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Sunday, September 01, 2013 

Illegal Haredi school in Old City's Jewish Quarter aggravates original architect of modern development

In the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, there's an unregistered Haredi school being run that gets on the nerves of an architect:
In the 1970s, architect Moshe Safdie participated in planning the rebuilt Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City. He and his wife were also among the quarter’s first residents. Yet today, changes in the quarter’s character are making even the Safdies consider leaving. Over the last 20 years, it has changed from a heterogeneous, pluralistic neighborhood into a largely ultra-Orthodox one that is increasingly unfriendly to non-Haredi residents.

When Safdie — who also planned Ben-Gurion International Airport, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and the city of Modi’in — moved to the Jewish Quarter 42 years ago, 60 percent of its residents were secular and 40 percent religious, with most of the latter being religious Zionists. Today, of the quarter’s approximately 600 families, he can think of only five that are secular, and the religious Zionist community has also shrunk drastically.

But the straw that has broken the Safdies’ back is the religious boys’ school that has been operating illegally in an apartment building a few meters from their window. This school, they say, symbolizes everything that has gone wrong with the entire quarter.

The Moriah school, which serves the “Hardal” community (the Haredi wing of the religious Zionists), opened 15 years ago on the border of the Jewish and Christian quarters and has since expanded steadily. Today, it has taken over six apartment buildings, one of which is still inhabited by two Palestinian families. The apartments were turned into classrooms, and the rooftops into playgrounds. The public square beneath the Safdies’ apartment has become the students’ soccer field. Because houses in the quarter are built very close together, the Safdies’ balconies are just meters from the school’s rooftops, meaning the family suffers daily from noise and loss of privacy.

For 14 years, the Safdies have been fighting the school that is destroying their lives. After despairing of the Jerusalem municipality’s foot-dragging, they took it to court two years ago. A judge ordered the city to look into the school’s legality, and the city reported back that at least one building was being used illegally, without a permit.

This “constitutes sufficient evidence for an indictment,” the municipal prosecutor wrote. But “based on the discretion allotted it by law,” the city decided to give Moriah six months to obtain a permit.

That deadline expired in October 2012, yet Moriah didn’t even bother applying for a permit until May 2013. Nevertheless, the city kept giving it more time — most recently until February 2014.

Meanwhile, the neighbors continue to suffer. “It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that on school days, especially during recesses, it’s impossible even to hold a face-to-face or telephone conversation in the house,” said a brief opposing the permit application that the Safdies submitted to the local Planning and Building Committee.

The brief also noted that due to the quarter’s limited space, its master plan permits only schools serving the local community to locate there. But according to a list obtained by residents, only 11 of Moriah’s approximately 200 students live in the quarter. Most come from other East Jerusalem neighborhoods.

“There’s nothing like this in the advanced world — putting a school into an old city thousands of years old for a population that doesn’t live there,” claimed architect Mordechai Ben Horin, the Safdies’ neighbor. “Whatever you write, the reality here is much worse.”
I'm sure it is. Unfortunately, this being Haaretz who wrote this, they cannot avoid sabotaging the impact by tossing in some pro-Islamist propaganda all for the sake of it:
Nor is it only residents who are suffering. The public square the students use as their soccer field is virtually the only access route to the Old City’s Muslim and Christian quarters for thousands of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood. The only alternative route is via the Western Wall Plaza — which would require them to undergo strict security checks every time they enter. Aside from the unpleasantness of walking through the middle of a soccer game, residents say the students sometimes yell insults at Arab passersby.
Oh, that's just what we need, that they pander to Islamists, who'd do even worse if they controlled the quarter by resorting to segregationist tactics. What if any of those passerbys who are Muslim could be capable of threatening violence against Jewish civilians? In any case, I thought the Jewish residents were the ones who need help and focus.
The Jewish Quarter was planned as a residential neighborhood with very few public buildings, Safdie said. “There was a balance between residents and institutions, and that balance has been broken.”

“Every two weeks I get an offer to sell the house, but I want to live here,” he added. Yet if the problem of the school isn’t solved, “We won’t stay.”

“The municipality’s behavior simply ignores our existence here,” Safdie complained. “Today, I’ve utterly despaired.”

The Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter, which manages the quarter together with the municipality, said that “the company, together with Housing Minister Uri Ariel, has launched an initiative to remove the school from the quarter.”

The municipality said Moriah is a licensed school that serves students “from the Old City, and also from neighborhoods on the outskirts of the Old City, like the City of David, Ma’aleh Zeitim, Shimon Hatzaddik and Abu Tor. The school has operated on the site for almost 20 years.”

The improvised soccer field, it continued, “is a public space where the schoolchildren, like the quarter’s children, play from time to time.” Nevertheless, it added, “the municipality is working with the school to reduce the disturbance to neighbors by installing acoustic walls.”

It said it gave the school time to apply for a permit because of the many years it has operated there. “So far, only one objection has been submitted to the application, by Mr. Safdie and his wife. Because the period for submitting objections hasn’t yet ended, the case hasn’t yet been discussed by the [planning] professionals.”

If the permit is ultimately rejected, the city will file an indictment and seek an injunction barring the school from using the building, it promised.

Zvika Sheli, director of the association that runs the school, said “The school has operated for many years in the Old City and for children of the Old City, and everything is done legally.”
Do tell? While the paper could be using this as a means of going for tabloid trash, if the school hasn't been doing most of its work legally, then the director should be ashamed for lying. They'd do well to apologize to the Safdies for all the trouble they've been causing.

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