Armon Hanatziv residents fight plan to turn meadow into police station

It must be disconcerting to doubt the intent of the national law enforcement body to act in the best interests of the people it is designed, and paid, to serve. But that is the overriding sense, it seems, of residents of Armon Hanatziv, at the end of Meir Nakar Street.

Right across the road from the apartment buildings at the eastern extremity of the neighborhood there is a promontory, which when I visited it last week, was mostly a mass of sunbaked earth, and parched brown and yellow undergrowth, as the summer heat shows no signs of abating, and precipitation seems the stuff of fantasy. 

But there is more to the hillock, affectionately called Mitzpeh-Tel – referencing the much-loved Mitz Petel (Raspberry Juice) children’s book that has delighted three generations of kids since it was published by Haya Shenhav in 1970. While I strolled around the site I noticed a couple of purplish-flowered thistles and the odd scrawny yellow flower, but in the spring the place is awash with lupines. Their blue-purple buds draw thousands of nature lovers to the place, including out-of-towners.

And it is not just the flora that makes Mitzpeh-Tel such a boon for Jerusalemites and others. The first part of the double-barreled nickname translates directly as lookout, while “tel” has all sorts of meanings, albeit closely interrelated, such as mound, hill or tumulus, in an archeological context. 

“Take a look around you,” says Gadi Dahan. “Look at these incredible views. There is nothing like it anywhere.”

Dahan can be forgiven for his unbounded zeal for the vistas currently on offer from Mitzpeh-Tel. They are in the breathtaking category. 

“Look, there’s Jerusalem with the Temple Mount, Mt. Scopus and, look, there’s the Mount of Olives,” he enthuses. “That’s the Herodion,” he notes, referring to the truncated cone-shaped hill to the southeast of Bethlehem, where King Herod built a sumptuous abode in the late first century BCE, and is believed to be buried. 

“On a clear day you can see the Dead Sea from here and, at night, you can see the lights from the twin towers [Jordan Gate Towers, still under construction] of Amman [in Jordan].”

So, what are the locals up in arms about? 

“They are going to build a monster here!” Dahan exclaims. “This is going to be a catastrophe!” Strong words indeed, but one look at the plan and simulated images of the new Israeli Police premises, which are due to occupy a good chunk of Mitzpeh-Tel by 2025, conveys in stark terms how the presence of a five-story building with various highly visible structural accoutrements would change the scene there. 

“This is going to be a massive compound,” says Dahan. “Just think about it. There will be the police station, with prison cells, a weapons storage area, personnel welfare and recreational facilities, a kitchen, fuel containers, you name it.”

DAHAN, WHO works as a tour guide, frequently enlightens groups of school students from around the city about the natural beauty to be had on Mitzpeh-Tel, as well as the history of the site, and taking in the unique panorama, feels he and his fellow residents have good reason to expect the worst. 

“This isn’t just about the physical structure. Imagine all the activity connected to such a massive police complex. There will be vehicles entering and exiting at all times of the day, and night. And there will be powerful lighting projectors on all night.” 

“Yes, we’ll have light coming into our homes all night,” adds octogenarian Dr. Shulamit Laderman who was born in Jerusalem, married in the United States and had three children there, before returning here with her American-born family in 1973.

If anyone knows anything about Armon Hanatziv it is Laderman. 

“I moved here in 1974,” she notes. “My late husband, Paul, and I were among the first residents of East Talpiot [aka Armon Hanatziv]. I have lived in my apartment, at 12 Meir Nakar Street, since 1974. Our three-story building lies at the northeastern corner of the neighborhood, right next to [predominantly Arab Jerusalem neighborhood] Jabal Mukaber, and about 30 meters from the planned police building, which will be an enormous eyesore.” 

Laderman says Armon Hanatziv, for her and others, is not just a place to eat, sleep and find refuge within four walls. For her it is the embodiment of the classic Israeli cultural melting-pot scenario. 

“The Laderman family came to the neighborhood together with other new olim and veteran Israelis and, together, we forged a wonderful community that became a tight-knit family. Here on the seam, with the village of Jabal Mukaber across the road, we raised our children, and built a neighborhood that managed to create a special atmosphere of tolerance and unity between religious and secular [Jews], Ashkenazim and Sephardim, new olim and veterans.”

