Jul 2014 Journal
LETTER FROM ISRAEL Blot on the landscape
Over and above the scandal and shenanigans surrounding the prosecution, trial and eventual conviction for accepting bribes and betraying the voters’ trust of the erstwhile Mayor of Jerusalem and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his associates is the very material existence of the building that lies at the heart of the whole saga.
Almost since time immemorial, Jerusalem has been dear to the heart of mankind. The ancient Hebrews conquered the land of Canaan, led by King David, defeated the Jebusites, and made the city their capital. Although it did not stand at the mouth of a river or command sea routes, its situation atop a promontory that is part of the Judaean Hills commands the fertile plain to the north and overlooks the desert to the south, and was therefore considered virtually unassailable.
The Crusaders, who controlled the city for 100 years in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, built churches and sites of worship, using the local stone, of course, as did their successors, the Muslims. The memory of the brief Christian hegemony of Jerusalem lingers on in the hymns, poems, prayers and yearnings that prevail throughout the Christian world.
In 1921 Sir Ronald Storrs the man appointed by the British Mandatory authorities as (to quote his words) ‘the first military governor of Jerusalem since Pontius Pilate’, ordered that all buildings erected in the city be built of Jerusalem stone. Known for his love of art, literature and music, Storrs was determined to establish firm architectural and town-planning principles for the city, and it is largely thanks to his foresight and vision that these have more or less been maintained ever since. These principles were maintained as the city expanded beyond the crenellated walls surrounding the Old City that were built by Sultan Suleiman the Great in the sixteenth century.
And always, no matter what the pressures and exigencies may have been, the hilly skyline surrounding Jerusalem was preserved, providing aesthetic and architectural pleasure for its denizens, rich and poor alike.
Until the Holyland project came along, that is.
One wonders: where were the architects, the town planners, the civil engineers who allowed this travesty to come into existence? Possibly some of them lined their pockets in order to enable the plans to pass the various approval stages, while others simply turned a blind eye. But when one thinks about it, how is it that no one stopped to consider what this would do to Jerusalem’s skyline and the mental state of the people who live there?
Now, every time one looks out over the Jerusalem skyline, from pretty much anywhere in Jerusalem, one sees the inelegant blocks of the Holyland project with the tower that dominates them and the surrounding area, like a huge wart on the face of a lovely woman. Instead of feeling uplifted by the beauty of the environment, one’s heart sinks at the way it has been so blatantly defaced.
Perhaps it’s as well that Ehud Olmert and the others are going to spend some time in jail - otherwise the inhabitants of Jerusalem might have taken the law into their own hands and torn them limb from limb. Presumably their fellow-inmates won’t care much about aesthetic damage. Jail might even serve as a place of refuge from the wrath of people who are now forced to suffer this eyesore on a daily basis.
The blot on the landscape is both physical and metaphorical, the tangible evidence of the corruption and moral depravity that seem to characterise too many of our political leaders these days. Olmert and co will serve just a few years in prison but those of us who live in Jerusalem are condemned to a life sentence of viewing the result of their wanton greed whenever we lift up our eyes unto the hills.