Ronen Medzini
September 1, 2010 - 12:00am,7340,L-3947743,00.html

As leaders gather in Washington to talk peace, the Jerusalem Municipality is promoting a building plan for the east of the city. Ynet learned on Wednesday that the municipal committee for commemorating terror victims has authorized the construction of a new headquarters for ZAKA, a voluntary rescue organization, in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

The planned headquarters will include facilities for refrigerating and storing thousands of bodies and a museum for commemorating terror victims.

This time around, the construction is not intended for Jewish residences, but for a public institution that serves the entire population. However, the move may still be interpreted as deepening the Jewish hold in the eastern section of the city and "establishing facts on the ground," just as construction of the Police Shai District Headquarters provoked a storm in 2008.

The new structure will be built on public land owned by the municipality a mere 300 meters (yards) from the contested Shepherd Hotel, which stood at the epicenter of a disagreement between Israel and the US administration a few months ago during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's previous visit to Washington.

It still remains unclear whether Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is aware of the decision or of the fact it was being raised for discussion in the committee at such a sensitive time.

The committee's authorization acts as a recommendation that is still pending final authorization in the municipal council. Unless decided otherwise, the plan will be brought before the municipal council for final authorization in the council in another two weeks. Following this, because ZAKA is not a governmental or municipal organization, the next stage in the process will be allocating the plot of land to use by a non-profit organization. Once these authorizations are obtained, the bulldozers will get to work on the land within a year.

'Matter of national and Jewish importance'
The said plot is located next to the Hebrew University campus, just east of the government buildings. In May 2007, the District Planning and Building Committee authorized the land for public use, which includes search and rescue according to municipal planning statutes.

"The position of the government of Israel is that there is no building freeze in Jerusalem. As such, we found this plot to be the most befitting of these municipal needs," said Yair Gabai, a member of the Jerusalem municipal council and chairman of the commemoration council, to Ynet.

"This is a complex bordering the government building area, and there is no reason it shouldn't serve the important public goal of providing proper burial in Israel and addressing this topic of national and Jewish importance."

Gabai continued, "ZAKA volunteers are on the frontlines of the State of Israel and grapple with some of the most horrific terrorist incidents, as we witnessed in the terror attack on Tuesday, and are in need of a proper headquarters for their activities."

'Have a place for bodies, not like in Haiti'

Jerusalem City Engineer Shlomo Eshkol, present during the discussion, explained, "The plan is statutory. There is valid ownership on the land and the property is defined as belonging to the Jerusalem municipality, which allows us use under the category of 'emergency needs.' The location is available for construction."

Per ZAKA's request, the building will spread over 6,500 m. sq. (about 70,000 sq. ft.), with 1,200 sq. m. allocated for a museum memorializing terror victims and 1,500 sq. m. for refrigeration of bodies.

ZAKA CEO Arele Zur explained the need for the headquarters during the discussion. "At least in the case of an earthquake, when some areas of the country will be cut off, or some other mass-casualty event, there is no choice. If you want to treat the issue like Jews, we need a place to store bodies. We are not like Haiti where people were buried in pits only weeks later," Zur said.

ZAKA Chairman and Founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav added, "ZAKA is a big organization. It routinely has some 1,500 volunteers and about 3,000 during emergency times. It is a national and international organization recognized by the UN. Today, ZAKA is without a home. If, God forbid, something were to happen, the equipment is stored throughout the country. There is no place for the volunteers to gather, and there is no central place to store bodies for identification."

Meshi-Zahav explained the motives for establishing the terror victims museum. "Unfortunately, terrorism has turned into statistics, as have the victims. There is no place today where someone can commemorate or for a family to unite. This is a place where it will be possible to tell the world what horrible price we have paid for terrorism."


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