BACKGROUNDER: Building in Har Homa

Israel’s plans to build new housing in the Har Homa area of municipal Jerusalem have been widely misrepresented in the media and by Palestinian spokespersons. The project has been cast as “right-wing”, a land-grab, a violation of the Oslo Accords, and the continuation of an alleged Israeli policy of “Judaizing” Jerusalem by preventing Arab growth and building in the city. The facts tell a different story.

Ownership of the land at Har Homa

  1. The government acquired an area of 1850 dunams (about 460 acres) by eminent domain for the Har Homa project. Of this, 1400 dunams came from Jewish owners and 450 dunams from Arab owners. Among the parcels expropriated, the largest (almost 800 dunams, or about 43%) belonged to David Mir, who is Jewish.

  2. Much of the 1400 dunams owned by Jews was acquired prior to 1948. Following the 1948 War of Independence, in which Jordan occupied the West Bank and half of Jerusalem, the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property planted a pine forest at Har Homa to prevent misuse of the land by local Jordanian residents. Since 1967 that forest has been maintained by the Jewish National Fund.

  3. All of the land in question is vacant, most of it forested. No homeowners, Jewish or Arab, will be displaced by the project.

  4. Although full compensation was offered, both Arab and Jewish owners contested the eminent domain order in court. The matter eventually reached the High Court, which denied the claims and ruled in favor of the government.

Building at Har Homa consistent with Oslo Accords

Yasir Arafat, Palestinian spokespersons, and many media reports have falsely portrayed Israeli plans to build at Har Homa as a violation of the Oslo Accords. In fact:

  1. Neither the Declaration of Principles nor the Interim Agreement place any restrictions on Israel concerning Jerusalem. All issues concerning the city were left to the Permanent Status negotiations, though it should be noted that the agreements do specifically bar Palestinian Authority (PA) jurisdiction over Jerusalem:

    1. … the jurisdiction of the Council will cover West Bank and Gaza Strip territory as a single territorial unit, except for:

    a. issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations: Jerusalem, settlements, … (Interim Agreement, Article XVII).

  2. Since Jerusalem, and the final borders between the PA and Israel, were left to the Permanent Status negotiations, Israeli building in Jerusalem is no more a violation of the Accords than the extensive Palestinian building which is taking place throughout PA-controlled areas.

Palestinian threats of violence violate Oslo Accords

In clear violation of the Oslo Accords, which bar incitement and threats of violence, Palestinian leaders have repeatedly attempted to inflame the situation with provocative statements:

We are preparing for a confrontation. For us, Har Homa is the end of the peace process. (Ghassan Andoni, Financial Times, 26 February 1997)

If Israel decides to go ahead with building at Har Homa, the Palestinian response will be hard and violent. (Mohammed Jadallah, Agence France-Presse, 21 February 1997)

… this decision gives the green light for riots, clashes, starting a battle, a war. (Faisal Husseini, Paris Radio Monte Carlo, 21 February 1997)

If Israel continues these unilateral actions (in) Jerusalem … they are undermining not just peace with the Palestinians but peace in the entire region. (Hanan Ashrawi, Associated Press, 20 February 1997)

If Prime Minister Binyamin decides to build in Har Homa this will be a declaration of war on the Palestinians. (Faisal Husseini, Yediot Ahranot, 18 February 1997)

Such Palestinian threats of violence are clearly violations of the Oslo Accords, which require that the two sides:

… foster mutual understanding and tolerance, and shall accordingly abstain from incitement, including hostile propaganda, against each other …(Interim Agreement, Article XXII)

… shall take all measures necessary in order to prevent acts of terrorism, crime, and hostilities directed against each other, against individuals falling under the other’s authority … (Interim Agreement, Article XV)

Most Israelis support Har Homa project

Many press reports have falsely portrayed the Har Homa project as “right wing”:

Under pressure from rightist members of his coalition to proceed with the Har Homa plan … Netanyahu … (Los Angeles Times, 24 February 1997)

Right-wing coalition partners and several members of the main opposition Labor party have been pressing Netanyahu to give the green light for the project … (Reuters, 20 February 1997)

Netanyahu has been under growing pressure from members of his conservative coalition to build in Har Homa … (AP, 20 February 1997)

Contrary to such reports, there is actually broad support in Israel for the project. In a Gallup poll 46% of respondents favored building at Har Homa, with only 29% opposed (Ma’ariv, 21 February 1997). A Dahaf poll placed overall support for building Har Homa at 69%, with 38% for building “immediately,” and 31% for doing so “at the right moment,” and only 24% opposed (Yediot Ahranot, 21 February 1997).