That sense of unity is currently coming to the fore, as the threat of a seismic ambiance and physical shift looms. 

“I and the whole Laderman family support the objection [to the proposed new police station] of the East Talpiot community administration and of the Bet Yisrael student village who came to live in the neighborhood,” Laderman notes. The latter not only moved in, they also made their mark on the locale, in the best possible sense. 

“They made the [Mitzpeh-Tel] site very user-friendly, by putting in steps, lovely inviting sitting areas, and even constructed facilities for enjoying the view.”

The Bet Yisrael upgrade drew more people to the site. 

“They turned the place into a center for nature activities for local school children,” Laderman continues. “The place has provided a wonderful solution for the children of the neighborhood, especially during the lockdowns.”

Laderman not only sees the proposed police complex as a nuisance and a rude aesthetic intrusion, she feels there are health and safety issues here too. 

“We wholeheartedly oppose this plan, which will force us to live in the shadow of large police headquarters with the danger of radiation from police antennae. There will be the noise of sirens and the PA system, and increased traffic on the narrow quiet neighborhood street where we have been living for over 45 years.”SO, WHAT is the fuss all about, in cold hard numerical terms? 

A document released by the local community administration states that the Oz police station is due to shift a hundred or so meters from its present, much lower, spot on Alar Street as the landlord there – the Rami Levy supermarket chain – wants to reassign the site. Part of the new police HQ spot encroaches on Mitzpeh-Tel and the plan – no. 101-0773184, in case you’re interested – was filed for the submission of objections, which must be delivered no later than September 14.

The new police station is due to have five floors, including two underground, with the structure climbing to a height of 18 meters above ground level. That would undoubtedly block off a good deal of the unparalleled view the hill currently offers, if not all of it and, it must be said, if the simulated images are anything to go by, not a great deal of thought has been devoted to making the large building aesthetically pleasing. 

The designated uses featured in the proposed plan include residential areas, dining and cooking facilities, laboratories and a synagogue, a gym and various reception areas. There’s more. There is mention of additional “emergency service facilities,” such as security and weapon dismantling pits, parade and flagpole grounds, paved yards, protective areas, decorative facilities, and stairs and ramps for the physically disabled. And even more, taking in engineering and sanitation facilities, technical systems, generator rooms, transformer and switching, water containers and fuel tanks, and a gas accumulator. Clearly there’s more to police headquarters than meets the unprofessional eye. It also seems Laderman was spot-on about the powerful illumination the residents may have to accommodate after dark, as the plan notes “fencing and peripheral lighting, security cameras,” as well as “an entrance control building and vehicle entrance gates.”

The document notes that the proposed relocation is the result of “the need to vacate the temporary Oz station and move to a new modern permanent building, in order to improve service to citizens and enhance security and public order.” Laderman says she has no beef with our law and order folks on that score.

In a letter she sent to the Jerusalem arm of the national Regional Planning and Construction Committee she says: “I wish to stress that the police force is certainly important to us and we, residents of the neighborhood, greatly appreciate its round-the-clock work and the sense of security it gives us all. However, we believe an alternate site should be found in the area (as already proposed), and they should not choose the easy option which will be a thorn in our side for generations to come.”

For its part, the Israel Police says it considered “more than 10 possible alternatives [sites]” which were rejected for various reasons.” The police spokesperson’s response says that “all the alternatives and considerations were presented to the Regional Planning and Construction Committee and, following a meeting with all the relevant parties, it was decided that the location set for the station is the best and is acceptable to all the sides.” The spokesperson also infers that the locals’ gripes were taken on board and duly accommodated whereby “in order to provide a solution for the residents’ wishes the planned site of the building was moved from its original position, while preserving the local sites, and also reducing the scale of construction and the height of the building.”

 Veteran local resident Shulamit Laderman is up in arms over the Israel Police's construction plans (credit: Courtesy) Veteran local resident Shulamit Laderman is up in arms over the Israel Police’s construction plans (credit: Courtesy)

Laderman is not buying the police’s claim that it involved “all the relevant parties.” 

“That is an outright lie,” she says. “The police may have met with the community administration but, with regard to the current site, no one met with the residents.” 

She says that, for the Israel Police, stealth has been of the essence. 

“They never publicized anything [about the current plan]. It has all been done behind our backs.” 

