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Jerusalem is a historic city with a wide variety of neighbourhoods and buildings that reflect the development of Jewish and non-Jewish settlement in the land of Israel. The city is endowed with cultural sites and assets from previous generations, as well as newer sites that we must conservation for coming generations. Conservation of historic sites does not signify a freeze on development; on the contrary, the city should be developed while conservation its ancient heritage. Conservation in Jerusalem has gained real momentum in the last two years and has become an important principle guiding the work of the municipality. The municipal conservation committee is working determinedly to ensure that sites of cultural, architectural, national and historic value are preserved for future generations. However, many of the city’s sites have been damaged because of the negligence of their owners, as the historic Jerusalem railway station and unique structures in the Schneller compound demonstrate.

Jerusalem was the pioneer in Israel in site conservation. As early as 1965, the municipal master plan drew up a conservation register of 1033 sites. This register appeared in the 1968 master plan. Each site on the register had a card with details of its structural qualities, its importance and the classification of its characteristics. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Jerusalem municipality drafted several conservation plans, the most important of which were:

a. Plan no. 2097, approved in 1984, designated 110 sites of historic, religious, architectural and aesthetic value for conservation. These included the Schocken  Library, Beit Schocken, the Central Post Office, Beit Mahanayim, the National Institutions Compound, the railway station, the Khan and many other public buildings.

b. Plan no. 3423, approved in 1989, designated 45 compounds and buildings of architectural or historic value as worthy of conservation, including Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Yemin Moshe, Batei Schneller, Armon Hanatziv.

In addition, conservation plans were prepared for different compounds, including the campus of the Anglican School in Rehov Hanevi’im (no. 4069), the German Colony compound (no. 2878), Nahalat Shiva (no. 2422), the Moreshet neighbourhood.

Between 1998-2002, the Jerusalem municipality and the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies updated the register of sites for conservation in the city. The register came up for discussion between a team of experts and the municipal engineering department, but the team never completed its work, and the register has not yet been publicized as required by the Planning and Construction Law.

There are still some city neighbourhoods of great historic and architectural worth that should be preserved but are not protected enough in statutory plans, among them: Romema, Mekor Baruch, Ohel Shlomo, Baka.

Notwithstanding the fact that Jerusalem is a tourist city of national and international importance, conservation is still not a top priority, despite the considerable progress made in the last two years. Unfortunately, buildings designated for conservation are still being destroyed and old neighbourhoods neglected. The situation is especially poor in the Old City and the ultra-Orthodox districts in the northern part of the city.

The following are some examples of threatened sites in the city:

Beit Schocken – a creation of the 20th century’s foremost Jewish architect, Eric Mendelsohn, it is considered worldwide to be an architectural masterpiece. After a prolonged struggle, the building has been saved and will be transferred to public ownership. It will probably serve as a Jerusalem building heritage centre.      

The German Colony – the plan to erect the (9-storey) Colony Hotel in the Fibre Compound at the entrance to the neighbourhood is a foreign element, sure to harm the delicate fabric of the neighbourhood that has been preserved so carefully. In 1978, the Jerusalem municipality approved plan no. 2154 for the conservation of the neighbourhood, and the new buildings in the neighbourhood are constructed in accordance with its original style: low-rise construction, tiled roofs, arched windows, emphasis on courtyards, landscaping etc. The buildings at Rehov Emek Refaim 48 and Rehov Karmia 8 faced demolition, and meanwhile the plans are being fought in an effort to save them. The opposition to the Four Seasons Hotel at the entrance to the neighbourhood was also part of our struggle with the authorities.

The Bucharian Neighbourhood – one of the city’s historic and unique neighbourhoods. This neighbourhood is constantly undergoing changes that totally alter its character. The Interior Ministry district committee is currently drawing up a programme to conserve the neighbourhood, since during the last decade many localized plans were approved that severely harmed its historic nature. In October 2009, a protected structure was demolished on Rehov Yissa Bracha 33 by a developer, despite conservation plans and despite the supervision of a conservation architect.

Rehov Hanevi’im – the struggle for Rehov Hanevi’im has been going on for some twenty years. Last year, official agreement was attained, providing for its conservation, and the city engineer ordered that no buildings be demolished along the length of the street. The street’s main problem lies in the plans to turn it into a major traffic artery when the light railway becomes operative. The following sites in particular on this street should be preserved: the Ma’atz Compound, Beit Habishof, Beit William Hunt, the Binyan Compound (Kaminitz Hotel), the Marienstift Children’s Hospital, Bikkur Holim Hospital, Hadassah College and the former Rothschild Hospital, the Anglican School Compound, the Italian Hospital and many other houses.

