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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

 
53rd Anniversary of the Six Day War: My Visit to A Rather Unknown Palace in East Jerusalem- the Hill of Beans

By Rhonda Spivak, May 22,2020

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.  In Arabic it is known as Tel-el-Ful.

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 hill top Hussein would have a commanding view of all of Jerusalem. At the King's command , the frame of the palace was erected,(see photo #1) 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. 

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. ( King Hussein, by the way, would not be the first King to try to build a palace on this hill as as the site is believed to be the site of King Saul's ancient palace and the capital of the tribe of Benjamin).

Ever since  the site came under Israeli control, it has been an archaeological park , that belongs to the Israel Lands Authority, and since it is a politically sensitive sight,  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 in Israel  that  Jordan's King Abdullah had apparently  decided to try to finish/renovate his father's Palace and that the Palestinian Authority's  Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs was carrying out the work at Jordan's request. The Wakf 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. (http://israelmatzav.blogspot.ca/2011/08/husseins-palace-to-be-renovated-by.html)

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 cold be finished to house PA President Abbas, in the event of a two state solution, which would give Abbas a commanding view of  the Old City 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. There were a lot of reports at the time that questioned how it was that illegal building was going on right under Netanyahu 's nose and he didn't know about it and didn't 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 Beans, 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 made inquiries and spoke to Aryeh King, an Israeli living on Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem and asked him what was going on. He said he had gone over there but everything was all fenced off and no journalists or any one else could get near the unfinished Palace. 

But a year later in the summer of 2012, I was staying in a Jerusalem hotel 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 in Beit Hanina. He said he knew where it was and I offered him about three times of what the fare should have been if he would take me and wait up there until I walked around it and took photos. He agreed and as we approached the hill, I noticed that it 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 one police car that was sitting there. We were the only ones there. The police man looked at me as I got out, and I wondered if he would stop me from looking around but he didn't. I walked inside the unfinished Palace and noticed the 1967 graffiti that was on some of it's frame, and 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  Beit Hanina were ever to be given to the Palestinians (which seems unlikely now), then this Hill Of Beans would be the obvious choice for a location for a Palace for the Palestinian President, unless of course the West Bank someday were ever to be returned to the Hashemite Kingdom (which also seems unlikely now).

At the back of the unfinished Palace there was a whole other structure that was like an enclosed bunker/ tunnel that I walked through. I assumed 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 walked through this vestige palace of 1967, I thought of how smart the King had been to chose this location.According to news reports in 2011, the unfinished palace had been used apparently as a location for prostitutes and drugs, but I did not see any evidence of this.

Alas, I have wondered why there was an Israel police/security 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, who was liked by the West and European powers and considered a relative moderate, and who lived nearby in a house in Beit Hanina. The Israelis were protecting him, although he was hated  by many Palestinians, which is why he needed protection. (He eventually resigned.) 

Two years after visiting the unfinished Palace on the Hill of Beans, I read with interest an article in the Jerusalem Post that  indicated that the United States pursuant to Secretary Kerry 's  proposals had proposed a draft peace framework that would have given the Palestinian Authority the neighborhood of Beit Hanina only, and not the whole of East Jerusalem, as the capital of any future Palestinian State.

https://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Report-Abbas-threatened-to-torpedo-peace-talks-over-Kerry-framework-proposals-343675

I wondered whether the U.S. was thinking at the time that the unfinished palace on the  Hill of Beans in Beit Hanina  would one day be finished by Mahmoud Abbas whose palace would be there-and that this would be his foothill in Jerusalem. Today, as the two state solution appears to be very unlikely to materialize, this Palace which was begun by Jordan's King Hussein will no doubt remain unfinished--and its frame will remain a surviving relic from the period of the Six Day War.

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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