Dahan is similarly skeptical about the police’s intent to take the local residents’ quality of life into consideration, and about its efforts to find a different, more ordinary Jerusalemite-on-the-street friendly site. 

“Unfortunately, in none of the planning stages did the police present alternatives and genuine checks [of optional locations] that were actually implemented. The police representative was not able to say where the alternatives were located, when asked by the residents and by professional representatives on the Regional Planning and Construction Committee.”LADERMAN IS keenly aware of the mindset of the original planners of Armon Hanatziv, and cites from a book written by the man charged with that responsibility over half a century ago, British-born town planner David Best. The late University of Manchester-educated architect looked back on his life and long career in Architecture and Urban Planning – A Memoir, which came out around 20 years ago. One of the chapters in the 1970-1980 section is called Jerusalem – East Talpiot Neighborhood.

“David Best wanted the neighborhood to be for the residents,” says Laderman. “For example, he didn’t want tall buildings there and said the architecture should blend in with the surroundings and the nearby Arab villages.”

In his book, Best talks about coordinating with “the Jerusalem Master Plan and definition of the neighborhood’s functional role in relation to the city as a whole.” He stresses the need for “sensitive interaction with the landscape, that is the visual integration of the new buildings into the character and scale of the landscape, and the indigenous existing buildings.” Tellingly, Best refers to the: “incorporation of major observation points and panoramic routes into the layout, giving both residents and visitors an uninterrupted view of the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape from traffic routes, pedestrian ways, public spaces and from their homes.” 

If the construction for the new police compound goes ahead that will probably go down the tube.

It appears that Best also had his work cut out for him in the early 1970s to preserve the scenic quality of the area. He mentions: “the fight to protect the view from the entrance of the neighborhood towards the Old City, and the view from the Old City to the High Commissioners House and its tree-crowned hilltop. The view from the North Slope of the hills facing the Old City has substantially remained the same for the last 2,000 years.” 

That two-millennia stretch may be about to end.

And what of the municipality? Where do they come into all of this? Mayor Moshe Lion actually took the trouble recently to pop over to Armon Hanatziv, which among other things, spurred a little action on the ground. 

“They didn’t even put up any notices about the planned construction, in the public domain, until the day before Moshe Lion came here,” notes Dahan. “There were three, and they have all disappeared since,” Laderman adds.

I also asked the municipality for a detailed response to the construction plans at Mitzpeh-Tel. I’m not sure, were I local, that I would be overly comforted by the official spokesperson’s release. I asked, specifically, about the residents’ claims regarding the destruction of the natural beauty on the site, the obstruction – nay, obliteration – of the panoramic view and the feared disruption to everyday life in the neighborhood, with the expected decibel level resulting from the upturn in traffic volumes along the narrow street. I also requested the municipality address the issue of green spaces across the city in general, whether the police had, indeed, looked at a bunch of other sites before deciding on the Armon Hanatziv location, and whether the local authority is actually capable of blocking the relocation should it deem the plan to be untenable.

According to the local authority, the Israel Police initiative in Armon Hanatziv is a non-starter, and said that it, itself, has been excluded from the loop. 

“The Municipality of Jerusalem, and its head, opposed the plan as it was submitted, without the consent of the municipality and the residents of Armon Hanatziv,” said the statement. 

The municipality expressed the hope that the matter will be settled in an amicable and mutually acceptable manner. 

“Dialogue about the issue is currently in progress, between the municipality and the residents of Armon Hanatziv, and the police, in order to arrive at a plan that is acceptable to all the parties.”

Dahan says he does not hold out too much hope of the municipality coming to the residents’ rescue. 

“The claim that the proposed building complies with the agreements arrived at with the mayor and the community administration is irrelevant, as the building was not reduced in scale,” he states. “In fact, it was actually enlarged. The plan that was submitted, we believe, actually contradicts some of the individual commitments of the police toward the mayor.”

Brooklyn-born and bred Paul Schnall may not be quite in Laderman’s league, in terms of local seniority, but he is just as fired up about the ongoing police station saga. “I’ve only been living here for 13 years but, if you asked me if I’d like to live anywhere else, I’d say no. Then again, if this plan goes ahead I might have to,” he adds ruefully. 

“Just look at this view!” he smiles as we crest Mitzpeh-Tel. “There’s nothing like it, and it may not survive.”

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