A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto

10 Adar 2 5760
March 17, 2000
Issue number 263

News...

Withdrawal Map Approved

The security cabinet ratified the map of the upcoming 6.1% withdrawal - the last part of the second Oslo withdrawal - from Judea and Samaria. Five ministers voted in favor, while Ministers Yeshai (Shas), Y. Levy (NRP), and Sharansky (Yisrael B'Aliyah) voted against; Sarid (Meretz) abstained. Sarid feels that the village of Anata, five minutes from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev, should also be given to the Palestinians. Sharansky said that he would not object to transferring Anata to the PA under the final-status agreement. The 6.1% retreat includes two Arab villages in the vicinity of Jerusalem: Bituniya - just west of Ramallah - and Abadiye, near Bethlehem and Gilo. The plan that was approved Wednesday also calls for the transfer to the Palestinian Authority of areas in the Jordan Valley north of Jericho and the road leading to Negohot and other areas in South Har Hevron. Another wave of terrorist-releases, involving 30 terrorists, was also decided upon by the cabinet; only Rabbi Levy voted against. Binyamin Regional Council head Pinchas Wallerstein warned that the transfer of Bituniya to Arafat will leave the residents of Talmonim and Dolev without a safe road to Jerusalem. Residents of Negohot and the Talmonim protested outside the Prime Minister's Office Wednesday. The latter blocked the road from Givat Ze'ev to Jerusalem, causing a huge traffic jam. A woman from Negohot explained:
"We have only one access road to our community, and the government wants to give it away to the Palestinians. It will simply be dangerous for us to go in or out of our town. Despite this, however, we plan to continue using the road - although the women will have to travel either with guns, or only with men accompanying us; we have not yet decided."
The upcoming withdrawal will also involve "filling in" an area in between the PA city of Jericho and the PA village of Ouja, which are presently connected only by a narrow strip of Palestinian-controlled territory. David Levy, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, explained today that the 5.5- kilometer strip of land, running northwards from Jericho to Ouja, has been widened to an area of three square kilometers. "Until now," Levy told Arutz-7 today, "this strip has been insignificant, in that it was not able to be used [by the PA] for anything. Now, however, it will become a substantial piece of property, thus that the Israeli community of Na'ama [with 24 families], which is to the east of this strip, will now become almost completely closed in: Ouja to the north, Jericho to the south, the new area on the west, and the Jordanian border to the east."
[Ed. note: The Jordan Valley highway, from Jerusalem to Beit She'an, passes adjacent to Na'ama.] Levy pointed out that the townlet of Yeitav, just west of Ouja, is also in danger.

The Prime Minister's Office announced on Tuesday that it was decided not to include Anata - near Anatot and the Jerusalem suburbs of Pisgat Ze'ev and N'vei Yaakov - in the upcoming withdrawal. The press had been rife with reports and reactions to the previous decision to retreat from Anata. Many right-wing politicians were visiting in Anata, or were on their way there, to protest the original decision when the announcement was made. Likud MK Danny Naveh declared emphatically that Barak, in his original decision to give Anata away, had "simply underestimated the extent of the public's refusal to accept anything that would endanger the unity of Jerusalem and the security of Jerusalem neighborhoods." MK Rabbi Benny Elon (National Union) had the following reaction:

"As a citizen, this topsy-turvy behavior is very worrisome to me. The security cabinet is supposed to be a serious, high-level body, yet I see that over the past few weeks the cabinet members allowed Arafat's objections to change their minds about the withdrawal. In addition, the discussions at their meetings are constantly leaked, in blatant violation of the law. Now, today, they again changed their minds because of public pressure. Barak appears to be like play-dough - as pliable as a toy."
Prime Minister Barak also plans, in the upcoming withdrawal, to give away the village of Za'atra, near the eastern-Gush Etzion community of Nokdim. MK Avigdor Lieberman, a resident of Nokdim, says that this move will be most damaging to his town. Women in Green leader Nadia Matar says that the new map is a "declaration of war upon Eretz Yisrael." She calls upon the Yesha Council not to suffice with a restrained response.

Arutz-7 spoke to MK Colette Avital (Labor) about the government's decision to hand the PA full control of areas close to Jerusalem. "Why has the government already provided, so early on in the negotiations, areas that are so important historically and so close to Jerusalem?" asked Arutz-7's Haggai Segal. Avital answered, "The principle on which we are basing our decision is the need to preserve a united Jerusalem. In order for this to be possible, we have to find a replacement [for the Palestinian demand for Jerusalem as their capital]... The idea is that we should give the Palestinians a chance to establish their capital in a place that for them is Jerusalem, but for us is not. Anata, Bituniya, and Abadiye are not and never were part of municipal Jerusalem... In the end, another month or two, there will be a need to reach a compromise with the Palestinians - and we know that more or less, there is going to be a Palestinian state, they will have to be in the villages next to Jerusalem..." Segal then asked, "If today we give Anata and tomorrow Abu Dis, what will remain for negotiation in the final status talks?" Avital's response: "It will still remain to establish the parameters of the final agreement. Let me remind you that we are still in control of more than 50% of the territory, and I don't think that such moves will be dangerous at all to Israel's security. I think that if a Palestinian capital is established near Jerusalem, maybe they will paradoxically be interested in preserving quiet there, in their capital. and maybe this is the most powerful guarantee for quiet - and not when there are all sort of undefined issues between us and them..."
(arutzsheva.org Mar 14,15)

