A strange thing occurred about four months ago in a small, rickety, somewhat abandoned Jerusalem neighborhood: Large machinery was brought into the site for the purpose of a soil-sampling drilling, in anticipation of a large-scale construction project. Within a short time, however, the machinery was gone, and not a word has been heard from the project since.
What happened was this: The Jerusalem Municipality finally began implementing an old decision it had made years before to build thousands of apartments and thus enhance the Holy City in many ways – but then was abruptly pressured to back down yet again, by “outside elements.”
And now for the details. Over three years ago, the last hurdle in a certain years-long approval process was overcome, and a major housing project in post-’67 Jerusalem was granted final approval – for 2,610 housing units in Givat HaMatos in southern Jerusalem. It would solve demographic problems, urban Jerusalem issues, and significantly contribute towards the future unity of sovereign Jerusalem under Israeli control.
But when it started actually taking its first hesitant step toward implementation, the monster called “American and European pressure” showed up – and the project was, once again given a quick and undignified burial.
What is Givat HaMatos? Why is a large housing project there significant and important?
Givat HaMatos is located just north of Gilo, along one of Jerusalem’s major roadways, Derech Hevron. It is essentially located just beyond the line that, before the 1967 Six-Day War, separated between Israel and Jordanian-held land.
It is important to reiterate that the land in question, just like all the land added to Jerusalem after the Six-Day War, was relinquished by Great Britain in 1948 – but was never given to any entity. That is, it is not “Arab territory,” notwithstanding anti-Israel propaganda disseminated throughout the world. Jordan took control over the Old City and adjoining areas after Israel’s War of Independence in 1949, but its title to these lands was recognized internationally by only two countries: Great Britain and Pakistan. Not even the Arab League itself recognized Jordan’s control over these areas.
We have had occasion to write about Givat HaMatos in the past, in good times and bad. We called for Jewish construction there in 2011 and 2012, and congratulated Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and the City Council in October 2014 on its decision to grant final approval to the construction project under discussion. In fact, the latter press release well summed up the situation, saying, in part:
…Despite the protests of the U.S. government, Peace Now, and others, KeepJerusalem is confident that the project in question, and Jewish construction everywhere in Jerusalem, is vital for Israeli interests and helps ensure that the city will remain united under Israeli sovereignty…
“KeepJerusalem notes the widely ignored fact that about a third of the new units are designated for Arab families in nearby Beit Tsafafa. Despite this, its demographic importance for Israeli sovereignty in its own capital is inestimable. The project will also help alleviate the housing crunch that is driving young couples and others out of the city.
“Years ago, when the Givat HaMatos project was first announced, then-EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton said, ‘The proposed constructions in Givat HaMatos are of particular concern, as they would cut the [Arab] geographic contiguity between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.’ It follows, then, that it will enhance Jewish geographic contiguity in this most historic and holy area of the Jewish nation.”
Givat HaMatos is one of the last reserves of land available for construction within the boundaries of Jerusalem, says veteran Jerusalem researcher and KeepJerusalem contributor Nadav Shragai. He also notes that one of the main reasons for the decline in Jerusalem’s Jewish majority is the severe shortage of apartments there. Over the past 25 years, more than 400,000 Jews have left Jerusalem, while only 250,000 have come to live in it. The new project will thus be a boon to the entire city.
The neighborhood was used for several years to temporarily house hundreds of families of new Ethiopian Jewish immigrants. Desolation and neglect has since taken over the neighborhood, and the new project, in addition to its other advantages, will turn this forlorn area into one of blooming growth.
So what’s blocking it? As mentioned, pressure from the U.S. – but even more from the European Union – has caused repeated delays and suspensions of the issuing of construction tenders. This need not be a cause for surprise, for the strategic location of Givat HaMatos – between the neighborhoods of Gilo, Beit Tsafafa (Arab), and Talpiot – truly gives it a critical role in whether a Palestinian state will or will not arise.
Again, Shragai provides the details: “From the Israeli standpoint, building Givat HaMatos is one of the keys to preventing a division of Jerusalem from the south, where a Palestinian wedge could impede the planned continuity between the Gilo and Har Homa neighborhoods along the southern border of Jerusalem…. From the Palestinian standpoint, freezing construction at Givat HaMatos is the key to preserving the option one day of urban and political linkage between Palestinian Bethlehem and Jerusalem’s Beit Safafa.”
It is now clear why the Western world – insistent on maintaining “neutrality” between the enlightened Jewish democracy and the Muslim Palestinians whose charters, actions, words, and financial allocations are coordinated toward destroying Israel – wishes to keep the status quo at Givat HaMatos.
It is somewhat less clear why Prime Minister Netanyahu has ordered Housing Minister Yoav Galant not to promote the Givat HaMatos plan “for now.”
Still, let us look at the exciting details of the drawing board’s depiction of a future Givat HaMatos. The 2,610 planned Jewish housing units will occupy apartment buildings 12 stories high in the center of the neighborhood, and 4-6 stories on its slopes. A shopping center, public buildings, and open public areas are envisioned for the more than 10,000 residents, and it includes Second Temple sites within and adjacent to the territory (accessible even now). In a further-off stage of the project, a tourism-focused program is planned, involving 1,100 new hotel rooms.
The area intended for Jewish building belongs to the Israel Lands Authority – except for one small parcel owned by a Mr. Y. Herskovitz of Kiryat Arba. His story, recounted here before, is this: He bought the land some 35 years ago knowing that some Arabs may have squatted there – but with no idea that it would cost him 18 years of legal battles and accompanying financial costs to actually get them off. He was forced to prove to three Israeli courts, including the Supreme Court, that the Arab claims were based totally on forgeries, and the courts all ultimately agreed with him. Thus, one stubborn Jew saved a piece of Jerusalem from being lost to the Jewish people forever.
Hopefully, in this merit, he and all of Jerusalem will soon see thousands of other Jews living on and around his property.