| 2021 | 17:00
Behind the Scenes in Jerusalem’s Old City
- In Hebrew
- In Hebrew
Improving facilities and accessibility in the Holy Basin
In a meeting of the East Jerusalem Forum, Israel Yefet (deputy CEO of East Jerusalem Development Ltd), and Ami Meitav (a project coordinator in the Old City as part of the “public participation” initiative by East Jerusalem Development Ltd and the Jerusalem Development Authority, and also a tour guide and researcher), presented the extensive works conducted recently to improve the infrastructure and accessibility in the Old City.
Israel Yefet – Public participation in the Old City
In 2014, a tripartite agreement was signed between the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, the Jerusalem Municipality, and East Jerusalem Development Ltd, regarding the latter taking over the role of the Municipality in all matters concerning the Old City. From 2015, East Jerusalem Development Ltd began its involvement in projects within the Old City. Both the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the Jerusalem Development Authority are active there, and East Jerusalem Development Ltd acts as the coordinating body.
East Jerusalem Development Ltd is responsible for the ongoing operation of four main areas of activity in the Old City:
- Cleaning and sanitation infrastructure. This includes installing covers for rubbish bins, so they remain static and not mobile (their location will be determined in conjunction with both residents and shop owners). In the last four years, 12 garbage rooms were created. In addition, the streets are washed down on a weekly basis, between the hours of 06:00 and 22:00. Every day some 30 tons of garbage are removed from the Old City. During the month of Ramadan, this amount is tripled.
- Gardening. There are 120 dunams of public gardens in and around the Old City. Most are to be found outside the Old City’s walls, such as the Jaffa Gate Entrance project.
- Safety. Erecting bollards and safety fences.
- Maintenance. A permanent team of floorers receives requests from residents (through East Jerusalem Development Ltd) regarding broken paving stones and damaged pavements, on a daily basis, and proceeds to repair these. Besides working according to a routine schedule, they also deal with calls from the 106 City Call Center, as well as from East Jerusalem Development Ltd inspectors who travel around the Old City, noting hazards and ensuring that they are taken care of.
The annual operating budget of the Old City is approximately 30 million NIS, shared equally by the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, and the Jerusalem Municipality.
The Public’s participation is a necessary prerequisite for entering and working within the Old City. No actions are taken in the Old City without first involving those affected.
Ami Meitav – Project Coordination and ensuring Public Participation
Meitav explained that keeping in touch with the public is an ongoing day-to-day activity, and is an integral part of every project. Before beginning a project, a survey is conducted, and a precise plan of the area is published – where the work will be conducted, where shops are located, where are there awnings or roofs. The building or shop is photographed, to document how it looks before the work begins. To these images, we add the contact details of the resident/shop owner, as well as the exact details of the work at hand. This helps all parties to understand the current condition, the aim of the work, and to compare results – before and after. We accompany the residents during this process and take care of all the necessary details.
Israel Yefet mentioned the three main types of projects and interventions that are being conducted in the Old City: pavements, lighting and accessibility. All three are taking place in different parts of the area.
Regarding pavements and lighting, projects were carried out by the Jerusalem Development Fund by means of the Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation. East Jerusalem Development Ltd performed work in four streets in the Christian Quarter. In the Muslim Quarter, they worked in five streets – one of the most impressive is the Inner Court (to the right, after one enters the Damascus Gate, which is known in Hebrew as Sha’ar Sh’Khem) – where they conducted renovations which turned the street from a warehouse area to an inviting and attractive courtyard. Another project is the aqueduct on the Damascus Gate Courtyard (just outside the Gate) – which included renovation, flowing water, improvements to the area, and lighting. In the Jewish Quarter, Ha’Yehudim Street was renovated.
Planned and future refurbishments
East Jerusalem Development Ltd is currently working simultaneously on several projects. In addition, there are plans for all four quarters of the Old City for 2022, whose execution is contingent on budget approval.
The Pavements Project
- Comprises the complete re-paving of the entire street. While re-paving, we make an effort to minimize the use of stairs, to improve accessibility as far as possible, and of course to perform all necessary infrastructure work.
- All work is performed at night. It is not possible to perform the work during the day.
- Dealing with the vault domes – scraping off the existing layers, repairing the plaster, and repainting. All work on the vaults is done under the strict supervision of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
- Jointly with the residents, several vaults were opened, and external drainage was added.
- Together with the local shop owners and merchants, some air-conditioning units were moved to the roofs.
- Shopfronts were dealt with: closing all existing holes in the shopfronts and dealing with all of the varied wiring and cables on the walls.
The Lighting Project
- Replacing the street lighting. The City Engineer approved the lighting sources and their operating mechanisms after receiving offers from six companies.
- All lighting infrastructure is being replaced: from underground cables to the cable connection boxes.
- All roofing is being completely replaced, and drainpipes are being installed where necessary.