No Women's Torah in TA University

Tel Aviv University has forbidden a group of women students from holding a weekly class in Torah studies. The women wished to organize the classes independently, with no connection to the official university studies. The directorate of the school forbade the initiative, claiming that a uni-sex lecture "is harmful to the freedom of knowledge." One of the students, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the story to Arutz-7: "There are only about 100 religious women in the university, out of 30,000 students altogether. Some of us feel a great lack in the area of Torah studies, and so we decided to organize a Torah class for ourselves. We made phone calls, spoke to the Jewish Culture Club on campus, and even found a rabbi who volunteered to teach us. But then, one student saw a little sign that we had posted, which advertised 'religious women students gathering for a Torah class.' He faxed a copy of the sign to many university offices, and accused us of wanting to 'brainwash' students, of attempting to get people to 'repent,' and the like. The management called us in, and made it quite clear: All-women classes are forbidden on campus, as they are damaging to the principle of "freedom of knowledge" - men who want to study in these classes will be prevented from gaining knowledge!" The student explained that the management at no time told them that they must either accept men students or not hold the classes: "We would not agree to such a condition," she said, for both didactic and religious reasons. "They simply told us that we must not hold the classes. We refuse to accept this, however, and we actually find ourselves in a position where we must hold underground Torah classes in the State of Israel!" (arutzsheva.org Mar 15)

Arab League Absurdity

The Arab League concluded its meeting Saturday of 120 delegates from 20 Arab countries with a harsh declaration calling for a "re-evaluation of relations with Israel in light of its recent attacks on Lebanon." Lebanese President Emile Lahoud warned Israel against a unilateral withdrawal from his country, saying that it could lead to war. Lebanon's Prime Minister Salim Hoss similarly called for a suspension of Arab ties with Israel if attacks against Lebanon continue, and warned that an Israeli withdrawal without an agreement may lead to violence. Foreign Minister David Levy said in response, "The anti-Israeli decisions made in Beirut today prove that the extremists, who object to the peace process, are still in control at the Arab League."

Yediot Acharonot editorialized today that the United Arab League meeting in Beirut was "a theater of the absurd." Referring to the Arab threats made against Israel in the event that it withdraws unilaterally from Lebanon, the editors comment that there have been few cases in history in which a state has threatened an occupying foreign army for declaring its intention to withdraw and return the areas it occupies to its proper sovereignty. "But Lebanon is not sovereign," writes the paper. "It is entirely subject to the selfish interests of the Syrian regime in Damascus." (arutzsheva.org Mar 12)

IDF Against Unilateral Withdrawal

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Sha'ul Mofaz and other leading generals object to a unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon. During a meeting with Prime Minister Barak, they not only expressed their displeasure at his tendency not to consult with them, but they also stated that a unilateral withdrawal is likely to lead to escalated violence in the north, would make it difficult to defend the northern communities, and would lead to the abandonment of the soldiers of the SLA. Barak presented his withdrawal plan to the government today, including continued ground and air attacks in Lebanon even after a withdrawal, in light of expected continued Hizbullah offensives. The plan also calls for the paving of new roads to the northern towns, such that the residents will be able to reach their homes out of sight of Lebanese terrorist-snipers.

Maj.-Gen. Rafi Noy (res.) told Arutz-7 that the IDF's opposition to the unilateral withdrawal is based on the feeling that the southern Lebanon security zone provides the best method of defense for the northern communities. "The army would agree to a unilateral withdrawal," Noy said, "if it could feel that it has the government's go-ahead to freely and harshly respond to any subsequent terrorist attacks on Israeli communities. This is the only way that the Syrian and Lebanese governments would get the message that they must rein in the Hizbullah." Maj.-Gen. Noy is against, however, criticism by the army establishment against the government for not accepting its views on the situation: "The government may ask he army and other departments for advice on how to handle a particular issue, but is not obligated to follow their advice." Referring to Saturday's Arab League warning against a unilateral Israeli withdrawal, Noy asked rhetorically: "Have you ever heard of a situation when an 'occupied country' object to an announcement by the 'occupier' that it intends to withdraw? It could very well be that behind the Lebanese and Syrian warnings is the fear of a new civil war in Lebanon, or that Syria's occupying forces will be a new target of Lebanese anger..." (arutzsheva.org Mar 12)

