The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Building on the Mount of Olives

Hoping to stem the flow of Christians from the Holy Land, Lutherans build affordable housing

Family life centers around one room in Saleh and Sahar Kawas’ apartment in Jerusalem’s Old City. It’s where the 30-something couple and their five children eat, do homework, watch TV, play indoor basketball and sleep.

Their cramped conditions illustrate a larger problem. Lutheran World Federation regional representative Mark Brown said affordable housing is hard to come by for Jerusalem’s Christian Palestinians.

To help, the LWF plans to construct an $8-million Christian housing project on almost 4 acres on the Mount of Olives. Done in partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and the Germany-based Kaiserin Auguste Victoria Foundation, the homes would sit near Augusta Victoria Hospital on the southeastern corner of LWF property. The project consists of 84 low-rent apartments in 12 buildings.

From eating to sleeping, everything
From eating to sleeping, everything happens in one room of a tiny apartment rented by Saleh and Sahar Kawas, who have five children (Niran, 13; Nariman, 12; Nakaleh, 10; and 6-month-old twins Carlos and Chris).
The LWF is responsible for construction and management. The ELCJHL will determine the criteria for eligible families and guide the application process. The denomination’s bishop, Munib Younan, would like the apartments to go to needy senior citizens and young couples with no other housing or property options.

Although municipal building permits were first approved in the 1990s, they expired before work could begin due to a lack of funding, Brown said. This time he hopes to have initial building funds available once the permits come through.

The LWF is meeting with the municipality to obtain approval of the master site plan for the LWF Mount of Olives property. This plan will include the housing project and a sports and community center serving East Jerusalem neighborhoods. So far the meetings to discuss the plan and building permits have been positive, Brown said.

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