There is also a consensus against giving in to threats of PA violence. A poll completed on February 24th by Dr. Yaacov Katz of Bar Ilan University reported that 63% of respondents (73% of Jews) were against postponing construction at Har Homa in the face of violent threats from PA-members. The poll also placed support for building “at Har Homa and similar sites in Jerusalem” at 58%, including 67% of Jews. (As reported by 25 February IMRA).

Labor Party’s Teddy Kollek, former Mayor of Jerusalem, supports Har Homa project

Reflecting the Israeli consensus on the Har Homa project, prominent Labor Party member Teddy Kollek, who was Mayor of Jerusalem for 28 years, stated:

I am in favor of building now. One cannot give in every time an Ar
ab leader makes a threat (Ma’ariv, 27 February 1997).

Rabin and Netanyahu on building at Har Homa

The late Prime Minister Rabin supported plans to build at Har Homa in words remarkably similar to those of Prime Minister Netanyahu:

… the land expropriations in Jerusalem were not designed to usurp anyone’s property, but rather to turn uncultivated areas into construction projects for both Arabs and Jews. (Prime Minister Rabin, Ma’ariv, 12 May 1995)

I want to make clear that we will build in all of Jerusalem, and we will build also in Har Homa… First of all because there is a big housing deficit in Jerusalem, there will be construction for both Jews and Arabs. (Prime Minister Netanyahu, AP, 25 February 1997)

In accord with these statements, municipal plans for Jerusalem include 20,000 housing units for Jews and 8500 for Arabs, reflecting the demographic balance in the city (Jerusalem is 71% Jewish).

In Jerusalem Arab growth rate surpasses that of the Jews

  1. Since 1967 Jerusalem’s Jewish population has increased by only 105%, while its Arab population has increased by 156%. In other words, despite Arab charges that Israel is “Judaizing” the city, Jerusalem is less Jewish today than it was in 1967. (This and the next 2 points are based on 1993 data from the Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem.)

  2. Excluding the Old City (where little building takes place), the average size of Jewish homes in Jerusalem is 67.2 square meters, while the average size of Arab homes is 75.1 square meters.

  3. While the Arab population of Jerusalem has increased greatly, crowding has actually decreased. Since 1967 the number of rooms-per-person in Arab households has increased by 11%.

  4. The Arab residents of Jerusalem have also built at a faster rate than their Jewish counterparts. In 1967, after reunification, there were 12,200 apartments in East Jerusalem; by 1995 the same area had 27,066 apartments, an increase of 122%. During the same period the number of apartments in the Jewish areas of Jerusalem increased from 57,500 to 122,780, an increase of only 114%. (Israel Kimhi, formerly Jerusalem City Planner.)

  5. Much of the new Arab building in Jerusalem has taken place in the neighborhoods of Ras al-Amud and Arab a-Suwachra in the south-east, and in Shuafat and Beit Hanina in the north. Arab villages within the city, such as Isawiya, A-Tur, Sur Bacher and Beit Safafa, have also grown significantly.

  6. Meron Benvenisti, the former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, now much quoted by Israel’s critics, in the past criticized propagandists who distorted Arab and Jewish population growth in Jerusalem:

These complaints were taken up and accepted in wide circles all over the world. However, demographic data did not justify such complaints. The massive Israeli efforts only ensured that the growth of the Jewish population of the city did not lag behind that of the Arab community. As in many other areas, the complaints rested not so much on real facts as on the declarations of politicians. The efforts made for the rapid construction and development of the city brought about a relatively swift growth of the Jewish population, but they also brought about a relatively faster growth of the Arab community. Like Siamese twins, the two communities nourished each other and were obliged to advance at the same pace. The true beneficiary of the efforts directed towards development was not the Jewish community, nor the Arab one, it was the city as a whole (Jerusalem, The Torn City, 1976).

Since Benvenisti wrote these words in 1976 Jewish building in Jerusalem has continued to lag behind the Arab efforts, as noted above.

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