On February 12, the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Board convened to approve Plan 68858, to allow for the construction of a 13 story yeshiva (talmudic academy) in Sheikh Jarrah. Even for those of us accustomed to the absurdity of East Jerusalem settlements, this scheme stands out as egregiously absurd.
The Yeshiva is designated for the Ohr Sameach Yeshiva, which appeals to “born-again” religious Jews, primarily for English-speaking foreign students. It will have 7 stories above the ground, and six below, four of which will be for parking. The construction is to take place on lands expropriated by Israel in 1968, meaning land classified as Israel State Land. To be clear: this is emphatically a Government of Israel project. A map of the plan can be viewed/downloaded here.
The plan for the yeshiva was initially to have come before the Municipal Committee on January 1, a day before the arrival of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Jerusalem. In deference to that visit, the Plan was ultimately taken off that meeting’s agenda. Six weeks later, with Secretary Kerry no longer present in Jerusalem, the powers that be seized the moment to put the plan back on the agenda and approve it. The plan now will be sent on to the Regional Planning Committee, for deposit for public review.
This plan does not come in a vacuum. As can be seen from the map, it dovetails with other settler schemes in Sheikh Jarrah. This neighborhood, in which hardcore, ideological settlers are now living cheek-and-jowl with Palestinians (in some cases sharing homes with Palestinians after Israeli courts have ordered Palestinians to hand over part of their property to the Israelis) is fast becoming an East Jerusalem flashpoint that is rivaling Silwan.
The plan is motivated only by political/ideological goals. To state the obvious, there is no indigenous demand in Sheikh Jarrah for a Jewish yeshiva teaching the Talmud to English-speaking students. The planned yeshiva will not serve the residents of the area in any manner, and it is not designed to do so. Indeed, this plan is solely about putting additional property in Sheikh Jarrah under the control of the settlers, with a project that is guaranteed to bring large numbers of right-wing, ideologically motivated Jews (including non-Israeli Jews) to live inside this Palestinian neighborhood.
Approval of this plan underscores, in the most blatant possible manner, the inequities and discrimination that characterize the Israel’s approach to education in East Jerusalem. For more than a decade, Daniel Seidemann argued three cases before the Israeli Supreme Court, regarding the fact that the Israeli Government had neglected to build schools for Palestinians. Today, there is currently a shortfall of approximately 1800 classrooms in East Jerusalem (and there is no better gift that Israel can give the Hamas than an uneducated Palestinian population). The Israeli Government argued in court that there were simply no available lands to build schools for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. In fact, there is land, including “state land,” that is available. And in this latest case, rather than using it to address the needs of the local Palestinian population – there is a desperate need for a school for the Palestinian children of Sheikh Jarrah – the land is being used as an ideological trinket to be gifted to the settlers.