General Historical Background
In the years 1920-30, a Jewish cooperative society, called “Agudat HaDayarim” (Society of Residents) was created in Jerusalem. It’s specific aim was to ‘….establish, build and maintain for its members a Jewish quarter (neighbourhood) in the vicinity of Jerusalem…..to purchase or otherwise acquire land or any interest in land…..to supply all the neccesary sanitation, comforts and improvements of a quarter…..to maintain schools, a synagogue, a hospital, public gardens…..etc’.
The idea was to purchase a large tract of land outside the walls of the Old City, yet close enough to the centre of Jerusalem. The neighbourhood, was to be a ‘Garden Community’, with all residents having a true quality of life - including a large property for a home and a field for agricultural produce. This new neighbourhood was to comprise of the ‘everyday people’, with low-medium income, and who would be able to acquire their own property of 2-10 dunams for a very reasonable price. The cost in those years was 9-10 Lira (Egyptian) per dunam. (including organizational and legal fees)
The choice in the early 1920’s, was for either a tract of land in Beit Hakerem, or in the area of Abu Dis. It was unanimously decided by the original members of the Cooperative, to purchase the land in Abu Dis, because of it’s proximity to the Old City, the Temple Mount and to the centre of town (only 4kms from the Central Post Office). The Society had over 210 members, from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds. There were Ashkenazim, Sefaradim, Persians, Iraqis and Teimanim – teachers, clerks, artisans, labourers, from both the Old & New Yishuv.
By 1928, 598 dunams was purchased by the Collective Society in Abu Dis, which now had a formal and legal Jewish title to the whole area. According to records, 203 Jewish members of the “Agudat HaDayarim’ Cooperative Society paid good money in Egyptian Lira for the 598 dunams of land. Because of the great interest by people to purchase parcels of land via the Cooperative, it was decided to also acquire a further 600 dunams in the area, at a reasonable price, even before the actual building of the neighbourhood took place.
It was also hoped that the neighbourhood would encourage business people to establish factories and labour orientated activities in the area. It was also envisaged that ‘Hebrew labour’ would be developed ‘hand in hand’ with the rise of the residential area itself.
Unfortunately, due to financial hardships, loans that couldn’t be repaid, and the tense relations between the Arabs of Jerusalem and the Jewish residents (Arab riots and pogroms of 1928-29, 1936-38), the dream of the Cooperative to build the ‘Garden neighbourhood’ was never realized.
The Independence War of 1948, saw a miraculous Israeli victory, but the heart of Jerusalem was lost to the Jewish People. The City was sadly divided between East Jerusalem (Jordan) and West Jerusalem (Israel). The Jewish area of Abu Dis (598 dunams) fell into the hands of the General Custodian of the Jordanian Government.
The Six Day War of 1967, reunified Jerusalem and the area of Abu Dis came under the jurisdiction of the General Custodian of the State of Israel. When the Israeli Government fixed (annexed lands in Jerusalem) the borders of municipal Jerusalem, approximately 530-540 dunams of the original Jewish neighbourhood remained outside of “United Jerusalem”. It fell into the area, officially defined as Yehuda-Shomron and not annexed to Jerusalem. That in fact meant that only 60-70 dunams of the Cooperatives Jewish land remained inside Jerusalem proper.
In the years following 1967, rampant Arab illegal building on the Jewish land (530-540 dunams outside municipal Jerusalem) has effectively created the large Arab neighbourhood-village of Abu Dis. Before his death, Yaasir Arafat had given instructions to build his Parliament House in Abu Dis at the edge of Jerusalem in the area that Oslo defined as Area ‘C’. It would also have meant that the Palestinians would have effectively been at the literal edge of the Temple Mount, the Old City, the City of David and the centre of town. Luckily, this never came to fruition.
The Kidmat Zion project on the remaining 60 dunams of the Cooperative Society’s land in Abu Dis is an answer.
A Jewish neighbourhood was meant to be developed on 600 dunams in Abu Dis-Jerusalem in the 1920’s. It never happened!
Today, although only 60 dunams of undeveloped land remains, Ateret Cohanim will try and ensure that a Jewish neighbourhood will ultimately be developed at the edge of Jerusalem.
There may in fact be an 8-9 metre high concrete barrier, being built as a security ’fence’ for Jerusalem, but Ateret Cohanim believes, that only a flourishing Jewish life in all sectors of the city, can be the true and secure ‘Shield for Jerusalem’. (Magen Yerushalayim)
Kidmat Zion will be one part of that ‘Shield” !!