Good news in Yerushalayim: The government is expected to grant final approval next month to the first new neighborhood in the capital’s liberated areas in 14 years.
We’re not talking about a small building project here. It is, rather, an initiative of more than 2,600 apartments – room for nearly 15,000 people – in a small area known as Givat HaMatos, or Airplane Hill. According to pro-Arab sources, the new and improved Givat HaMatos will leave the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa “enclosed: a Palestinian enclave in an overwhelmingly Israeli area.”
Givat HaMatos is, at present, a relatively small plot just off Hevron Blvd. in southern Jerusalem. It received its name after a small two-engine Israel Air Force plane crashed there on the second day of the Six-Day War; it had been hit by Jordanian anti-aircraft artillery, killing its pilot, Lt. Dan Givon. Some years afterward, some 400 caravans (mobile-type homes without wheels) were placed there to absorb the sudden arrival of thousands of new Ethiopian Jewish immigrants. Currently, however, only a few remain, and the neighborhood is generally uncared for and unsupervised; it can now be foreseen that within a few years, this forsaken and forlorn area will go the way of the rest of the Land of Israel over the past century: From barren desolation to blooming growth.
Left-wing and pro-Arab organizations strongly object to the plan. Ir Amim, for instance, has submitted objections based on the following reasoning: “[We] have reached the conclusion that the current plan is designed to destroy the existing balance in the village [sic] of Beit Tsafafa…. The plan proposes more than 2,000 housing units, and many public buildings, including synagogues and ritual baths – but no churches or mosques…. The Givat HaMatos area is the only remaining area left for expansion and development of Beit Tsafafa. Now comes along this plan, proposing to build a new neighborhood, detached and with a new [i.e., Jewish] population.”
Others who oppose keeping Jerusalem Jewish similarly object to the new neighborhood on the grounds that a strongly Jewish Givat HaMatos will “sabotage the chances of reaching a diplomatic agreement in Jerusalem that will enable territorial continuity between Arab neighborhoods…. Together with Gilo and Har Homa, it will complete the chokehold that will totally detach eastern Jerusalem [i.e., the Arab neighborhoods] from the southern West Bank.”
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, agrees, saying, “The proposed constructions in Givat HaMatos are of particular concern, as they would cut the [Arab] geographic contiguity between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.”
So much for the good news.
The flip side is that the 2,600 new units will not be entirely Jewish. Instead, a third of the apartments will be reserved for the growth of the afore-mentioned Beit Tsafafa neighborhood. As indicated, however, the strong objections from the left are very encouraging, and it is precisely because of the resulting increased Jewish territorial contiguity that so much of the Israeli public welcomes the new initiative.
In general, as Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat recently learned after ordering a report on the matter, more than 50,000 new housing units are planned for the Jerusalem in the coming 20 years – and the lion’s share of them are to be built in the areas that were liberated during the Six-Day War. The main reason for this is simply that there is barely any room left for massive construction in western Jerusalem.
Though a significant number of the proposed apartments are to be built in Arab neighborhoods, the trend indicates that neighborhoods such as Gilo, N’vei Yaakov, and Ramot – which some news media and others still call “settlements” – will not only remain under Israeli sovereignty under any arrangement, all but preventing the city’s partition, but will also become the locations of choice for future construction in Jerusalem.