On Thursday, residents of the Jewish Quarter met Jerusalem Municipality representatives for a public presentation about the project.
By HEDDY BREUER ABRAMOWITZ
The Jerusalem Municipality is planning to reconstruct the Armenian Patriarchate Road, the sole vehicular access road that serves the Western Wall, the Jewish and Armenian Quarters.
On Thursday, residents of the Jewish Quarter met Jerusalem Municipality representatives for a public presentation about the project, after an anonymous letter was disseminated among residents that spread rumors about the proposed project.
Director of Old City Development at the Jerusalem Development Authority, Aner Ozeri, told residents that no deal had yet been struck between the city and Jewish and Armenian Quarter residents, but that there were plans under discussion.
Ozeri, who came with maps and schematics, explained that the current infrastructure was built nearly 50 years ago and that it is today inadequate for residents and tourists. People swarm the Old City throughout the year for festivals, celebrations and state ceremonies.
The proposed plan is part of a city development plan, first considered four decades ago, which hopes to unify visually all the gates of the Old City. The design includes stone walkways, new lighting, better sidewalks and more.
The plan will be carried out, if approved, in partnership between the municipality and JDA. It will require 24-six construction and 24-seven closure of a 300-meter section of the Armenian Patriarchate Road. Renovations would extend from the “Kishle” police station near the Tower of David Museum until the Zion Gate, hence likewise requiring partial closure of the road that continues to the Batei Machse Road reaching the Dung Gate.
Ozeri said construction on the road is estimated to take around three-and-a-half months and should begin immediately following the Jewish High Holy Days and Sukkot period.
The medieval Zion Gate was built in 1540 by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent during the Ottoman period. It was designed with a sharp 90-degree turn and functioned as an effective deterrent to the use of seven-foot-long lances for both mounted and foot troops.
While the gate may have once been the pinnacle of military defense technology in its day, it is challenging for modern drivers who navigate in cars and buses as opposed to camels, horses and donkeys.
This is not the first time that residents of the Jewish and Armenian Quarters have been down this road.
In 2008, a preservation and restoration project closed the Zion Gate to vehicular traffic for six months. In 2019, the New Gate was reopened following an extensive infrastructure project that resulted in “the sewage, water, lighting and electricity infrastructures … [were] rehabilitated, streets… repaved, and a parking lot has been opened for residents and for public use.”
It is also not the first time the city has attempted to move forward with this infrastructure project.
Shosh Selavan, chairperson of the Jewish Quarter community council, along with others, has been in negotiations with the municipality to hammer out an agreement that will make an efficient, though not ideal, transition for the residents of the two most-affected quarters, as well tourists.
“Instead of a wider-scale, full infrastructure reworking, we are seeking to pare down the goals in order to get the work done in the shortest possible time, thus reducing the amount of inconvenience to residents and tourists,” Selavan told The Jerusalem Post. “They are expecting to only dig as deep as necessary to replace a water pipe and no further, thus, hopefully, side-stepping any potential archeological digs delaying the road work.”
She said that she suggested temporarily relocating 40 Armenian families who live adjacent to the construction, which will bear the brunt of the hardship, into temporary housing. She also disclosed that “plans include a 90-car parking lot for use by the Jewish Quarter residents,” meant to alleviate the chronic inadequate parking problem.
There were many residents who spoke at the Thursday meeting, bringing up other Old City challenges with the JDA and municipal staff while they could, such as poor transportation, crowded parking lots, emergency services, delivery of goods and getting repairs done and students commuting to the several schools in the vicinity – all of which are ongoing issues for local residents.
A blind woman told about how challenging it is to walk with her cane in the Old City, competing with commuters.
Many stood up to protest the plan, which Rabbi Ephraim Holtzberg, formerly of the Carta Mamilla Boulevard project, described as tantamount to asking to “suicide” and “chaos.”
In 2016, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin put a moratorium on a prior version of the plan, which involved twice as much reconstruction and was scheduled to be worked on only during day-time hours, which would then require as much as four years of work.
Yossi Ben Shahar, former the head of emergency services for the Jewish Quarter, said he sees any such plan as “life endangering and unfeasible.” One of his main concerns is the logistics involved in bringing several ambulances to the Jewish Quarter or Western Wall for a possible multi-injury occurrence in case of an accident or terror attack and managing to exit the Old City and get the injured to hospital. He also pointed out that the current plan restricts access to the Christian Quarter in cases of emergency there.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Dr. Yaakov Hisdai, a historian and lawyer, turned to the audience and asked, “Is there anyone in this auditorium who is in favor of the plan?”
Not a single hand was raised in the full auditorium. Then loud applause broke out.
The story, therefore, is still developing.