The Old Jerusalem Railway Station – built at the end of the 19th century, is now neglected and subject to continuous vandalism. In spite of its status as a national heritage site, it is being damaged daily. The Jerusalem Development Authority is preparing a plan to preserve the site and turn it into a cultural centre, like the Tel Aviv Railway Compound. Meanwhile, the building’s second storey has been destroyed by fire and is in danger of collapse. With the tender about to be issued, The Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel is now demanding that the area be expropriated from Israel Railways.

Beit Froumin – served as home to the Knesset for 16 years between 1950-1966. The building was sold several years ago to a private developer who submitted plans to demolish it. This plan was derailed as a result of the intervention of The Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel, and recently the Knesset passed a law providing for the building’s conservation and the establishment of the Knesset Museum within it.  

Lifta – is a picturesque village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, where the remains of splendid houses are still to be seen, as well as ancient oil presses, a flowing spring and an aqueduct where one can walk in the water. The village is built on the slope down to Nahal Sorek at a height of 725 metres above sea level. The ruins of an Arab village built in the 16th century can be found there. Nowadays, there are 55 remaining buildings on the site, which are in danger of destruction, stone theft and damage from natural causes. The Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel regards the conservation and rehabilitation of the site as a top priority. Therefore, an architect specializing in conservation should be appointed without delay to handle matters pertaining to the compound, and to whom any entity working in the area of Lifta can turn with queries. In addition, an external manager and consultant/conservation manager should be responsible for the actual management of the project (in accordance with the agreement made with the director of the municipality on 20th January).

The Schneller Compound – the compound of the Schneller (Syrian) Orphanage was vacated by the IDF several months ago and since then has been standing neglected. Eight structures designated for conservation are deteriorating badly. The The Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel's intention is that the central building should house a museum of European Jewry, to be run by Yad Vashem.

Lower Motza – was transferred from the jurisdiction of the Mateh Yehuda District Council to that of the Jerusalem Municipality by order of the Interior Minister, but no conservation plan was drawn up, and as a consequence, plans to demolish protected buildings have been approved. Beit Lessin has been preserved and now serves as a tourist centre for visitors to the area.  

The paintings of Avraham Ofek – Ofek specialized in fresco art and believed that art should leave the museums and stand proudly in the public space for everyone to enjoy. Over the years, Ofek produced large, impressive wall paintings scattered in a variety of places: the Central Post Office on Rehov Yafo, the Agron School in Kiryat Yovel, the Tali School in Bayit Ve’gan/ Stone in Kiryat Yovel, in Kfar Uriya in the community centre of the Mateh Yehuda District Council. These paintings are invaluable assets of Israeli art. Over the years they have been badly damaged and should be restored immediately.

Beit Yellin in Motza – symbol of the beginnings of agricultural settlement in Israel, stood abandoned and in danger of collapse. Assisted by the Yellin family, the The Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel began conservation and rehabilitation work in 2006, thanks to a donation by Leonard Kahn and cooperation with the JNF, and in 2009, a visitor centre was dedicated on the site. Further work is needed to construct an exhibition hall in the Crusader dungeon and develop an archaeological site, and to implement the plans that have been approved.

Problems and ways to further conservation work in Jerusalem:

•    Lack of a comprehensive strategic programme and detailed conservation guidelines. Such a programme, which will regard preservation in Jerusalem as an extremely important objective, will establish an order of priorities and propose practical tools for dealing with existing problems. The programme must be given statutory status. Over the last two years, the municipality has taken action towards producing such a programme.   

•    A comprehensive urban development plan for Jerusalem has not yet been approved. A team of architects and planners, including members of the The Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel, volunteereda for several months to study the section dealing with conservation in the proposed plan. As a result, changes in the plan were proposed, and these were adopted by the district committee and incorporated into the plan.

•    Awareness of the importance of conservation in Jerusalem has risen both among municipal officials and the public at large. Under the leadership of Deputy Mayor Ms Naomi Tzur, progress was made in a considerable number of areas, the most prominent of which was the setting up of a conservation committee in the municipal planning administration, with the participation of public representatives including representatives of the The Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel. This committee made a series of decisions, such as the conservation of Rehov Hanevi’im, declaring the city to be a crusader city like others abroad, and many decisions to preserve valuable buildings and sites in Jerusalem.

