The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday reversed its decision to freeze the tender for the construction of a new neighborhood on Givat Hamatos in south-east Jerusalem. Last week, the court issued an order to freeze the tender following a petition filed against it by Arab residents from the eastern part of the capital.
Givat HaMatos (Airplane Hill – named after a light jet that was downed there by the Jordanian air force on the second day of the 1967 Six-Day War) is a neighborhood of south-eastern Jerusalem that was established as a project that hosted Ethiopian and Russian olim in caravans. The neighborhood encompasses an area of 42 acres. It is bordered by Talpiot to the north, Gilo to the south-east, and Beit Safafa.
The Arab claimants argued that they would not be able to purchase apartments in much of the new neighborhood because they are not Israeli citizens. The state argued in response that there was no connection between the tender and the eligibility to purchase apartments, and the court accepted the latter’s position.
The petition was submitted by 25 residents of eastern Jerusalem who were organized by the leftwing Ir Amim NGO.
Ir Amim’s total income in 2019 was NIS 8.5 million ($2.6 million), and its expenses for the same period were NIS 8.2 million ($2.5 million), according to NGO Monitor. So they put aside a little.
Ir Amim is funded by foreign donors, including the European Union, Norway, Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat (joint funding from Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Netherlands), Netherlands, The Middle East Partnership Initiative (US), Diakonia (Sweden), Christian Aid (UK), Bread for the World-EED (Germany), Oxfam, and Rosa Luxemburg (Germany).
The main argument in the Arab residents’ petition was that about 40% of the apartments planned on the site are intended to be built using the Finance Ministry’s Mechir La’Mishtaken (cost to dweller) program, where the state sells the land to developers at a cheap price in exchange for their commitment to selling the apartments to those who are enrolled in the program, at prices significantly cheaper than the market’s.
By definition, the program is only available to Israeli citizens (which includes Israeli Arabs who are citizens). However, while normally, non-citizens could purchase the same apartments at market rate, the Mechir La’Mishtaken program specifically prohibits developers from selling to non-citizens, to prevent speculation by foreign entities. And this is the essence of the Arabs’ complaint.
Following the liberation of eastern Jerusalem in 1967, its Arab residents were given Israeli ID cards which, according to a 1988 Supreme Court ruling, gives them the status of permanent residents, so that they must take action to receive Israeli citizenship. Some 90% of Jerusalem Arabs have opted not to become full citizens of Israel.
Judge Einat Avman-Muller accepted the state’s argument on Tuesday that it isn’t necessary to delay the construction of the neighborhood in order to decide on the right of the Arab petitioners to participate in the government program’s lottery for the right to but an apartment.
“There does not appear to be a direct link between the tender for the marketing of the land referred to the contractors and the eligibility to register for the lottery, certainly not to the extent that it would justify a freeze on the tender proceedings,” the judge ruled.
The Givat Hamatos project has been held back for years by several Netanyahu governments, for fear of a reprimand from the Obama administration and the EU.
According to the EU and leftist groups in Israel and abroad, construction on Givat Hamatos will make it impossible to divide Jerusalem following a 2-state deal that would hand parts of eastern Jerusalem to a Palestinian State. This is because Givat Hamatos will complete the ring of contiguous Jewish neighborhoods around the Beit Safafa neighborhood, effectively cutting it off from the other Arab enclaves of eastern Jerusalem.
It is high unlikely that most residents of Beit Safafa want to become citizens of the Palestinian Authority.