- The process includes color-matching the roofs. Ami Meitav maintains close personal contact with each retailer, catering to their desires and preferences.
- Finally, the cabling is dealt with – all unnecessary wiring is removed from the walls; cables are reorganized, secured, and re-attached to the walls.
- As part of the refurbishment of the infrastructure, protective covers are added to water meters, to prevent stealing.
- Another move aimed at preventing the misappropriation of water is changing the old water meters with new ones, in collaboration with the Jerusalem area water and wastewater utility, HaGihon Company.
The importance of synchronizing the work
During the last two-to-three years, East Jerusalem Development Ltd have switched to an integrated mode of work with all the infrastructure companies working in the Old City, as opposed to the former situation when each of the companies worked according to its own schedule. The main goal was to prevent those situations in which East Jerusalem Development Ltd performs its tasks, and then the Israel Electric Corporation, and HaGihon, come and work independently of each other. Working jointly helps both the residents (there is less disorder and confusion) and the infrastructure companies, who know that East Jerusalem Development Ltd will come and clean-up after them. The result is that the streets look better, with orderly paving, and there is saving in cabling. The water, sewage and drainage infrastructure in the Old City were last renovated in the 1970s and 1980s, and are in need of replacement. East Jerusalem Development Ltd works hand-in-hand with the infrastructure companies, beginning with replacement of all infrastructure, installing larger pipes, fixing water-meters, adding drainage, as well as replacing sewage pipelines or private water supply lines, if the residents so wish. As specified earlier, all work is performed only at nighttime.
The Accessibility Project
- Today, most of the Old City is accessible. By the end of 2021 several more streets will be added, and the Old City will become completely accessible, except for a small number of specific sites where, for safety and security reasons, this cannot be done.
- Providing accessibility began back in 2013-14 under the supervision of the Jerusalem Development Authority and Israel’s National Insurance.
- In 2015, East Jerusalem Development Ltd first entered the accessibility project, under funding from the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage. With the assistance of accessibility experts, a survey was conducted, and a work plan was formed and implemented.
- East Jerusalem Development Ltd also caters for the needs of those with disabilities or elderly people living in the Old City who use wheelchairs or mobility scooters. We come personally to visit each person’s house, examine their mobility needs – what they need to be able to get from their house to the main street – and create accessible routes.
- This project also solves the problems of accessibility for those using prams or strollers.
- Drain covers were replaced to prevent wheels from getting stuck in the drainage openings.
- Three years ago, we finished developing an accessibility app for the Old City, and it has now been launched. So far, it has been downloaded by some 40,000 users. The app allows the accessibility map of the Old City to be viewed. In addition, it allows one to create a personalized accessible walking route between different sites.
- A pilot project for making central landmarks accessible to the visually impaired is currently being promoted.
- East Jerusalem Development Ltd receives thank-you letters from shop-owners and residents in regard to their projects. They find these letters heart-warming, giving them the energy to continue.
Q: Are you dealing with the city’s internet infrastructure?
A: In principle, we do not deal with residential private internet. We tried to take up the gauntlet, and toured the Old City with the Bezeq communications company to try and work together with them. We had hoped that when we renovate a street, they would be able to lay fiber optic cables at the same time. Unfortunately, this has not come to fruition.
Ami: 18 months ago the Jerusalem Development Authority started working on a free Wi-Fi project in the Old City. Today there is substantial Wi-Fi coverage in the Old City, but some problems remain.
Q: What about cellular reception, and the operation of cellular applications?
A: I know that the Jerusalem Development Authority began a cable project, currently centered on the Tourist Information Center near the Jaffa Gate – with the aim that all those people touring the Old City can know exactly where they are. The project takes time. Where does it stand? And will it succeed? I’m afraid that we can only know for sure once this has been fully implemented.
Q: Cellular infrastructure is a general problem in East Jerusalem. During COVID-19 it became even more of a problem.
A: Since you have already mentioned COVID – it was very difficult walking around the Old City during the COVID crisis – both objectively and subjectively. Everything was closed. No one was working, and there were no tourists. The only benefit was that we were able to work around the clock, and indeed, we worked almost 24 hours a day. Today one can again see groups – mainly of Israeli tourists.
Q: What is the accessibility app called?
A: Accessible-JLM Old City.
Q: Do the shop owners take part in the substantial costs of the refurbishment, or does all the money come from municipal and governmental budgets?
A: The shop owners are not required to pay anything. The following projects – pavements, lighting and accessibility are funded by the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage. In 2021 we were allocated 8.5 million NIS for the pavements, and another 4 million NIS for lighting.
Ami: The residents and shop owners pay nothing. They are of course surprised by this: how is it that the State or Municipality want to invest in them (in shop fronts, for example) without them having to share the cost? We explain that this is what their municipal taxes are intended for. Clearly, there is also the tourist aspect – namely, the importance of taking care of an asset as significant as the Old City. b
Israel: I must add that during our work we hear the residents’ appreciation and gratitude, and see that they value our attentiveness to tiny problems – and this makes a huge impact. From every street on which we have not yet worked, we are asked – when we expect to get there?
