Pfeffer's Israel: When terror met squalor in the Jerusalem Israel has ignored

Neve Yaakov is a place most Israelis barely knew existed until last week's atrocity


Israeli security forces and rescue forces at the scene of a shooting attack in Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem, January 27, 2023. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** פיגוע זירה משטרה כוחות ביטחון פיגוע זירה משטרה כוחות ביטחון נווה יעקב בית כנסת הרוג הרוגים

February 02, 2023 11:51

Four days after the shooting attack in northern Jerusalem, where seven Israelis were murdered by a Palestinian gunman, there were no signs left of the carnage from Friday night.

The mourning posters had been swept away by the rain and a home-made banner with the slogan “Jewish Blood is not to be Forsaken” was flapping in the wind, unreadable to anyone who had not seen it before.

The international media wavered in its coverage over whether to call Neve Yaakov a neighbourhood of Jerusalem or a settlement, but for most Israelis, even Jerusalemites, it’s a place few have ever visited and barely knew existed until the attack.

Unless they have served in the IDF’s Central Command headquarters at the edge of the neighbourhood, only those who actually live there have any reason to go to the northernmost part of the city, a good 40-minute drive from the centre.

Neve Yaakov was the first of what were called the “ring neighbourhoods”, built in 1970 by the government after the Six Day War in areas around Jerusalem that had been captured in 1967 from the Jordanians. The word “ring” is misleading. Look at the map of Jerusalem’s municipal borders: Neve Yaakov is a part of a long figure reaching northward, all the way to Ramallah.

It’s not only the most far-flung of Jerusalem’s Jewish neighbourhoods, it’s also one of the poorest. Originally intended for the civil servants and academics who flocked to the city in the early 1970s, most left once they could find flats closer to the centre.

They were replaced in the 1990s by immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia but many of those have now moved away as well. Today three-quarters of Neve Yaakov’s 30,000 residents are strictly-Orthodox families who can’t afford to live in the other Charedi areas.

The location was chosen as a barrier between Jerusalem and Ramallah but, hemmed in by Palestinian neighbourhoods to the west and cliffs to the east, it had nowhere to develop.

Ironically, the adjacent Bet Hanina, from where the attacker Kheyri Elqam started his rampage, is one of the wealthiest Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.

“Unlike most of the rest of Jerusalem, Neve Yaakov has undergone reverse gentrification,” according to resident Nehemia Gershuni Aylho. “Whoever planned this neighbourhood looked at a map but didn’t think about the people who would live here.”

As politicians, rabbis and journalists arrived at the home of Asher Natan Morali, the 14-year-old boy killed in the attack, they discovered a family of 11 living in abject poverty in a tiny flat.

“I don’t want to describe the squalor I saw there,” said Yishai Cohen, a Charedi journalist who lives a few streets away and launched an online appeal to raise funds for the family: 140,000 shekels have already been donated.

“You can blame social services for not helping the family but the truth is that I’m ashamed that our community, which usually takes care of its members, failed to recognise what was happening with that family. It took the terrible murder of their eldest son to get them the help they needed.”

Business Blues
“Twenty years ago, when the Israeli economy was sliding into a recession as a result of the Second Intifada and we were worried that the tech sector — which had already taken a battering when the dotcom bubble burst — was about to go down the tubes, Netanyahu was our hero,” recalled a veteran Israeli tech entrepreneur this week.

“Ariel Sharon had just appointed him finance minister and when we went to the investment banks in New York and London, begging for funding, the news that he was now in charge of Israel’s economy would often help open the purse strings.”

The two-year period during which Benjamin Netanyahu served as finance minister is one of the reasons Israel’s business community, which by and large does not share his politics, has stood by the prime minister for many years.

Netanyahu slashed spending and passed monetary and deregulatory reforms that even his biggest rivals admit saved the Israeli economy and helped its tech sector survive and grow.

“Since 2009, as prime minister, he’s done nothing for the economy, however,” says the entrepreneur. “He’s been too busy appeasing his Charedi coalition partners who refuse to teach their children English and maths — and as a result there’s a shortage of software engineers in Israel today.

"Luckily, the private sector has been strong enough to survive on its own until now. But his new plans could sabotage that success. I don’t know what’s got into him.”

The opposition of the Israeli financial community, from former governors of the Bank of Israel through to young tech-whizzes, is the most surprising feature of the growing protest movement against the Netanyahu government’s plans to weaken the Supreme Court.

In one of the most politically engaged of societies, business has usually remained disengaged. As long as Israel boasted the record growth of the past three decades they were content with whatever government was in power.

Their claim now boils down to this: Israel’s economy is dependent on foreign investment and the ability to convince international corporations to base their research centres in Israel.

If the government changes the legal structure and weakens the courts, Israel will become a less hospitable and stable environment for investment.

Mr Netanyahu’s counter-claim is that Israel’s institutions will be more stable once the courts have fewer powers and that “over-legalisation” hampers business.

What neither side are saying openly is that this isn’t just an argument over what kind of legal system offers the best climate for foreign investment. “Ultimately, it’s as much about whether people like me want to continue working in Israel than whether foreign companies will invest here,” admits a young manager of a start-up company.

“Anybody who works in tech has multiple options to work and make more money abroad. We’re here because we love Israel.

"But when we feel that a government which represents communities with very different values from ours is changing the very nature of Israeli democracy, overnight and without any real consultation, then my colleagues start asking themselves if the time has come to relocate, at least for a few years.

“Israel’s biggest resource is its skilled workforce but that workforce now feels it’s paying taxes to a government that doesn’t care what it thinks and is paying for strictly-Orthodox schools whose graduates won’t have the skills to join the workforce. So why work here when I’m starting to feel this isn’t my country any longer?”

February 02, 2023 11:51

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