Sunday, June 28, 2009

taking up the fight

Neve Tzedek (Nehushtan) tower as seen from the rooftop next to the rooftop. Another six are planned along the same road, two adjacent to this one.

The local Neve Tzedek community centre was buzzing with activity the other night with about 100 local residents cramming in to hear speeches and sign up to volunteer and contribute. Even some of the local celebs could be seen among thge locals. There was a catalyst for this sudden spurt of community action in our normally placid and increasinghly gentrified neighbourhood. This came in the form of a policy documentadopted by the Tel Aviv local planning and construction committee recently approved a policy document for building in the mesila (old train tracks) area running along Rehov Eilat/Derekh Yafo.

The document refers to an area of 128 dunams and includes seven towers. The new buildings will add some 650 residential units to the 750 now existing in the area. Included in the buildings referred to in the document is the 38 storey Neve Tzedek (Nechushtan) tower that was built 5 years ago and can clearly be seen from the rooftop. The additional towers slated for construction are the Lieber Tower, a 32 storey tower for residential or office use which will be even closer to the rooftop ; the Niva Tower, 28 floors slated for residential use; The Ha-atad Tower, 32 storeys for office or residential use (next to Lieer and therefore also highly visible) ; the Lapid quarter that will include two towers containing 150 apartments and the Eliphelet area that will hold two additional towers.


In view of the latest development, the ‘Residents for Neve Tzedek’ non-profit association believes that if action is not taken soon the battle will be lost. Neve Tzedek will quickly find itself surrounded by busy roads and high towers and will become a “traffic island” choked by car pollution and darkened for most of the day by the shade of the towers.

Hence the emergency meeting. Now the idea is to continue to fight the plans through the various planning authorities and at worst, to ensure that the area receives the green spaces and schools it needs. At best, the plans should be overturned and the whole vision rethought but it seems that too much money and too many interests are involved to completely halt the juggernaut of a planning process from steamrolling on.

Anyone interested in making a donation to the cause can do so by making out a cheque to
Residents for Neve Tzedek
c/o Advocate Roy Amsel
Rehov Har Sinai 5
Tel Aviv 65816

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Oy Jerusalem

A Palestinian neighhbourhood in East Jerusalem. Click not to see details like paved roads, public transportation, pavements, sewage and refuse collection.


A few days ago I took leave of Tel Aviv for a rare visit to Jerusalem , or more specifically to what is normally called 'East' Jerusalem (despite much of this being in the north and the south of the city) The occasion was a tour with the Ir Amim NGO whose optimistic motto is: 'An Equitable and Stable Jerusalem with an Agreed Political Future'.

Thus, only a 90 minute drive from the fleshpots of Tel Aviv, I found myself meadering (in a van) through the potholed roads of Um Tuba and Jabel Mukabar, Suhr Bahr, Ras el Amud and Silwan - in other words, places that most Israelis have barely heard of, let alone visited. There were no pavements, the garbage was collected only infrequently and some 9,000 children would not be going to school in September because of a chronic lack of classrooms. This is what Israel's 'eternal capital' looks like from the Palestinian side. To cap it all, the security fence (in some places an 8 metre high wall) snakes around most of 'east' Jerusalem cutting off hospitals from patients, children from schools, farmers from fields and customers from businesses. As much as it protects Israelis from terror attacks it seems also to demarcate which part of 'Jerusalem' Israel intends to keep for itself.

Here and there in the heart of these Palestinian neighbourhoods (some of them former villages annexed to Jerusalem after the 1967 war) , settler organisations with complete governmental collusion are buying out Palestinian houses and land to set up difficult-to-move Jewish "settlements" - 20 units here, 150 there. This is the same tactic the settlement movement has always used. Establish enough "facts on the ground" and they will never be able to budge us. This sort of activity has been stepped up in recent weeks and months.

The wider picture is of course Obama's renewed effort to jump start negotiations between Israel and the PA, negotiations that will never be concluded positively without a resolution to the status of Jerusalem. If there are to be two states, then Jerusalem is to be the capital of both of them. This demands redrawing the map of Jerusalem and dividing the city into sections of Israeli , Palestinian and probably some form of international sovereignty. The clumps of Jewish settlement inside densly populated Palestinian neighbourhoods are designed to place physical spokes in the wheels of this plan by further complicating an already complicated situation.