•    Lack of tools. There is still a dearth of tools for contending with entrepreneurs who wish to demolish or damage preserved buildings. There are many examples, such as the threat to Batei Warsaw, the decision to pull down Beit Froumin, proper treatment of the old railway station, the threat to the first children’s hospital in the Middle East (Ssandrecaki), the plan to demolish the protected building at Emek Refaim 48 and so on.

•    Incomplete enforcement. Even if a building is designated as a protected site in an approved plan, there is still no guarantee that it will be preserved. Municipal inspectors do not always manage to enforce the sites’ protected status. The municipal conservation committee addressed this issue too in decisions aimed to hire and train more inspectors for conservation sites in the city. Wholesale destruction of sites has been carried out in ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods such as the Bucharian Quarter, Meah Shearim, Zichron Moshe, Mekor Baruch and other districts.

• An instrumental-technical approach instead of a broad, in-depth mode of thinking that integrates conservation into overall urban planning, in all its social, economic and cultural aspects. The city still lacks a conservation culture; there is no planning code of conduct or clear, detailed instructions on how to take care of protected buildings from different eras, as there are in the western world, especially in Europe.

• Conservation register – a comprehensive conservation register has not yet been publicized. The municipality has made arrangements to do so, and even selected 6 teams to draw up the register who have begun the task, but the complete updated register is still a long way off.

• Detailed conservation plans – the municipality initiated the preparation of such plans for many of the city’s neighbourhoods, but some circles in the city council have raised objections to these plans, which by their very nature restrict private development enterprises. Most of the objections are from ultra-Orthodox circles.

•    Lack of tools and incentives - laws and regulations must be passed to assist private homeowners in renovating property that is designated as a protected site. Tools must be developed, incentives and financial resources offered to site owners and special funds earmarked. Homeowners should even be obligated to preserve property they own that is worthy of conservation.

•    Resources and budgets – the municipality must set up a designated fund for conservation of sites. It should request a designated budget from the government for this purpose, similar to the budget for roads and infrastructure. The municipality must also allocate part of its budget to the fund and enlist the help of private donors. Recently, the government has made moves in the right direction by setting up a special unit in the Prime Minister’s Office to deal with conservation of national heritage sites, of which Jerusalem has many.

Steps necessary for improvement

•    Reinforcement and expansion of the professional staff in the Jerusalem municipality planning administration.  The present team is small and cannot cope with the pressure of work.

•    Request for a budget from the government ‘Tamar’ project (restoration and reinforcement of the national heritage infrastructure) for heritage sites in Jerusalem, such as the railway station, the Great Yeshiva of Meah Shearim.

•    Approval of the conservation register as soon as the teams chosen to compile it have completed their work.    

•    Establishment of a designated fund for conservation of sites. The fund will be comprised of funds from improvement tax payments, designated municipal allocations, government budgets and donations.

•    Drafting a policy and strategy paper to address city conservation issues, including setting an order of priorities for dealing with buildings, complexes and cultural landscapes for conservation.   

•    Initiating city by-laws offering developers and owners incentives to preserve property designated for conservation.

•    Setting up a forum for conservation supporters in Jerusalem also sponsored by the municipality, to influence decision makers in the field of conservation in the city.

•    Writing study material for Jerusalem schools on topics related to conservation of local sites, at the initiative of the municipality and in conjunction with the Education Ministry.

•    Signs on buildings and signs related to heritage topics.

•    Setting up by conservation experts of a sub-district in the municipality for conservation inspectors, in accordance with the decision made recently by the municipality.

Conservation achievements in Jerusalem in recent years

•    The concept and delineation of “the historic city” was accepted and incorporated into the comprehensive urban development plan.
•    Heightened awareness of city conservation issues among city officials and the public.

•    Increased cooperation with the planning department and the municipal conservation committee.

•    Increased openness on the part of conservation committee members, and a more practical approach to implementing conservation.

•    Establishment of a professional conservation department in the Jerusalem municipality.

•    Selection of work teams by the municipal engineer’s department to complete the city conservation registers.

•    Preparation of a renovation programme for the city centre, including detailed plans and development projects for areas such as Even Yisrael, Rehov Havatzelet and Rehov Koresh.

