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Gold dawn

by josh October 22 2008
NewsMunicipal news
Sergei's Courtyard (Sergei not pictured)
In Soviet Jerusalem, wall prays to you!
No stranger to being carved up, Jerusalem has had more claims lain on it than that Footprints poem, even dating back to its pre-Davidic dynasty days. Since 1948, it’s been pretty much accepted that at least the western half of the city would remain undivided and in Israeli hands, if not the whole of the town. But the Ruskies have found a way to jimmy themselves into a prime piece of Hanevi’im street real estate, creating a red zone in the city of gold. Sergei’s Courtyard, which was originally intended to be a waystation for Russian Pilgrims visiting the holy land, is set to be made sovereign Russian territory after Ariel Sharon (possibly in a land giving away frenzy) promised Vladimir Putin to return the compound to him in 2005. The Cabinet has since approved the deal and it will go through once a problem with unpaid taxes is cleared up.

The building sits on one of the best locations in all of Jerusalem, in spitting distance of the Old City, Ben Yehuda Street, Mea Shearim and (Gaydamak-owned) Bikur Cholim hospital. It has long been home to a number of tenants who live there under an archaic “key money” system, as well as the Agriculture Ministry and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

The idea of Russia, which has often been at odds with Israel’s interests (Nuclear Iran, anyone?) reigning supreme over a piece of Jerusalem has caused many to worry, including this Jewish Press columnist who fears it will become a Church of the Nativity-like safe haven for terrorists.
Given Russia's close association with Iran and Syria, the prospect of its establishing an enclave in the heart of the Jewish capital is daunting indeed. It conjures up images of Arab terrorists fleeing into the compound and Israeli security personnel unable to pursue them without precipitating an international crisis. In many respects it would be tantamount to inviting a Russian spy ship to permanently dock right in the middle of an Israeli naval base. The Russian Compound's commanding position made it the perfect staging ground for numerous conquests of Jerusalem from the Assyrians to Titus's Roman legions.

The Russians, for their part, though, say there is nothing to worry about and that they will be good custodians of the property, which will be converted into a home for Orthodox priests (but not that kind), or a cultural center, depending on who you believe.

As the Associated Press tells it:

A Russian official denied accusations it seeks greater influence in the Middle East through the acquisition of Sergei's Courtyard, calling its desire to own the place a matter of historical significance.

"This has nothing to do with what is being called imperial ambitions because it's not a military base or something that can serve those purposes," said Alexei Skosyrev, a political counselor at the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Because Russians and Russian Orthodox priests have such a large presence in Israel, having actual Russia in Israel won’t be quite as incongruous as the Yakov Smirnoff Theater in fabulous Branson, Missouri. Still, losing one of the city’s most historic and beautiful buildings to a foreign power doesn’t bode well for a city already showing signs of strain at the seams. We can only hope that we won’t find Berlin laying claim to Emek Refaim or Armenia asking for its quarter back in the near future.

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