To build and be built
-Early 20th century Zionist slogan
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
A joke has it that the national bird of Israel is the crane.
The building process begins near the town of Ramle. Early on, Ben-Gurion established the mammoth Nesher cement plant to provide an inexhaustible supply of building blocks for the new state. Nesher runs 24 hours a day, processing the gravel raw material through two soaring towers that look like something from a 1930’s science fiction movie. They are visible from many miles away.
A few kilometers east of Nesher is my official hometown of Modi’in. When I visit every four months, the place is always abuzz with new construction. Currently, my 7th floor (rented) balcony overlooks a sprawling residential-commercial project in the center of town. We counted ten full-size cranes on the site.
West of Nesher, in Tel-Aviv/Ramat Gan, shimmering glass skyscrapers with gracefully twisting architecture are sprouting on both sides of the Ayalon Freeway.
Ben-Gurion airport lies between Modi’in and Tel-Aviv. Passing through there two weeks ago, we noticed a different view. The parallel sloped marble walkways for inbound and outbound passengers no longer look out on a flower garden with plantings that spell out Bruchim Habaim (“blessed are the visitors”). The passenger terminal has been expanded to accommodate more flights, and the tilled soil has been replaced with tarmac.
On my eastward morning commute to the hospital on Highway 443, traffic is slowed every few kilometers by lumbering trucks in the right lane carrying heavy construction equipment and building material to the capital. The lorries are in low gear for the uphill trip through the Judean Highlands.
When traffic stalls on Begin Boulevard at the entrance to the city, one gets a fleeting glimpse of the hillside ghost village of Lifta, where the Ottomans surrendered to General Allenby’s advancing troops in December 1917, the mukhtar waving a big white flag. (Another surrender took place near the original Shaare Zedek Hospital, and was witnessed by Dr. Moshe Wallach, the founding director). Lifta was abandoned by its residents in 1948. Recent plans by real estate developers to level the village have been opposed by a coalition of Arabs and Jews.
One morning, I pulled off the highway for a closer look. Shells of stone houses are scattered among the ruins of Lifta. The sun shining through the empty window openings obscures the decay. If I squint, the houses resemble the unfinished townhomes being built in the new outlying neighborhoods of Modi’in ; construction and deconstruction in a land filled with geopolitical ironies.
At Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, I established a love-hate relationship with the “private” parking lot over the last two years. Situated on a plateau high up on a hill overlooking the hospital campus, it was approached by a steep road. Overflow vehicles lined the ramp, with their two passenger-side wheels lifted over the curb in a typical Israeli style. During my first week in 2016, my drive home was once stalled by a broken pay station and a few times by some creatively parked cars (never ticketed). Mornings, the lot was often full, so I too learned to park extra-legally (in a considerate manner).
In 2017, along with my medical license and citizenship, I received an official hospital ID card which granted me free parking in the private lot. I proudly waved the card at the proximity sensor by the gate every day. Usually, the gate opened.
Imagine my surprise on returning this year to find that the lot no longer exists. Not only is the lot gone, the hill beneath it is gone and the land underneath the hill is gone. After the excavation of hundreds of truckloads of dirt and asphalt, a gaping hole remains that is being groomed by behemoth earth moving equipment. A flat wall of clean pink Jerusalem limestone drops sixty feet below ground level. Construction activity is visible from the hospital’s main entrance and many of its windows.
Shaare Zedek is in the first stage of building a comprehensive cancer center, starting with an underground radiation therapy floor. Located in the heart of Jerusalem, the new center will provide an easily accessible and highly advanced facility. Shaare Zedek’s world-renowned oncologists, who have contributed to the development of less-toxic highly effective chemotherapy protocols, will soon be able to see and cure more patients. A major donation to support the project was received from within Israel alongside continued support from around the world.
I am now happy to park five minutes from the hospital on a hilltop lot that also serves an elementary school. I note that vehicles parked in unofficial spots are regularly ticketed in this lot, a sign of real progress.