•    The municipal planning department commissioned detailed plans and master plans for many of the city’s neighbourhoods with an emphasis on conservation in the following neighbourhoods: Rehavia, Beit Hakerem, South Nahlaot, the Colonies and the East Jerusalem central commercial district.  

•    The city engineer announced the conservation of Rehov Hanevi’im and the drafting of a comprehensive conservation plan for the street and its buildings.

•    A procedure was designed and implemented for documentation of buildings and a pool for public use created for documentation of buildings.

•    An enrichment programme for middle school students on the subject of conservation and development was written and operated by the municipality together with the The Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel.  

•    The municipal planning committee developed a documentation procedure for use as a decision making tool.   

•    Work procedures were developed for improving liaison between all parties involved in conservation issues in the municipality.

•    A municipal conservation committee was set up under the leadership of the deputy mayor and attended by the city engineer, which convenes once every two weeks to discuss protected buildings that are requesting permits or local plans. (More than 100 meetings have already been held.)

•    Municipal conservation meetings are now open to the public and residents are invited to participate in them.

•    Steps have been taken to put up signs on protected sites in Jerusalem.

•    Guidelines for the construction of fences in Jerusalem, especially in protected neighbourhoods.

•    Protected structures have been saved for the benefit of the public as part of plans such as Beit Schocken, the Binyamin Hostel,
Beit Hasofer, Batei Saidoff, the children’s hospital, the Templar Beit Ha’am.

•    Plans for setting up a conservation sub-district in 2011 in the municipal inspection department.

•    Developers who deliberately damaged protected buildings were prosecuted.

•    8000 protected sites in Jerusalem were publicized on the internet (including trees and the fences of some 5000 buildings).

•    Restoration of buildings as part of the Mamilla project.

•    Project to clean the walls of monuments all over Jerusalem and government residences, with a special 5 million shekel budget.

•    Plans to renovate the railway station were prepared by a conservation architect; at present, the plan is being contested prior to the issue of a tender by the Jerusalem Development Authority.

•    Cancellation of approved plans: the Arladan compound by the District Court, Emek Refai’m 48 by the district committee and the conservation of the Etz Haim compound.

•    Study days for building inspectors on the subject of conservation .

Mateh Yehuda Regional Council

Since architect Hagit Yisraeli took up her post as regional engineer, drastic changes regarding conservation have occured in the following areas:

Ofek Architects compiled conservation registers for the communities in the region.
The regional conservation committee, led by the regional council deputy chairman and attended by an engineer, convenes once every two months to discuss protected buildings that are requesting permits or local plans.
Conservation registers were compiled of heritage sites, monuments and so on, outside the borders of the communities themselves.

•    Arza – a letter was sent based on Clause 14 calling on the developer (Hachsharat Hayishuv) to carry out renovations. The site should be declared a national site.

•    Latrun monument – resource mobilization. The regional council accepted responsibility for the site.

•    Neve Ilan – a national site included in the National Heritage Programme. Approved on the basis of the 2011 budget by the National Heritage Programme. The renovation of Beit Effendi was effected immediately (the kibbutz dining room and kitchen).

•    Sha’ar Hagai – a national site. 27 million shekels invested. Awaiting urban development planning approval, under the care of the National Heritage Programme.

•    Nahal Sorek railway station – under renovation, including preparation of documentation.

•    Har Tuv – a museum run by the regional council. The The Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel approved renovation of 2 wooden doors in the museum.

•    Khan and cultural centre in Kfar Uriah (Ofek paintings) – under the care of the National Heritage Programme.

•    Armoured vehicles on the way to Jerusalem – considered part of Route 1.

•    Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim cowshed – a conservation architect has been appointed in preparation for rehabilitation.

•    Haportzim monument – rehabilitation and adoption by the Shoresh Retirement Home.

•    Kibbutz Netiv Halamed-heh – an early settlers’ hut awaits the attention of the planning department.

Gush Etzion Regional Council

•    Kibbutz Kfar Etzion – visitor centre is under the care of the National Heritage Programme.

•    Signs on historic buildings in Gush Etzion.

Abu Ghosh Local Council

•    Rehabilitation of the village centre. A budget is needed from the National Heritage Programme.

•    Rehabilitation of the Abu Ghosh Police Station; transferred out of the possession of the Defence Ministry.

•    A survey of buildings for conservation was conducted in order to incorporate them in the Abu Ghosh council development plan.


Itzik Shweki,
Director, Jerusalem District
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