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Bodyguard in front of Salam Fayyad's House in Beit Hanina, Jerusalem

Beit Hanina

Salam Fayyad’s Jerusalem Home

By Rhonda Spivak , March 18, 2010

This story which first appeared on our website March 18,2010 was picked up by a website of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) in New York, Jewish Press International, India times and others. See links below:

In exploring East Jerusalem recently, I was in Beit Hanina, an area in East Jerusalem, which has some relatively large homes.

I come upon a house watched over by a tall Palestinian security guard dressed in black, who would only say that he was guarding the house of someone ‘very important.’
It turns out that the house belongs to none other than Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who travels from there to his office in Ramallah everyday. Fayyad’s wife is a resident of Jerusalem. According to Ha’ aretz, neighbors reported that Fayyad has been living there full time only since last year after becoming the PA’s Prime Minister.

Israeli security officials make it clear that Palestinian security services that operate in Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods such as Beit Hanina are allowed to do so under the direct supervision of the Israeli security establishment.

I contacted Danny Seaman, director of the Israeli government press office to ask him whether Fayyad’s living in Beit Hanina undermines Israel’s claim of sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. He responded, “It is quite understood within the context of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, that there are going to be small ironies and this is one of negotiations, everyone has opening positions. We [the Israelis] have our opening positions. We don’t expect all of our opening positions are ones that will be finally agreed upon...”

When contacted, Kadima Knesset member, Otniel Schneller, an orthodox Jew, said, “When there will be negotiations over Jerusalem...if [Beit Hanina] becomes a Palestinian state, then Fayyad will continue to live there, and if not, he can live under Israeli sovereignty and be the Prime Minister of a Palestinian state. On our side [Israel’s], there is no apartheid.”

Prior to 1948, many Jews owned property in Beit Hanina. As Aryeh King, director of the Israel Land Fund, said, “Hundreds of dunams of land in Beit Hanina belonged to Shmuel Salant, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, and when the Jordanians had control over it [between 1948-1967], they built on it. Since ‘67, the land has been controlled by the Israeli government, and it has let Arabs build homes on it, many without permits...Today there is only one apartment building with Jews living in Beit Hanina.”
Secrets of Beit Hanina
Secrets of Beit Hanina


MK Otniel Shneller, Kadima
MK Otniel Shneller, Kadima
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus once also owned land in Beit Hanina. But, in 2004, Hebrew University sold almost 96 dunams (24 acres) of land in Beit Hanina and the neighboring Shuafat to a Palestinian company owned by a Palestinian bank.

Schneller added that the fact that Fayyad lives in Beit Hanina, and Hebrew University sold its land there, “may in fact influence the final status of Beit Hanina.”

Schneller, who is a former secretary general of the Yesha Council of Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria, also said, “Beit Hanina is not part of the heart of Jewish historical Jerusalem.” Theoretically, he noted, one day it could become part of Al Quds, a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

“Over Beit Hanina, I am willing to compromise,” Shneller said.

Schneller differentiated between Beit Hanina and neighborhoods in the holy basin, such as the Old City,and Sheikk Jarrah. “The neighborhoods in the holy basin must always be under Israeli sovereignty, even if there are special municipal and other jurisdictional arrangements made for Arabs living in the holy basin,” he said.


However, Schneller doesn’t see any chance of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians in the near future as “Israel will insist on sovereignty over the holy basin in Jerusalem,” and, additionally, there are legitimate concerns “that a Palestinian state would become a terrorist state.”

In an interview, Robert Ilatov, Knesset member for Israel Beiteinu, said it was a mistake for Hebrew University to sell its land in Beit Hanina to Palestinians, not Jews. “We have made a lot of mistakes around Hebrew University. We should have been building all around it.”

He added, “the fact that Israel lets Salam Fayyad live in Beit Hanina only shows how liberal we Israelis are.”

Of course, if Beit Hanina ever fell under Palestinian sovereignty and became a terrorist base, the Hebrew University would become just like Sderot.
MK Robert Iliato, Israel Beiteinu
MK Robert Iliato, Israel Beiteinu

All of this makes me wonder whether in hindsight, in the aftermath of the disengagement from Gaza, the Second Lebanon war and Operation Cast Lead,  the  Hebrew University  of Jerusalem would still  have made the same decision in 2010 that it made in 2004, which was to sell its land off to a Palestinian  company?  .

Was the sale made at the time on the working assumption that peace was going to be at hand, and Beit Hanina would soon become part of the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem?   Would that still be the working assumption today?

King Hussein's unfinished palace
The base of King Hussein's unfinished
palace in Beit Hanina remains the same
as it was in 1967. Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

On the top of the highest peak of the neighborhood of Beit Hanina, not far from Fayyad’s house there is an archeological site known as Tel-Al-Fur. 

There, with a commanding view of Jerusalem one can see a base of an unmarked structure that was built in 1966 and was to have become a palace for none other than King Hussein of Jordan.

What is the story behind this unfinished palace?

In 1966, U.S. aid gave Jordan money to build a Jericho-Jerusalem road.  To celebrate the completion of the road, King Hussein decided to build a palace for himself in Beit Hanina overlooking Jerusalem.   But then, after the Six Day war in 1967, the land became Israel’s so the palace was never completed. Israel hasn’t marked the site.

The Israelis don’t talk about it much because it highlights the Jordanian connection to the neighborhood, and the Jordanians don’t talk about it, because they lost the land by entering the war in 1967.

I tried to go up closer to the unfinished palace to sea the panoramic view, but I got lost along the way in the winding roads.

But I sometimes find myself wondering if ever the day will come when a Palestinian leader will finish the unfinished palace, as part of the Palestinian  capital of  Al–Quds. 

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.