Q: This is a delicate job – there is some political sensitivity. For example, the Waqf owns some of the houses in the Muslim Quarter. How do you operate in such areas, where ownership is a “gray area”?
A: We work with all types of institutions and authorities, including the Islamic Waqf. For example, in Al-Saraya Street, a house once collapsed and as this was not dealt with, the site became an unofficial rubbish dumping site. We contacted the Waqf, met them on site, and told them of our desire to deal with this hazard. We were eagerly welcomed, cooperated fruitfully, and haven’t looked back.
Ami: When a civilian body like ours enters the Majles, the Islamic Waqf offices by the Temple Mount, to meet with their lawyer – this is not a trivial matter for them. But they realized that the alternative could be evacuation orders. We are happy to report that the work has been completed, under the joint supervision of the Waqf and the Israel Antiquities Authority, based on a mutual understanding that this is a civilian activity, with no ulterior political intent whatsoever.
Israel: On Beit Ha’Bad Street there is an area where the roofs belong to the Franciscan Church (Custodia Terrae Sanctae). We wanted to roof those houses in a certain manner, so we approached the Church, talked to them, and they agreed. We are currently finishing the work there. As long as this answers the needs of the residents of the street, the Church accepts that we will do whatever is required.
Q: What about rooftop viewing (such as the Galicia Roofs) or other viewpoints? Is there any intention to do something in this area?
A: I don’t think there is any other site in the Old City that has accumulated so many plans over the years as those roofs. Unlike in the past, today I can safely declare that I am much more optimistic. It is only a matter of time until some progress will be made in this area, and the Municipality has even recently signed an agreement with a funding body. We must remember that with the Galicia Roofs, the issue of ownership is quite complex – several bodies own the roofs. Discussions with the various owners have begun, and we need to find a solution that everyone can agree upon. I am maintaining cautious optimism in this matter. The second aspect relates to complex engineering issues. There are shops and businesses under the roofs, so we must ensure that there is no dangerous loading on the roofs.
Q: A police antenna was recently erected in the proximity of the Tower of David. What are your thoughts on that matter?
A: We have no connection with that. You will have to talk to the police on that issue.
Q: Regarding cellular reception – if we need to apply public pressure – who should we address?
A: Today this is in the hands of the Jerusalem Development Authority.
Q: Why wasn’t the Little Western Wall made accessible?
A: Everything is working as it should, regarding the Little Western Wall. Residents have a way through, while those wishing to pray can do so. The area is clean and orderly.
Q: How do you divide the work and the roles in the Jewish Quarter between the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter and East Jerusalem Development Ltd?
A: The Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem Ltd are our partners. We cooperate, and each of us knows our roles and responsibilities. One example of such cooperation is the display of antiquities in the Jewish Quarter. This is an initiative that The Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter wished to advance through the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, and we dealt with its implementation. But in general, we are responsible for improving public areas, street cleaning, maintenance, security and gardening. The Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter is responsible for the residential buildings, institutions, synagogues, and other Jewish Quarter assets. There is a clear distinction as to which body is responsible for what.
Q: East Jerusalem Development Ltd did not deal with Jewish settlement in the Muslim Quarter or in other areas. Are you continuing in this way?
A: We are blind to what characterizes the residents or their religion. When we walk around the area, as far as we are concerned, they are all residents of the Old City. We don’t know who’s who. It is our belief that the public areas in the Old City are public, and that we should invest in them for the public. Every year we invest in tourist, commercial, and residential areas (focusing on external walls and on buildings’ fronts).
Ami: It should be said – many years have passed until the Old City received the face-lift and rejuvenation it so sorely needed in the last ten or twenty years. We continue to get reactions regarding the improvement in levels of cleanliness, and the area’s appearance. The millions of tourists who visit Israeli regard the Old City as the face of the country, and it is crucial that the Old City will look at its best and be appropriately upkept, as befits its importance and sanctity.
In addition, maintaining close connections with the residents is extremely important. On the ground, we can see that even when complex security issues develop in the Old City and its vicinity, they do not damage our connections with the residents. We all want to have good communal interactions, an inflow of tourism, and to earn a good living. In all we do – whether it involves replacing a roof or awning, painting a door, or carrying out needed improvements – we are contributing to those aims. We operate according to the maxim: “If you wish to eradicate crime, fix the broken window”. We are part of something larger, which manifests itself in the small details. We are fortunate to have had the opportunity to take part in such an endeavor.
Israel: Full credit goes to the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Development Authority. These three bodies invest millions of Shekels in the Old City, seeing it as the crowning glory of their activities. They regard the Old City as a national asset that the State of Israel, and not only the Municipality, should invest in.
The discussion was led by Dr. Amnon Ramon, coordinator of the East Jerusalem Forum, the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research. The event was supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.