If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.—Psalms 137:5
by Roi Tov
‘When good Americans die, they go to Paris,’ the ghost said,” wrote Karen Chance in Embrace the Night. She was wrong. 10,000 Americans bought houses in Jerusalem but are still living in the USA.
About to see what he calls his capital becoming a ghost town, Netanyahu’s new government is facing a crucial decision over Jerusalem. The status of Jerusalem was formalized with the 1980 Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel.
The world opposed this law; UN Security Council Resolution 478, adopted by fourteen votes to none, with the abstention of the United States of America, declared that the law was “null and void” and “must be rescinded.” Israel ignored it.
Since then, the development of the city includes the creation of government buildings (with the exception of the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv), sumptuous residential neighborhoods, the annexation of East Jerusalem, and the construction of Jewish settlements around the city. A key part of this scheme is Mamilla.
Instead of becoming an exclusive neighborhood, Mamilla is at the center of Jerusalem’s ghost town. In the 19th century, it was one of the first neighbourhoods built outside the walls of the Old City, west of Jaffa Gate. Between 1948 and 1967, it was on the armistice line between the Israeli and Jordanian sector of the city.
After 1967, the Israeli Administration confiscated its land and began the longest and most costly development project in the history of modern Jerusalem. The small neighborhood extends from the Jaffa Gate westwards to the Mamilla Cemetery, an old Muslim burial place, and includes probably the most upmarket and infamous shopping mall in Israel.
The neighborhood offers breathtaking views of the Old City, probably the best available ones due to its proximity and the fact it is slightly lower than the Old City.
The Municipality of Jerusalem understood that only in February 2012, when it asked the Ministers of Finances and Interior to approve the municipality’s decision to double the rates of the property tax (the arnona) for unoccupied houses, hoping that the owners of these properties would get rid of them. Jerusalem already has the highest property tax rate in the country.
Municipal elections are approaching, and Mayor Nir Barkat must show that he is seeking solutions to the acute housing problem that young people face. The fact that few of them can afford to pay around one million dollars for a house in Mamilla matters little. Explaining why the prices of houses rose over 25% in his current term will be a difficult task for Mr. Barkat.Netanyahu’s government sees a slightly different picture.
Lavishly supported by America’s Jewry (America Pays for Netanyahu’s Luxury Trips), Netanyahu is unlikely to double taxes to 10,000 of them who are financially invested in Israel. Netanyahu’s new government is between a rock and a hard place, his former government collapsed due to his inability to solve social problems; yet, he depends on American investments.
The answer given by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, from Netanyahu’s Likud party, on April 4, was evasive: “There aren’t yet proper regulations enabling to double the tax on empty houses.” He may soon discover that there isn’t yet legitimacy to self-serving governments.
Mamilla and Auschwitz
The Simon Wiesenthal Center was established in 1977 as “an international Jewish human rights organization dedicated to repairing the world one step at a time. The Center’s multifaceted mission generates changes through the Snider Social Action Institute and education by confronting antisemitism, hate and terrorism, promoting human rights and dignity, standing with Israel, defending the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaching the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations.”
As an example of its “humanitarian principles based on tolerance,” the center decided to destroy the Muslim Cemetery in Mamilla and to build on its location “The Center for Human Dignity” and the “Museum of Tolerance.”
The construction of the center began in June 2005 and was frozen by an Israeli Supreme Court order on February 2006. However, in November 2008, the same court allowed the construction to proceed, noting that this corner of the cemetery had been transformed into a parking lot as long ago as the 1960s and that Jerusalem has been inhabited for roughly 4000 years, and thus many ancient sites have been built over. Jewish definitions of “tolerance” and “human dignity” do not extend to Muslims.
The Israeli Administration, through its Supreme Court, and Jewish international organizations, through the Simon Wiesenthal Center, agreed that building on a cemetery is acceptable. Does that apply to any cemetery or memorial?
In 1998, a Polish developer was granted permission to build a parking lot near the Auschwitz concentration camp. The developer, Janusz Marszalek, originally wanted to build a shopping centre and fast food outlet, but was forced to change his plans after a wave of international protest, mainly by Jewish organizations. Ever since the topic re-appears on the news after developments on the area are approved or rejected.
The development project was not in Auschwitz, but outside the complex. Why do Israeli and Jewish leaders discriminate between the two memorial sites? Do they claim that Jews are better, and thus worth of special treatment? Or, do they claim that Muslims are worse, and thus can be desecrated?
Roi Tov is a graduate—among others—of Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science. In addition to his memoir, Tov is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Molecular Physics and other scientific journals. He won various travel writing and photography awards.
In his writings, he tries to reveal life in Israel as a Christian Israel Defense Force (IDF) officer—from human rights violations to the use of an extensive network of underground agents. He was recognized first as a refugee and subsequently as political prisoner of Bolivia.