Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Jerusalem’s former mayor Uri Lupoliansky, and senior officials in the Jerusalem municipality are accused of accepting tens of millions of shekels in order to bypass appropriate construction permits to create the Holyland housing project in Bait Vegan, Jerusalem. This story has emerged as “one of the worst corruption affairs in Israeli history,” according to deputy president of the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s court Abraham Haiman. And environmentalists were against the construction since the beginning.
First approved in 1999 as a hotel development on a hill owned by Hillel Chaney, who was also arrested on bribery charges, the plans metastasized into 4 apartment buildings, which surround the 875m Holyland tower – “32 floors of luxury and prestige.”
Developers compare this tower to the Trump building in New York, and claim that it is the “natural choice for people who love Jerusalem and value high standards of living.”
But there is nothing natural about it. Not only is the development unsightly and incongruent with the natural surroundings, but an entire pine forest was uprooted to accommodate it. At least 300 official objections were filed, but the municipality refused to hold a public hearing to address those complaints.
Renowned architect Ram Karmi was originally solicited for the project. However, Karmi told Neri Livneh of Haaretz that the public space he planned for was inconvenient for Kardan Real Estate, and that architect Tishbi-Rozin was installed instead to create a design that favored more private (and more profitable) apartments. Karmi calls the buildings “ugly” and suggests that the current buildings do not at all reflect his original design.
Judge Haiman laments that this corruption case has “caused irreparable damage to the public interest.” Israeli citizens have no reason to trust that government officials will faithfully uphold building standards that are designed to protect against environmental degradation and runaway greed.
Hopefully the high profile nature of this scandal will retard the future growth of similar monster buildings, as well as the investors who back them.