Development of the Northern Part of the City and the Kalandia-Atarot Airport
Development of the Northern Part of the City and the Kalandia-Atarot Airport Under Jordanian Rule and Current Development Plans for the Area
This meeting of the East Jerusalem Forum was divided into two sections: First, Dr. Eldad Brin offered an overview of the history of the development of the northern part of the city and the Kalandia-Atarot Airport under Jordanian rule (1948-1967); Then, Itzik Ozer, director of business development at the Jerusalem Development Authority, introduced the projects that are currently being advanced in the Atarot Industrial Zone.
Development of the Northern Part of the City Under Jordanian Rule (1948-1967)
Dr. Eldad Brin
At the time of Jordanian rule, Jerusalem expanded primarily towards the north, largely due to the fact that the road to the south, from Jerusalem toward Bethlehem and Hebron (what is known today as the Hebron Road), was cut off following the War of Independence. It took time before the Jordanians were able to pave two new roads between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and even then, these roads were winding, narrow and inconvenient. Expanding eastward was impractical because of the Judean Desert, and West Jerusalem was under Israeli control. Therefore, Jordanian-controlled Jerusalem expanded northward, via a road that led not only to the airport, but also to Ramallah and Nablus.
Most of the development to the north of Sheikh Jarrah revolved around two villages—Shuafat and Beit Hanina—which were relatively wealthy and included a Christian population. Two suburbs grew around these villages, also called Beit Hanina and Shuafat (not to be confused with the Shuafat refugee camp, which was set up to the east of the neighborhood). Plans were drawn up to build the only heavy industry zone in Jordanian-controlled Jerusalem, in nearby Anata.
To the west of Ramallah Street and the village of Al-Ram was a vocational college for hospitality and tourism industries. The huge building still stands on the site today. The campus included a hotel, where students were supposed to undertake internships for practical experience. The hotel building is grandiose in relative terms, and it was supposed to benefit from the nearby airport. The building was set to be inaugurated in June 1967, however the Six-Day War forced the cancellation of the plans.
There is a detailed Jordanian plan for the Atarot Industrial Zone that was based on the Kendall Plan. The plan received all the necessary approvals, and construction was set to begin when the Six-Day War put a halt to everything.
Jerusalem Airport—from the British Mandate to the Six-Day War
The Atarot airfield was established by the British in the early 1920s. The site was selected due to its proximity to Jerusalem, its favorable topography and the need to shift away from the airfield by the Talpiot neighborhood following complaints from residents. The location is to the east of Moshav Atarot and the village of Kalandia. In the 1930s, a few irregular civilian aviation companies began to use it. The airfield was bombed during the War of Independence, and immediately after the war, the Jordanians began to restore it.
Under Jordanian rule, it became a full and proper international airport. By 1949, there were regular flights from Jerusalem to Damascus. In 1950 it was given its official name—Jerusalem Airport.
The Jordanians poured considerable resources into the airport, and it developed rapidly as a consequence. By 1967, 15 airlines were using the airport, all from Arab nations, with flights to ten destinations in the Middle East. Large international companies such as SAS were offering flights to the airport through Arab airlines.
The airport’s clients and its central role: from the Royal Jordanian Air Force to VIPs
It is hard to overstate the critical importance the airport had on the economy of the Jordanian city, the international status it bestowed upon it, its impact on the lives of the elites in Jerusalem who would fly regularly from there and on the Jerusalemites and West Bank workers who would fly abroad for work—many of them to Kuwait and the Gulf states.
The airport was a base for the Royal Jordanian Air Force, as well as a transit point for the import and export of goods, providing a living for dozens of residents of Jordanian-controlled Jerusalem. Twice as many passengers passed through Jerusalem Airport as passed through the only other airport in the kingdom—in the capital, Amman. The airport and the tourists that passed through it on their way to Jerusalem and the West Bank accounted for approximately 85% of Jordanian’s income from tourism. It hosted famous people from all over the world who came to visit the city and to participate in conferences of all kinds. It also served political leaders, diplomatic representatives and more.
