THE ISRAEL REPORTJuly/August 1999
1. The Curtain Opens
3. Proof of Jewish Ownership
4. The See-Saw
6. Preventing Palestinian Contiguity
Imagine. In America it would be called racism, anti-Semitism. In Israel its called Ras el-Amud.
In our true story, the businessman is Dr. Irving Moskowitz, a well-known philanthropist who lives in Florida, although he also has a home in Jerusalem. The liberal-left press doesn't like him, perhaps because most recipients of his largesse are not sufficiently politically-correct, or approved by the proponents of left-wing advocacy journalism.
But, you ask, what and where is Ras el-Amud, and why can't Dr. Moskowitz build on his own land after meeting all legal and technical requirements?
Some 130 years ago, two of Jerusalem's leading philanthropists, Moshe Wittenberg and Nissan Bak, acting on behalf of the Chabad and Wollin Hassidim Kollels (community groups), purchased a 15-dunam plot (almost four acres) on the southern lower slope of Mt. of Olives (Har HaZeitim) facing Jerusalem's Old City walls. In 1928, Wittenberg and Bak formally transferred ownership of the land to the Kollels.
The Kollels then leased the parcel to an Arab farmer. The Kollel community gabbai (sexton), as the representative of the duly registered owners of the land, paid the property taxes levied by the authorities. This point subsequently became crucial when decades later the Arab leaseholder illegally transferred title deed to his own name.
Subsequently, the Jordanian Custodian Office discovered the original title deed of the Land Registry proving Jewish ownership, and applied to the Jordanian Court to invalidate the false registration of the dishonest Arab leaseholder. This was shortly before the 1967 Six-Day War and the Jordanian Court had not yet issued its ruling when the war broke out.
Following the war, with much of the area already densely built, the two Kollel community groups then pursued the case in Israeli courts. The District Court ruled in their favor, but the Arab leaseholder appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also ruled in favor of the true Jewish owners, validating their claim in 1984. Then, in 1990, the Kollel communities sold their land to Dr. Irving Moskowitz.
To the west, across the road, adjoining the Old City's Jewish Quarter, is "Ir David" (City of David), a developing Jewish neighborhood above the Shiloah wellspring. The property's eastern boundary is 160 meters from the Mount of Olives Israeli Police Station (itself located on Jewish-owned property), and past that, another 160 meters northwards, is one of the largest and oldest Jewish cemeteries atop the Mount of Olives, in use from Biblical times until today.
Ma'aleh Har HaZeitim (Mt. of Olives), the so-called "Ras el-Amud" project, is not isolated in an exclusively Arab area. It is a only a mile from Jerusalem's City Hall, just over a mile to the King David Hotel and the new Jerusalem Hilton. The Western Wall in the Old City is less than half a mile away, and the Hebrew University Mount Scopus campus, a mile and a half. Hardy an isolated neighborhood.
Even though Dr. Moskowitz bought the land and obtained all the proper building permits, there are those who shout, "How dare he! It's a provocation!" Imagine that. For a Jew to build homes for other Jews on privately-owned Jewish land in the Holy City of Jerusalem is considered an international chutzpah!
Those who decry the accusations that certain political elements in Israel's Jewish body politic would divide Jerusalem, have only to examine their position vis-a-vis the new Ma'aleh Har HaZeitim neighborhood. It is inconceivable, to this writer at least, that the only Jews who may be permitted on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives are those who are already dead - those who are buried in the cemetery there. Surely in Jerusalem, in the capital of the Jewish State, Jews, of all people, should be able to live wherever they like.
Yedidya Atlas is a senior correspondent and commentator for Arutz-7 Israel National Radio. His articles have appeared worldwide in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, Insight Magazine, Midstream, The Jerusalem Post, Makor Rishon and Nativ.