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From Barren Desolation To Blooming Growth


Keeping-Jerusalem

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.

Thus, the above is not only important in terms of demographics and keeping Jerusalem united, but will also help alleviate the housing crunch that is driving young couples and others out of the city.

Reflecting the optimism that the above news has generated in many circles, the Young Generation for Jerusalem movement released this statement: “The ring neighborhoods are the city’s greatest land potential for Jerusalem’s development. These neighborhoods – Pisgat Ze’ev, N’vei Yaakov, French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, Ramat Shlomo, Maalot Dafna, Ramot, Armon HaNetziv, Talpiyot Mizrach, Homat Shmuel [Har Homa], Givat HaMatos and Gilo – are Jewish neighborhoods that will remain Israeli under whatever agreement. We call upon the government to develop these neighborhoods for the sake of the young generation here.”

The Givat HaMatos project is not to be confused with the 2,000 apartments whose speedy construction Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered earlier this month. These units, to be built in Jerusalem’s Har Homa and Ramot, as well as in Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, are a welcome boost of morale, and the news was greeted happily throughout Israel.

We urge the government to cut through the bureaucracy and actually begin building in eastern Jerusalem as quickly as possible. What we need now is facts on the ground, for Netanyahu has essentially frozen government-initiated building in Jerusalem’s “new” neighborhoods ever since Obama’s demand to this effect two years ago.

In fact, Army Radio reported this week that despite all the headlines periodically generated regarding new construction in Israel’s capital, not even 1,500 new apartments have been built there in the past year.  Of these, the largest number were in Har Homa – 417 permits – followed by Gilo (382) and Pisgat Ze’ev-N’vei Yaakov (nearly 370). Talpiyot Mizrach (260) and Ramot (53 new units in 2011) brought up the rear.

Our readers may not be able to directly influence the number of new apartments in Jerusalem, but there is a lot they can do in terms of learning about Jerusalem and becoming strong advocates against those who would give away its most precious parts to Arab control. For information on our bus tours in news-making areas of Jerusalem, send an e-mail to tours@keepjerusalem.org or visit the Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech website at www.keepjerusalem.org.

Chaim Silberstein, formerly a senior adviser to Israel’s minister of tourism, is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development FundHillel Fendel is a longtime writer and editor on Israeli current eventsBoth have lived in Jerusalem and now reside in Beit El.

About the Author: Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel's minister of tourism. Hillel Fendel, past senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7, is a veteran writer on Jerusalem affairs. Both have lived in Jerusalem and now live in Beit El.


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