Driving or walking around Jerusalem can be a disheartening experience for longtime residents. Gone are the days when the city was quaint and inspiring, filled with beauty and awe in every direction. Now, all that can be seen for miles are dilapidated buildings and construction sites, enveloped in dust and debris. It seems as though nothing is sacred in a city known for its sacredness, except money.
One man who has experienced this firsthand is Rahamim Reuveni, an 86-year-old resident of Jerusalem. He owns what was once Jerusalem’s oldest plant nursery, a beloved establishment in the Baka and German Colony neighborhoods. Rahamim has spent his life working the land, operating greenhouses, sowing wheat, and planting fruit trees. People used to line up outside his nursery to buy flowers every Friday.
But now, Rahamim sits on a low stool, quoting the Bible and crying, as bulldozers tear apart his sukkah, uproot 70-year-old pomegranate trees, and destroy a lifetime of memories. All because there are plans to build a 10-story building on his land. Rahamim’s connection to this plot of land goes back 76 years, when his parents journeyed to Palestine from Iran. They were imprisoned and then ransomed, eventually settling in a crowded neighborhood in Jerusalem.
During the war in 1948, Rahamim’s family was given the option to relocate to the outskirts of the city, where they lived without basic amenities. Rahamim, at just 11 years old, became the family’s provider, tilling the land and operating a nursery. Over the years, he fought to hold onto his land, but eventually, the Israel Land Administration decided that he had no rights to it.
Rahamim’s nursery was destroyed four years ago, with bulldozers and wrecking crews escorted by police. The land was eventually sold to a real estate family for NIS 20 million. Rahamim discovered this information through documents he saw at the Land Administration office, which listed the buyers and the sale price. Multiple lawyers have confirmed Rahamim’s account.
Despite the injustice done to him, Rahamim has always believed that there must be a way to resolve the issue. But in reality, the Land Administration announced a tender and sold the building rights to the Chasid family. When Rahamim cursed and kicked them out of his property, the bulldozers returned, under the supervision of Alon Chasid. Rahamim suffered a minor heart attack, adding to the devastation he was already feeling.
When a journalist arrived to hear Rahamim’s story, he found him physically restrained by police officers, his once proud nursery turned into a flattened garbage dump. It was clear that Rahamim’s pleas and cries fell on deaf ears. The journalist later returned to find Rahamim speaking with Efrat Gerlich, a musician and playwright deeply saddened by the destruction happening in Jerusalem. The two shared a connection, as Gerlich’s upcoming play is named Nehemiah, the same name as Rahamim’s brother who died in 1948.
In a city that has lost its sense of sacredness, Rahamim’s story is just one example of the disregard for history and culture. Culturally and historically significant structures are routinely destroyed to make way for new developments, and those who have spent their lives working the land are left with nothing.
Jerusalem, once a beacon of inspiration and beauty, is now marred by urban blight and greed. It is a city in desperate need of preservation and respect for its past. Rahamim’s plight serves as a reminder that there should be more to governance and development than just money.