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Wheel of misfortune

Whither the Jerusalem Promenade? Locals air fears on Facebook

When a representative for the Haas family, which funded the scenic lookout, asks what the site needs, a consensus appears: more lighting and security, no Disney attractions

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

A tour group listens to a guide at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade in Jerusalem against the backdrop of the Old City in 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
A tour group listens to a guide at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade in Jerusalem against the backdrop of the Old City in 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Sometimes it pays to post a question on social media.

When Karen Katzman Hanan, the Israeli representative of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, asked on two private Jerusalem Facebook groups, the Arnona and Armon Hanatziv English page and another Hebrew Facebook page, what locals would like to see added or built on the Haas Promenade, also known as the Tayelet, she was more than a little surprised to get so many of the same answers.

“I was blown away by reading the 250 to 300 responses of people who actually live there and use it,” said Katzman Hanan. “Everyone said what we need are very basic things.”

People repeatedly wrote that they would like to have better lighting, working bathrooms, security guards and perhaps a cafe or kiosk on the 1,300-foot-long promenade, which offers a sweeping view of Jerusalem and links the Palestinian side of Jerusalem with nearby Jewish neighborhoods.

What don’t they want? A miniature London Eye and water slides.

In July, the Jerusalem Development Authority, a joint agency of the Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality that promotes and develops the city’s economy, announced plans for a Ferris wheel and a series of 13 water slides going down the slopes of the three linked promenades that overlook Jerusalem’s Old City.

According to a municipality statement, the aim is to refresh and revitalize the promenades, named for donors Haas, Sherover and Goldman, upgrading the tourist experience and developing the area as a hub of culture, leisure and entertainment.

The city wishes to rid the urban park of a lingering feeling of peril following a number of terror attacks, most recently a ramming attack in 2017 that killed four Israeli soldiers and injured 11. Those incidents have deterred visitors and tourists.

Six hotels are also planned for a site opposite the promenade.

“It’s all kinds of Disney-like attractions at this unbelievable heritage site,” said Katzman Hanan.

The Haas Foundation has been aware of these plans for the last five years, she said, and expressed its displeasure.

Because the planned entertainment complex is considered a development project, the organizations involved aren’t required to ask the public their opinion, aside from several meetings held at the local community center at the start of the process.

Katzman Hanan now represents the third and fourth generation of the Haas family, whose fortune came from Walter Haas’s position as president and then chairman of the board of Levi Strauss & Co., growing it to the largest apparel company in the world at the time.

The interests of the Northern California-based family are now more local, she said.

Decisions about the Ferris wheel and water slide plans are to be made in the next few weeks, and Katzman Hanan plans on including the requests of locals, which could be handled by a future gift from the family foundation.

“Residents are feeling frustrated that they have no say,” said Katzman Hanan, who plans on culling through the thread and presenting the most salient points made in the Facebook thread.

“I’ve never seen so much consensus on a Facebook site,” she said.

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