Making the old city young again

List All Facts and Opinions Print
Virtual Tour of the Shepherd Hotel Area
Yaacov Lozowick Jerusalem, Israel | January 11, 2011

The other day a private developer destroyed a large Jerusalem building which has been empty for decades, so as to construct an apartment building on its site. The building, originally built by the infamous Haj Amin al-Husseini in the 1930s, was confiscated during WWII by the British, while Husseini was hobnobbing with his Nazi friends in Berlin, then by the Jordanians when they conquered the area in 1948, then by the Israelis when they conquered it in 1967. It was sold to Irwin Moskowitz in 1985, but only recently did he manage to complete the legal process that would enable him to develop it. Along the way it became known as the Shepherd Hotel.

The move was condemned world-wide, by Hillary Clinton, Catherine Ashton, Ban Ki-Moon, and many others, and of course by the Palestinian leadership. The condemnations all claimed the new apartments will be in East Jerusalem, and thus part of Palestine, and therefore no Jews may be allowed to live there and if they are this will prevent the division of the city and peace.

Set aside the legal aspects of the matter, not because they aren't interesting, but because they've been set aside by all the negotiating parties for at least the past decade. When on December 24th 2000 President Clinton slowly dictated his terms for peace to a group of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, he determined that Jerusalem would be divided along the lines of ethnic division, irrespective of which part of the town had been in which country prior to its unification under Israel in 1967; his proposed lines would have had some Jordanian areas incorporated to Israel, and some Israeli ones incorporated to Palestine. Ever since then the principle of division along the ethnic lines has been the single option discussed in all relevant forums, effectively overriding earlier discussions of history, legality, morality or what have you.

I have written repeatedly about how this practical solution is not practical, and indeed should anyone ever try to impose it, the imposition will inevitably lead to violence bloodshed and eventually back to war (here, for example, and here). I have demonstrated this on various parts of town. (Here, here and here, for example),  Today I suggest we have a close look at the situation on the ground at the Shepherd Hotel compound.

First, the general area. Here's a Google Earth screenshot of the area to the north of the Old City in which the compound lies. (You can see part of the Old City at the bottom of the picture). Note that pre-1967 there was an island of Israeli territory to the east of the line of division; this is Mount Scopus, and before the division the Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital had been there; after the division the Israelis had to shut them both down, even though they were still in Israeli territory, because the Jordanians wouldn't allow access to the mountain.

After unification in 1967, the Israelis built Jewish neighborhoods bridging the gap and connecting Mt. Scopus to Jewish Jerusalem. In the Geneva Initiative application of Clinton's principles, the change on the ground will look like this:

This is an interesting way of drawing the line, as it leave out some interesting information and possible complications.

The red triangle is where the Israeli national police headquarters and Ministry of Housing sit, raising the question why it was defined by the Geneva Initiative folks as Palestinian. The yellow blob is the British Counsulate, and has been an official British compound since the 1930s, so it's not obviously either Jewish nor Palestinian, either. The green blob I'll talk about in a moment: it's one of those sections of Jerusalem which defy ethnic cataloging. The Shepherd Hotel compound is the pink blob between the green and the yellow, which means that it isn't deep into a Palestinian neighborhood, but rather leaning on the fence of a Jewish one.

Here, lets see it all closer up.


 I've added three colored dots. At the bottom left there's a blue dot. That's the site of the memorial to the 78 Jews murdered by Palestinians on April 13th 1948. They were part of a convoy on its way up to the hospital and included the director of the hospital and many of his staff. The killing went on for more than six hours, though late in the afternoon when the British decided to put an end to the incident they did so in minutes. The consulate compound was manned by British troops at the time.

The black memorial is on the right; the consulate is the arched building in the upper center.

The yellow dot is the spot across from the entrance to the Shepherd complex where I stood earlier this afternoon and took four snapshots, one in each direction. West, into the compound:

North. The blue roofed compound is the sport center of the Hebrew University, and the 1967 line goes through its middle.
East. The HU campus is above, the buildings below are part of the Arab neighborhood of Wadi Jose, and the road between them is the highway to Maale Edumim.

 Finally, south. The Mount of Olives is above, Wadi Jose below it.

To the north of the Shepherd Hotel compound you'll see that I've added a light blue dot, at the intersection between the government compound and the Shepherd compound. Again, I stood on one spot, and pointed my camera left, then right. First, here's the Ministry of Housing, to my right.

To the left, here's the Shepherd compound, with all the trees. Less than a stone's throw from the ministry, and not figuratively. A real stone's throw.

 Finally, straight ahead, here's the compound I previously marked in bright green:

Near the top of the building you can see the logo of Briyut Klalit - twice. Once in Hebrew (right) and once in Arabic (left). Briyut Klalit is the name of the largest health insurance organization in Israel. The building, and the compound around it, is an Israeli institution, but since this particular branch serves the Arab population of Wadi Jose, most of its staff are Arab, and the language spoken in its hallways is mostly Arabic. So if you're dividing the city along ethnic lines, what is it? Do you go by the identity of the organization or the identity of the clients? If you decide it's Palestinian, the Israelis will of course shut down the building and its services, leaving the locals with no health service. If it's Israeli, then you're going to have to draw an international border between the health center and its clients, who will live in a different country and won't be eligible for its services. (And why should they be? Health services are paid by from the Israeli budget, from taxes collected from Israeli citizens. Not citizens of Palestine).

If the health center stays in Israel, the fence between it and the Shepherd Hotel compound will then be an international border. If there are Israelis living in the Shepherd area by the time the border gets drawn, the other fence of the compound will be the border. It's hard to see how either scenario is an existential threat to peace making, since the two fences are about 150 yards apart.

On the other hand, it's easy to see why the whole concept of drawing an international border along fences of properties might perhaps not be such a good idea. In the real world, I mean. From time to time I take foreign visitors for walks along the line the peace-makers propose, and am often asked why they don't see the division can't possibly work. I have no answer to this. Then my visitors ask me what the solution will be: if dividing the city will be a calamity, how do we reach peace? So far as I know, no-one has an honest answer to that

Yaacov Lozowick Jerusalem, Israel Historian, author of "Right to Exist, A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars" and other works, former Director of Archives at Yad Vashem; owner of LeverEdge Ltd, a company that deals with advanced knowledge management projects.  His blog can be found at