arutz Sheva's Hebrew news service that even if the cost and construction time had been as planned, the train was not the appropriate solution for Jerusalem's transportation problems. Jerusalem needs flexible forms of public transportation, such as buses, the routes of which can be changed based on changes in the city, she explained.

One of the most suspicious points, Entebbe believes, is that the state has promised to ensure that the investors make money on the project. “The state is committing to a very large number of passengers. If that number doesn't materialize, the state will pay the difference between the prediction and the actual demand,” she said.

The commitment could end up costing the state tens of millions of shekels per year, she said.

The light rail project was approved at approximately the same time that the Holyland project won permits, allegedly through bribery, Entebbe notes. It could be, she says, that the same city officials who took bribes in the Holyland case did the same when it came to solving Jerusalem's transportation problems. “During that period a lot of things got started that apparently were not entirely above board,” she said.

Holyland Suspect Among Assuta Planners

Opponents of the Assuta Bauhaus Village project in Tel Aviv discovered this week that one of the project's first planners, architect Uri Sheetrit, was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the Holyland affair. They plan to ask the National Council for Planning and Construction to reexamine the Assuta project, and Sheetrit's involvement in particular.

The Assuta project, a luxury housing development, faces opposition from neighbors and from the Israel Union for Environment Defense. Apartments in the planned development, which sell for as much as 59,000 shekels ($15,600) per square meter, have been purchased by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Bank Leumi CEO Galia Maor, and Mizrahi-Tefahot CEO Eliezer Yones, among others.