Under various peace plans, the 'holy basin' containing Temple Mount/Haram el sharif as well as the Mount of Olives and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (among others) would fall under international sovereignty and administration.

Indeed, even without this sort of malicious sabotage it is hard to fathom how the city can be both divided yet remain open and maintain several sovereignties without them continuously clashing.
President Clinton's "parameters" of 2001 talked of freezing a snapshot of the status quo: neighbourhoods containing Jews to Israel, Palestinian neighbourhoods to Palestine and the holy places under a special regime. But few other practical details of how all this might work in practice have emerged. For example there would have to be some sort of external barrier that would prevent militant Palestinians from exiting Jerusalem to carry out a terror attack in Tel Aviv or zealous settlers from doing the same in Ramallah.

But all of this is speculation, a long way down the road. Tonight at 8pm Netanyahu will address the world and we will have a better idea of whether he will submit to the American demand and say out loud that the goal of the process is a two state solution. If he does, Obama wins. If he doesn't Obama still wins because his confrontational position with Israel will raise his standing in the Arab world. Knowing Bibi's coalition contraints and sincere world view, the latter scenario is the more likely .

We - here on the rooftop and in other reasonably sane households throughout Israel - feel that entering a confrontation with our greatest friend and ally over semantics and settlements is lunacy but have also always belived that the entire settlement enterprise is lunacy.
This certainly feels like the beginning (if we're not already in the middle) of Israel's gradual decline to the status of international leper.

A Palestinian boy in the Old City of Jerusalem. What future for him and Jewish children in west Jerusalem?






For balanced information on the Jerusalem question: http://www.ir-amim.org.il/Eng/

Monday, June 1, 2009

Fallen king of the ratings


Dudu in brighter days

With relations with the Obama administration rapidly deteriorating to crisis proportions, one would have thought that the possible loss of Israel's most stalwart ally would be dominating the headlines 24/7. One would be wrong. In fact the top story of the last few days has been the involvement of entertainer Dudu Topaz in physical assaults against TV executives

"Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court ordered an eight-day extension of the remand of one of Israel's top television stars on Monday, branding Dudu Topaz the ringleader in a series of violent attacks on TV executives. Topaz was arrested Sunday over the attacks on TV producer Shira Margalit two weeks ago, the CEO of the Channel 2 Keshet franchise Avi Nir in November 2008 and actors' agent Boaz Ben-Zion some six months ago."

The babyfaced Dudu Topaz was (it seems only yesterday) Israel's top TV personality, the 'King of the Ratings', MCing peaktime shows which involved a combination of stand-up humour and elaborate projects designed to pull at the heartsrings. Before that he was a successful comedian, packing halls and wowing fans all over the country. But gradually the ratings faded, the wrinkles deepened, the blue eyed boy of the 80s lost his slot on Channel 2 and his career nosedived. By all accounts, Dudu's (gargantuan) ego punctured, he flipped and ordered the beatings of the above from a next door neighbour with criminal inclinations.

No we won't

On second thoughts, there might be hidden parallels between the Dudu Topaz story and the Binyamin Netanyahu story. Both were national heartthrobs in their younger days. Both have the gift of the gab. And both are now sweating.


Bibi's formerly renowned rhetorical powers seemed to have been replaced recently by increasingly jerky arm movements. The political king of the ratings has today something of the air of an ageing TV show host making a comeback. Now he's been knocked off balance by the cool onslaught of the Obama administration into the very narrow manoeuvering space between his hawkish coalition and the heat emanating from Washington.


Dudu seems to be in frail mental condition and could be facing years in jail or other institution. He made a lot of people laugh and it's a shame. However, he's not the prime minister.
On the other hand, Bibi's mental state is reputedly lachitz (given to pressure). And so, yet again, the question is who will press harder: Barack Obama and Team America or Bibi's hawkish chums from Likud, Yisrael Beitenu and Ha-Bayit Ha-Yehudi. Not to mention the settlers who are already heating up the West Bank and Jerusalem.
If history repeats itself , the combination of a committed Israeli right and a small and passive left will again succeed in upsetting Washington's plans.

But I'm rooting for Obama all the same.