Since the enactment of the Knesset Museum Law in 2010, the Israeli parliament has worked to establish a historical-educational museum that will commemorate the history of the Knesset and its activities. The museum will be built at Frumin House (Beit Frumin), the ”Old Knesset” building, located on 24 King George Street in the center of Jerusalem.
The purpose of the law is to ”restore and preserve… the building that first housed the Knesset in Jerusalem, due to its historic and national importance and to establish therein a museum of the Knesset history and work for the benefit of the public, assigning it additional functions, as stipulated by this law”.
Frumin House was originally designed for residential use with a ground floor commercial area for stores. During the War of Independence (1948), construction was brought to a halt after only a three-story cement frame had been built.
Towards the end of 1948, when the government was looking for a building to house the Knesset, Frumin House, which was designed by architect Reuven Avram Abramowitz (1892-1978), was chosen because the plan of the unfinished building included a large hall with an upper gallery, originally intended for a bank branch. The space could easily and quickly be converted into the Knesset plenum hall.
The founding assembly, which declared itself “the first Knesset” on February 14, 1949, moved its seat to Jerusalem that same year on December 26, and then convened in various locations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, eventually moving to Frumin House on March 13, 1950. The Knesset moved to its permanent home in Givat Ram on August 31, 1966.
In an article published in Haaretz in 2003, journalist Esther Zandberg wrote about Frumin House: ”The first building`s city-center site, and the location of the plenum hall at street level were, without a doubt, an urban expression of a point of view that saw democracy and the Knesset as part of everyday civil existence.”
In his book on construction in Jerusalem during the British Mandate, architectural historian David Kroyanker categorizes Frumin House as having been planned in the ”corridor” style (a continuum of construction along the length of the street), which is characteristic of the main streets in the city center and imparts a European character to them.”
The building is scheduled to be vacated in November 2014, at which point the renovation of the structure is expected to begin.
Frumin House was the location of the swearing in of the first presidents of the country, the creation of legislation, and the laying of the foundations of legal principles during the early years of the state. This is where the leaders of the young state operated, including: David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Ben-Aharon, Yohanan Bader, Moshe Sneh, Yosef Burg, and others. Many historic events took place at the site, including the reparations demonstrations and the throwing from the balcony of a hand grenade that severely wounded Minister Moshe Shapira. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and Ministers Golda Meir and Moshe Carmel were lightly wounded in the incident. The attacker, Moshe Dwek, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served a portion of his term in a mental hospital.
The ”old Knesset building” was also the site of a number of formative civil events, such as the passage of the Law of return (1950), the Citizenship Law (1952) and the abolition of the death penalty (1954).
From 1966 until today, various government offices have resided in the building, and internal changes have been made, including a division of the original Knesset Plenum Hall into offices through the addition of walls and ceilings, even though the building is on the historical site preservation list. Due to these changes, the building is now nearly unrecognizable as the former home of the Knesset. In 2002, the building was sold to an entrepreneur who planned to build on the site a residential and office tower, while preserving the buildings external façade, but the Knesset Museum Law returned the building to state ownership.
The Knesset Museum at the Frumin House will integrate into the renewed central streets of Jerusalem and its buildings. The planned change includes a full renewal of the building`s outer walls and of the Knesset Plenum Hall, which will be used as the museum`s central space. Similarly, the cafeteria will be restored, auditoriums will be built and classrooms and administrative rooms will be installed. The building façade will be renovated and returned to its previous state.
The museum`s goal will be to provide visitors with a taste of the Israeli parliamentary experience and its history, while enlightening them on how sovereignty is created and allowing them to explore the basic values of Israeli democracy.