From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 15:18:56


                     by Elaine Ruth Fletcher 
                      Religion News Service 
JERUSALEM--"Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem," declare Jews at the close 
of the Passover Seder. In Christian tradition, Jesus looked down upon the 
holy city from the Mount of Olives shortly before his Crucifixion and wept 
over its fate. 
     Jerusalem, the city whose stark mountain landscape, cradled in 
sunlight, has inspired prophets and poets for nearly 30 centuries, today 
faces the most banal of threats to her powerful spiritual appeal. 
     Population growth of Third World dimensions, burgeoning traffic, 
rampant land speculation, development fever and the Arab-Jewish political 
battle for control of the city are all conspiring against this urban jewel 
in the crown of the Judeo-Christian tradition. 
     "There must be international oversight on development or otherwise 
political pressures on the city will bring about its destruction," declares 
Jerusalem's chief city planner, Uri Ben Asher, who is deeply disturbed by 
the development patterns being prompted by Israel's political leaders. "The 
subject of preservation of the city is an issue for all of humankind." 
     While the world's Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities have worked 
feverishly to preserve their respective rights to the city's holy sites, 
little thought has been given to how the city, as an urban entity of 
worldwide religious importance, can be preserved, says Rabbi David Rosen, 
an Orthodox Jew who lectures frequently on Judaism and environmental 
     Almost every element in Jerusalem's classic 41-square-mile landscape 
is at risk. On the Mount of Olives, where Jesus prayed before his 
Crucifixion and, in traditional Christian belief,  later ascended into 
heaven, city officials recently refused to approve plans formally 
designating most of the area for green-space preservation. 
     Jerusalem's new mayor, Ehud Olmert, has plans to develop a high-rise 
capital of office buildings, housing and hotels in Jerusalem's 19th-century 
downtown area that sits adjacent to the holy sites of the ancient walled 
Old City. 
     Internationally respected Jerusalem architect Michael Turner says that 
such new development will dwarf the city's historical and religious sites. 
"The quality of Jerusalem is that of a world spiritual and historical 
center. That is what gives the city meaning," says Turner. 
     "Tall buildings generally represent money-grabbing speculative 
developments. What kind of values will we be projecting to the world in a 
skyline where these high-rises dominate?" 
     Meanwhile, road expansion and growing auto traffic in a city bereft of 
any modern mass transit system is polluting once-pure mountain air, which 
at sunset takes on the golden hues of Jerusalem's stone. 
     And in green spaces within the city and on its perimeter, plans for 
some 30,000 new apartment developments could forever erase the last 
remaining images of a biblical landscape in which shepherds' flocks still 
graze and olive groves are tended much in the way they were centuries ago. 
     Olmert sees rapid development of Jewish neighborhoods as a way to 
strengthen Israel's claim on Jerusalem as its capital and also preserve the 
present 75-25 Jewish-Arab demographic split in the city in the face of 
rapid Arab population growth. ... 
     Turner, the Jerusalem architect, says that a far more desirable plan 
of growth -- but one not yet examined by Israel's politicians -- would be 
to preserve the city's classic proportions, both urban and architectural, 
while building rapid-rail links to farther flung satellite towns. Those 
towns would provide ready access to Jerusalem, while avoiding destructive 
     "By opening up the hinterland of Jerusalem via really good 
rapid-transit connections, you could increase the space of the city," says 
Turner. "And you could preserve the priceless value of Jerusalem's green 
space, holy sites and architecture for priceless use by Israel and the 
peoples of the world." 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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