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The frame of the unfinished Palace begun by King Hussein on the Hill of Beans (Tel-El-Ful)
photo by Rhonda Spivak

The fireplace built in the palace
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Overlooking Ramallah from the incomplete Palace
photo by Rhonda Spivak

A structure near the back of the hill, possibly for security
photo by Rhonda Spivak

walking inside the structure
photo by Rhonda Spivak

View of outskirts of Ramallah from the Palace
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Graffiti from 1967 Inside the Palace
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Editor's Special Report Over 50 Years After The Six Day War: My Visit to a A Rather Secret Palace in East Jerusalem on the Hill of Beans

by Rhonda Spivak, Sept 24, 2017

There is a "Hill of Beans" in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, and on it lies an unfinished palace that Jordan's King Hussein began to build when  Jordan controlled Jerusalem and the West Bank before the Six Day War broke out. I have asked myself whether King Hussein was full of beans when he decided to build his palace on the Hill of Beans, (known in Arabic as Tel-el-Ful).


No, Hussein wasn't full of beans when deciding to build on the Hill of Beans and now I shall spill the beans to explain why he did so. Hussein chose to build what was to be his summer palace on the Hill of Beans, since it has been a strategic site for some 3000 years,  and from this hilltop Hussein would have a commanding view of all of Jerusalem.


At the King's command , the frame of the palace was erected, but alas construction of it was interrupted by the outbreak  of  the Six Day War,  when Israeli troops captured  the Hill of Beans on their way to capturing the Old city of Jerusalem which they entered through Lion's Gate. (Hussein lost a lot of his Kingdom in the Six Day War  and some might say in doing so he became the King of Beans.)


I first learned about the Hill of Beans when driving through Beit Hanina in the summer of 2009, where I noticed the palace frame on the Hill in the distance. I never got up to the Hill since I got rather lost in the streets of Beit Hanina, but I made a mental note to one day go back and see it. I figured it might be my only chance to get a peak at a Hashemite  palace.( King Hussein, by the way, would not be the first King to try to build a palace on this hill as the site is believed to be the site of King Saul's ancient palace and the capital of the tribe of Benjamin)


Now it is important to understand that ever since  the site came under Israeli control, it has been an archeological park  that belongs to the Israel Lands Authority, and since it is a politically sensitive site,  no work has been done on the site since 1967, to honour the very delicate status quo.  


But I was in Israel in the summer of 2011 when there were news reports that  Jordan's King Abdullah had apparently decided to try to finish/renovate his father's Palace and that the  The Palestinian Authority Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs was carrying out the work at Jordan's request. TheWakf had sent tractors and fencing to claim the hilltop -thereby apparently engaging in a land grab. Everyone was asking whether the Palace was being finished potentially to house  PA President  Mahmoud Abbas, and whether he or Jordan's King Abdullah or both had ordered the site to be fenced off and worked on. Reports indicated that Jerusalem Municipality had no idea about plans for the building. (


I was curious about this and called the Director of  the Palestinian Authority's Government Media Centre Gassam Kattib  and asked him flat out if  the Unfinished Palace was being fenced off so that it could be finished to house PA President Abbas, in the event of a two state solution, giving him a panoramic view of Jerusalem.  Kattib responded by saying "Yes, I have read about the same news reports as you ( regarding the tractors and work going on at the Unfinished Palace) but I don't know what's going on. It's a good question. I don't know"


I then called a spokesperson at the Israeli Prime Minister's office to ask him what was going on. People  questioned how it was that illegal building was going on right under Netanyahu’s nose and he didn't know about it or stop it. There was speculation that maybe he had given a "nod" to the Wakf and Jordan to finish the  Palace on this Hill of Neans, presumably for a Palestinian Prime Minister ( or maybe even King Abdullah himself.!).  I spoke to the Prime Minister's Netanyahu's office three times and the same spokesman said he didn't know what was going on but would get back to me. "It's a good question you are asking. I'll get back to you." But of course I never received a response.


In the summer of 2011, I spoke to Aryeh King, an Israeli living nearby on Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem. He said he had gone over there but everything was all fenced off and no one could get near the Unfinished Palace.  I decided there was no point in trying.


But a year later in the summer of 2012, I was staying in a Jerusalem hotel for a Bat-Mizvah tour and  when I flagged a cab I learned that my  driver lived in Beit Hanina.  I immediately asked him if he could take me to Hussein's Unfinished Palace on the Hill of Beans. He said he knew where it was and I offered him about four times of what the fare should have been if he would take me and wait up there until I walked around and took photos. He agreed and as we approached the hill, I noticed that the Unfinished Palace was no longer visible from the highway as I remembered it. A large water tank of some sort was in front of it so it blocked the view from the road, making it impossible to find the Palace unless you were a "local" who knew Beit Hanina well.


We arrived to the palace in the heat of the day, and I immediately spotted a lone Israeli police car that was sitting there. We were the only ones there and my driver was a little weary about the police car. The police man looked at me as I got out, but didn’t stop me from looking around . 


As I walked inside the Unfinished Palace and noticed the 1967 graffiti that was on some of its frame , I marveled at the fact that the King had put in a beautiful fireplace.(see all photos) The panoramic view from the Palace was stunning-Jerusalem lay in the front, and in the backside of the Hill the sprawling city of Ramallah had crept up  almost to the Palace. If there ever is a two state solution, and Beit Hanina is given to the Palestinians, then this Hill Of Beans would be the obvious choice for a location for a Palace for the Palestinian President.


At the backside of the Unfinished Palace facing Ramallah there was a whole other structure that was like an enclosed tunnel that I walked through. It was sort of spooky walking there alone . I wondered if this structure which was part of the palace complex had been built for the King's security apparatus to protect him from the East side that now links up to Ramallah. There were windows in this structure behind the palace from which you could see out to the East (see photos). As I meandered through this vestige of the Hashemite monarchy, I thought of how smart the King had been to choose this location and build this “diamond in the rough."


According to news reports in 2011, the unfinished palace had apparently become a place for prostitutes and drugs, but I did not see any evidence of this.


I have wondered why there was an Israel security/police car facing East towards Ramallah the whole time I was at the palace (about an hour or so). Possibly, it was there to protect Salam Fayyad the Palestinian President at the time, a man liked by the West and European powers and considered a relative moderate but hated by many Palestinians. Fayyad lived nearby in a house in Beit Hanina, and the Israelis were protecting him from being knocked off by one of his own. (He eventually resigned.) 


In 2014, two years after visiting the unfinished Palace, I read with interest an article in the Jerusalem Post that indicated that PA President Abbas threatened to torpedo peace talks with Israel over the fact that United States had proposed a draft peace framework that would have given the the PA the neighborhood of Beit Hanina only, and not the whole of East Jerusalem, as the capital of any future Palestinian State. 


I wondered if in fact the idea was that Abbas could renovate and live in this palace on the Hill of Beans and have a commanding view of  the Old City and Dome of the Rock, but could not actually control them, as they would remain in Israel’s hands.

And Abbas would then be seen by his people as being a President of Beans on a Hill of Beans. In the meantime, those talks are going nowhere, and there are not  going to be  elections in the West Bank and Gaza between Fatah and Hamas. Proposed elections have recently been cancelled by the Palestinian Authority’s Supreme Court (no doubt since Abbas is worried that Hamas will win).  


If I had to guess, I imagine that the Unfinished Palace which has been untouched for close to 50 years, will remain so for years to come. It is ,however, one of the more memorable places I have ever visited in Jerusaelm.



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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.