The issue, to the limited extent that the media have addressed it, has been given an exclusively sectoral spin. It has been framed as an evil Israeli plot to enable “settlers from Gush Etzion […] to drive to Jerusalem’s center or Tel Aviv without stopping at a single traffic light” -- at the expense of Beit Safafa's residents, who have been depicted as easy targets for abuse by the Jerusalem Municipality due to their minority status. The residents, of course, mounted a protest which has been rejected by the Jerusalem District Court; they will soon be taking their appeal to the Supreme Court.
Highway revolts are nothing new, either abroad or in Israel, and in Israel it would be ridiculous to claim that they are restricted to the Arab population. I therefore find it astonishing that the Begin extension is being represented as an "Arab-Israeli" issue, rather than an urbanist one. While I sympathize with the Beit Safafa residents, I'm not at all sure that the matter at hand is one of ethnic discrimination. The Beit Safafa residents' claim that the city "has proceeded with work without carrying out a detailed plan for the segment of the expressway through the neighborhood, as required by law, and without allowing residents to file objections," sounds suspiciously like the argument mounted in 2010 by Jewish residents of Elmaliach Street in Katamonim Tet, when work preparatory to the Begin extension was launched without the residents having "received all of the material [and] documents necessary for them to properly formulate their objections."
In general, if one looks at things from a car-versus-human standpoint, one could easily argue that the Jerusalem Municipality treats Jewish neighborhoods no better than it does Arab ones. The Beit Safafa residents are justifiably upset that, due to the highway being build in their midst, their small children will now have to walk farther and cross a bridge in order to get to their nursery school. However, this is no different from the situation that currently exists in the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo (the Begin extension's planned termination point). Gilo's community council has proposed that footbridges (or even underpasses!) be erected across the neighborhood's dangerous main roads (see below), so that residents -- and especially children -- can get to schools and other public facilities without risking their lives.
It's not that the Jerusalem Municipality wants to torment and abuse its Jewish and Arab residents; it simply doesn't perceive that there is anything wrong with the car-oriented policies that shape development in the city's less central neighborhoods. Indeed it thinks of walkable urbanism as a city-center thing, as something to showcase in the Jaffa Road display window. The Municipality has jumped enthusiastically onto the creative class bandwagon and is actively striving to transform Jerusalem's "historic downtown" into a paradise of placemaking and urban amenity (that this effort is being paradoxically expended on a part of town that was walkable and attractive to begin with has not gone unnoticed). The idea is to attract tourists and hipsters who, it is assumed, will spend a lot of money and generate a trickle-down effect on the city's economy. The city's working-class outer neighborhoods, by contrast, are being left in their original state of car-dependent sprawl. While Beit Safafa is paying one sort of price for the prevailing urban policy, in the form of a multi-lane expressway that will slash through an area that is still human-scaled and walkable, neighborhoods like Gilo and Ramot have long been paying a different kind of price. They came "pre-slashed."
Since it's being claimed that the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo, at Jerusalem's southwestern edge, is going to benefit from the Begin extension at Beit Safafa's expense, it might be worth looking at Gilo's true current status. Is Gilo a pleasant, pedestrian-friendly place for which direct entry to Begin will be a harmless added perk?
Not exactly. In fact, it already suffers from the highway slash-through syndrome that Beit Safafa residents are seeking to avoid, and its symptoms will likely increase in severity once the Begin extension is added to the mix.
|Gilo's unfriendly main street (HaGanenet segment)|
|Gilo central shopping complex|
Gilo is not the only Jewish Jerusalem neighborhood to be divided by a highway; Ramot, at the city's northern end, is similarly bisected by Golda Meir Boulevard, and similarly characterized by a pedestrian-hostile distribution of local amenities. That is how these neighborhoods were planned. The assumption was that everyone would have cars, and use them not only to get to their jobs in other parts of town, but for most local errands as well.
Having established that the practice of running highways through Jerusalem neighborhoods is rooted less in discriminatory tendencies than in an auto-centric planning orientation, we are now free to look at the Begin extension, and its potential impact, from a broader perspective, one that encompasses not only Beit Safafa but the extension's supposed "beneficiary" neighborhoods, as well.
Will the Begin extension enhance the livability of Gilo, and of the other south Jerusalem neighborhoods and suburbs that it is meant to serve?
The Begin extension will terminate in Gilo, by the Tunnel Road interchange through which Gush Etzion motorists enter and exit the city. Gilo's community council is gushing about the extension's potential benefit to the neighborhood, in the form of "quick access" to "Jerusalem." I'm not sure, though, that Gilo residents currently feel cut off from "Jerusalem." As noted above, they already have quick access to the Malha Mall via Dov Yosef Road, the expeditious, if perilous, thoroughfare that actually brings them most of the way to their current Begin Expressway entry point at Golomb St. They are also quite close to the Talpiot Industrial Area, via Derech Hevron. When I recently stopped by the Gilo Mall in search of a new pencil case for my son and left empty-handed because the toy-and-school-supplies store (one of the few that I remembered as still being operational) had closed down, I was able to get to Talpiot by car in just a few minutes' time to continue my quest.
|Poor pedestrian access and too close to Malha: empty storefronts in the Gilo Mall|
All of these questions apply, in varying degrees, to Har Homa, the future Givat Hamatos neighborhood (wedged between Beit Safafa and Gilo), and the Gush Etzion suburbs. Will easier and closer access to Begin have a positive effect on commercial development in these areas? Will it encourage people to switch from private car to public transit? Will it foster good urbanism in these areas? Will it make them more desirable to a younger, less car-oriented generation?