During one of the expansions of the airport, the cemetery of the village of Atarot—that had stood nearby until the War of Independence—was destroyed. A new neighborhood sprang up to the south of the airport, Harat Al-Matar, built by families from Kuwait who used to send their sons to study in Jerusalem. Today, the neighborhood is considered part of Kafr Aqab, most of which is located beyond the Security Fence.
Projects currently being developed in the Atarot Industrial Zone
Itzik Ozer, director of business development at the Jerusalem Development Authority
Among the various responsibilities of the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA), it is tasked with attracting high-quality industry to Jerusalem. There are two main sites that it is developing to help it to meet this challenge—Har Hotzvim and Atarot.
300 industrial facilities are located at the Atarot Industrial Zone, which stretches over 245 acres. 5,000 workers are employed there, almost half of them from the West Bank.
During the Second Intifada, there was a dramatic outflow of people from the industrial zone, and the area declined as a result. Today, incentives and subsidies provided over the years have once more made it one of the most in-demand industrial zones in Jerusalem. It plays a vital role in reducing the cost of transportation of goods and providing for the needs of the big city—mostly in terms of food—without having to bring it in from too far away. Today, all of Jerusalem’s food processing industry is located in Atarot, and the cost of plots of land is rising year on year.
Mayor Moshe Lion has stated his commitment to developing the Atarot Industrial Zone as Jerusalem’s primary industrial area, a position he has held since his days as the chairman of the Jerusalem Development Authority. The development of Talpiot and Givat Shaul as hubs for commerce and for the service industry has further reinforced the status of the Atarot Industrial Zone.
The following projects are currently ongoing in Atarot:
- Construction of a new industrial zone, Atarot C, on the land of the former vocational college. There are currently 11 new factories under construction in this zone.
- Upgrading the roads and public spaces in Atarot, road maintenance, landscaping.
- Renovating the entrance to the complex, adding flora, upgrading public areas.
- Tackling pollutants (especially those from the local quarries), in collaboration with the municipality and the Ministry of Environmental Protection. There is currently a high degree of enforcement surrounding pollution and dust, including issuing closure orders for businesses and quarries that fail to meet regulations on particulate matter and other pollutants. 30 cameras have been installed for 24/7 monitoring of the situation, which includes the waste recycling facility.
- All the water infrastructure planned for the Atarot Industrial Zone belongs to Gihon—no water arrives from the Ramallah water company, as is the case in other areas in the northern parts of the city. The same is true for the communications’ infrastructure—it is all Israeli.
- There are currently no plans to renovate the airport.
- Regarding the residential area that is planned for the airport area—the intended demographic has not yet been finalized. There are two options on the table: an ultra-Orthodox demographic, in which case there will be approximately 8,500 residential units, or a mixed demographic, in which case there will be 11,000 residential units. There is also an area of privately-held Arab land there. The plan is very flexible, and will be marketed in accordance with the policy set by the Ministry of Construction and Housing. There are extensive areas for employment and for public buildings, as well as areas that are currently undefined and will be adapted to meet the needs of the population that moves into the neighborhood. The plan will not be in any way connected to Kafr Aqab, which is located on the other side of the barrier, and there is a clear instruction by the Home Front Command to maintain a distance of 80 meters from the barrier and to ensure some kind of partition between it and the planned neighborhood.
- Public transport infrastructure in the area today and for the future neighborhood: the decision has not yet been taken regarding the public transport infrastructure solutions that will be offered. There are currently no plans to provide access to the Industrial Zone for residents of the West Bank.
- The Brown Line of the Jerusalem Light Rail goes from the Damascus Gate to Kalandia, but it will not be able to serve the new neighborhood, if it is built in Atarot, due to overcapacity and the length of the route. It is currently looking likely that the line will go from Kalandia, perhaps passing through the airport, will not go along the Security Fence to avoid the need to demolish houses, and might pass into the Atarot Industrial Zone near the kennels. The light rail will not go into the industrial zone because there is insufficient demand during the day, only during the peak hours in the morning and late afternoon. From there, it will continue along the west and connect to Ramallah Street. Both Egged and an East Jerusalem transportation company active in the area run routes from there. The area is well served by regular bus routes as well as unregulated routes.