As if the US embassy's move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in recognition of the US designating the ancient city Israel's capital wasn't contentious enough, a local controversy has exploded after the soon to be completed embassy compound's perimeter wall began to be constructed.
Both Arab and Jewish residents in the area are outraged at the mammoth 5.8 meter high 'defense wall' going up (or nearly 20 feet) in the south Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona.
Residents say the giant structure in their midst has marred the neighborhood and obstructed surrounding views. According to a report in Haaretz, the wall was originally slated to be 3.2 meters high, but weeks ago the US embassy petitioned Israel's Defense Ministry to double the height, which was granted.
Neighborhood activists are also outraged at the ease of the wall's approval, given the normally very strict standards in place limiting any construction or upgrade to residential buildings, given the area is zoned for conservation.
Haaretz further reports that every request of the Americans seems to have been granted based on special 'exemption' status: "The Americans demanded that an escape road be built, with a concrete wall around it, and queried the Foreign Ministry, which in turn approached the Finance Ministry" — all of which was approved, according to the report.
Community leaders have reportedly issued angry formal complaints to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Ambassador David Friedman and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon, over the obtrusive wall. American diplomatic officials have said such a protective wall is standard for US embassy compounds in many countries, especially in high security risk regions.
“We, residents of Talpiot Arnona, were shocked to discover that on Kfar Etzion Street in our neighborhood a 5-meter-high (!) wall is to go up that will completely block our access to the view that is part of our lives in the area,” local Israeli community leaders wrote in a widely circulated petition.
Work on the complex is expected to be completed by the end of 2019, however, a search for permanent future embassy site is expected to continue. Last year the New York Times described of the current site where the wall is being erected:
The ambassador’s new quarters — really, a provisional office until a full-fledged embassy building is erected — will be located in what is now the consular services section of the United States Consulate General, a low-lying, fortresslike compound. It is half-hidden down a steep incline off a quiet, residential street a few miles south of the Old City. Not much can be seen from the road, apart from a large American flag flying from the rooftop.
Locals currently petitioning against the wall said the US embassy and Israeli authorities were “using the pretext of ‘defense,’ but any rational person knows that to the south the building is completely exposed to an Arab village, while we’re required to pay a heavy price in quality of life for something that has no purpose or logic.”
However, we doubt Netanyahu or high officials will bat an eye given Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital was among the Israeli PM's biggest achievements of his multiple terms in office. No Israeli leader is going to jeopardize that based on a wall or changes to the skyline.