Yes, attention in and on Israel has been justifiably turned toward the Shomron town of Itamar, where two weeks ago ruthless Palestinian terrorists cruelly butchered most of the Fogel family preparing for sleep after an uplifting Sabbath meal.
But behind the scenes, and on more than one front, the battle for Jerusalem continues unyieldingly – a steely war of nerves with an Arab foe that will stop only when we defeat it.
The Arabs are aligned in full force to slice away, salami-style, Jewish sovereignty from our holy and eternal city. They have already succeeded, to some extent, in some neighborhoods, where soldiers prevent Jews from even entering. Our battle is not easy – and can certainly not be won without Jewish vigilance, knowledge and activism.
Very quietly, one of the main fronts in the battle is a little-known neighborhood on Jerusalem’s southern edge called Homat Shmuel – more popularly known as Har Homa. A news report last month about Har Homa attracted little attention. However, a careful reading thereof will give us pause to think about the strategic significance of this thriving Jewish locale. The essence was this:
“Documents detailing the Israel-PA talks and leaked by Al Jazeera show that the PLO negotiating team relinquished all Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem except for Har Homa “
All neighborhoods except for Har Homa? The PLO has given up on places such as Ramot Shlomo, which sparked a recent crisis between Israel and the U.S., and Sheikh Jarrah, where a handful of Jews have moved into Jewish-owned properties amidst thousands of Arabs and where international pro-Arab activists demonstrate almost every week – and yet it has not given up on Har Homa?!
Though Fatah denied the report and said it was leaked only to make Hamas look good at its expense – Fatah gunmen even attacked Al-Jazeera studios to make this point – there are other indications that our enemies regard Har Homa in a “special” light. After the Annapolis Conference in 2007, the PA loudly protested new construction in Har Homa – netting a strong condemnation from both then-U.S. Secretary of State Rice and UN Secretary-General Ban of the Jewish neighborhood.
Why is the PA so extra-insistent on making sure Har Homa, of all Jerusalem neighborhoods, not remain Jewish?
For one thing, it is likely that Har Homa elicits strong Arab opposition – even if not consciously – for its multiplicity of Torah institutions. The municipality has recently allocated lots for 19 (!) new synagogues to meet the large demand; two religious schools and several talmudei Torah fill the neighborhood with the sounds of Torah study; and two well-known yeshivot – Har HaMor and Mekor Chaim Yeshiva High School – are planning to move there as soon as their campuses are ready. At least half of its 30,000 residents are observant.
Yet this is certainly not the only aspect of Har Homa the PA finds objectionable. The PLO’s disproportionate hostility to the locality stems directly from the PA’s plans to take over the entirety of eastern Jerusalem and form a state of its own!
Simply put, Har Homa’s geographic location is a bone in the PA’s throat. With Bethlehem to the south – separated from Har Homa only by several hundred meters of forest area – and with the Arab-populated neighborhoods of Um Tuba and Sur Baher to the northeast and A-Sheikh Saad and Abu Dis further to the northeast, Har Homa is practically the only thing preventing a contiguous north-south Arab presence all along the eastern borders of Jerusalem and vicinity.
True, East Talpiyot, north of Sur Baher, is also in the PA’s way – but Har Homa is newer and therefore more vulnerable. Take away Har Homa, Heaven forbid, and East Talpiyot becomes a lone enclave to the north, Gilo is isolated to the west, and all of southern and southeastern Jerusalem becomes nearly totally Arab – paving the way for Arab contiguity from Bethlehem and Beit Sahour to Abu Dis, Azariya, and Isawiya, past Mt. Scopus.
Israel’s legal right to build Har Homa is well-grounded. As the Foreign Ministry explains, the Oslo Agreements specifically did not give the PA the authority to veto Jewish construction or other activity in Jerusalem. On the contrary, it was agreed that Jerusalem would be discussed only in the final-status talks – thus paving the way for normal life, such as city-approved construction, to proceed unhindered.
Despite this, just last month new zoning plans for Har Homa – calling for 50 housing units, nine public buildings, and an access road – were shelved by the city’s zoning and planning board. Though some are optimistic that the plans will soon be resubmitted and approved, others feel that such expectations are baseless.
In any event, as city councilman David Hadari told Arutz-7 at the time, “Even if the problem was just bureaucracy, such as a missing form or whatever, plans for these parts of Jerusalem should specifically not be taken off the agenda. These areas are very sensitive on a national scale, and no one must think we are caving in to any pressure regarding them.”
Unfortunately, precisely this impression is being given: that Israel’s resolve regarding strategically crucial Har Homa is not strong.
Jerusalem-lovers can inform the city council members of their concern regarding Har Homa and their desire to see the plans approved promptly. Hadari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Likud City Councilman Elisha Peleg can be reached at email@example.com.
Let it be stated clearly and unequivocally:
Giving up or weakening any Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem is a critical threat to security, morale, and strategic integrity. Har Homa, East Talpiot, Pisgat Ze’ev and others are buffers that prevent an Arab territorial continuum from Ramallah to Bethlehem from suffocating Jewish Jerusalem.
For more information on how to participate in keeping Jerusalem Jewish, via updates, bus tours of critical parts of Jerusalem, and more, send an e-mail to tours@keepjerusalemorg or visit the Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech website at www.keepjerusalem.org.
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 is the senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7 and an author.Both have lived in Jerusalem and now reside in Beit El.
Their column appears every other week.