Sentenced to 35 Days for Speaking

Moshe, a resident of a community in Binyamin, told Arutz-7's Haggai Seri today about the quick military trial and sentencing of his son to 35 days in army prison today: "My son is a medic, who was recently called to serve in Yeshivat Od Yosef Chai at Joseph's Tomb in Shechem. The commanding officer immediately told him that he was not allowed to spend time in the yeshiva, aside from taking part in the prayers. He told my son, 'You're one of the pray-ers, so you can't be with the yeshiva students during your free time.' My son, who grew up here in Yesha, is very attuned to the importance of the Land to the Jews, and particularly the holy sites, such as Joseph's Tomb. He saw how the army reacted to the yeshiva students' putting in a new floor, and it bothered him very much. In private conversation with some of the other soldiers, my son expressed his opinion that the commander was acting with political motives, and seemed to want to placate the Palestinians more than to protect the Jews living there. These remarks somehow made their way back to the commander, who called him in, tried him and sentenced him on the spot to five weeks. I ask you: If a young soldier can't express his deeply-held views in private conversation, then what is left for him? Is it a crime to speak?!" (arutzsheva.org Mar 12)

Terrorist Victims' Children Sue

The children and family of Yaron Ungar, an American citizen who was murdered - together with his wife - by Palestinian terrorists in June 1996, filed suit this week in a United States federal court against the Palestinian Authority, the PLO and Yasser Arafat. The Ungars are survived by their two sons, Dvir, 5, and Yeshai, 4, who are being cared for by their maternal grandparents, Rabbi Uri and Yehudit Dasberg of Alon Shvut. The suit alleges that Arafat and the other defendants are liable for the deaths of the Ungars because they provide Hamas with shelter, safe haven and a base of operations from which to carry out terrorist attacks. The suit is based on a U.S. federal law passed by Congress almost ten year ago to enable the family of Leon Klinghoffer and others to file civil suits against the PLO for hijacking the Achille Lauro ship. The amount of damages sought by the Ungar children - $250 million - is based on the damages awarded by the U.S. District Court to the family of Alisa Flatow, an American Jewish student who was killed by Palestinian terrorists sponsored by Iran. Atty. Avi Leitner explained that the difficulties encountered by the Flatow family in collecting its judgment against Iran are not expected to pose a problem for the Ungars: "In the case of Alisa Flatow, the State Department stepped in, as is its right, to prevent the seizure of another country's assets. The Palestinian Authority, however, is not a country, and the State Department has therefore no say in the matter. In addition, the PA also has assets in Israel, and Israeli courts will be able to enforce an American ruling and relay to the Ungar children whatever sums will be determined by the American court." (arutzsheva.org Mar 12)

Illegal Jerusalem Homes Wait for Refugees

Hundreds of houses built by the Palestinians in the vicinity of Jerusalem over the past two years are empty, and are merely waiting for "the stream of refugees who will return to Israel following the signing of a final-status agreement" - in the words of Palestinian sources quoted today in Ha'aretz. The Israeli authorities have meanwhile decided no to raze the illegally-built buildings. The Fatah representative in Jerusalem told Ha'aretz that the construction is "merely another step in the struggle against the conquest." (A7Mar 12)

PA to Release Prisoners

The Palestinian Authority has ordered the release of 18 members of the Hamas terror organization imprisoned in Shechem, in honor of the Moslem holiday Id el-Idha. A PA official told the French news agency that the Authority is contemplating the release of 34 additional Hamas members as well. (arutzsheva.org Mar 12)

Ya'ari: Arafat Doesn't Want Agreement

Ehud Ya'ari, senior Arab affairs diplomatic correspondent and commentator on Israel's Channel One television, will be leaving his position in the coming year. Son of Yitzchak Ya'ari, the former editor of the Labor-socialist "Davar" daily, he served as Davar's Arab affairs reporter for ten years. Speaking in the current issue of Israel's Woman's World magazine, Ya'ari said: "I am not with the Left that thinks of peace in terms which are completely unreasonable with the givens of the region, and not with the Right that presumes that reaching arrangements with the Syrians is worse than the current situation... I say that if we have to hand over the Golan, the only justification for this would be that this is the way to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. And this is not easy because Arafat doesn't want to reach an agreement. He wants a partial agreement with us that would not bury the conflict... he prefers to leave splits and cracks in the agreements in order to keep a fluctuating level of hostility and violence... We signed the Oslo Accords too soon. The PLO was on the edge of bankruptcy, similar to the situation Assad [of Syria] is now in... We could have waited until the PLO collapsed and then pressured them to reach better agreements..." (arutzsheva.org Mar 10)

IDF Pessimistic About Future

The IDF General Staff has rescinded its recommendation to shorten the three-year term of army service. The idea was proposed only two months ago, at the apparent behest - Ha'aretz reports - of the Prime Minister's Office, which wished to prove that "peace is on the way." However, the paper continues, the army in fact feels that the tensions in the north will continue for a while, and that an arrangement with the Palestinians is similarly far off. (arutzsheva.org Mar 10)

Quote of the Week...

"The release came to avoid internal fighting. We need to save the energy of the students' movement for confrontations with Israel which will be imminent later this year.''
- Palestinian lawmaker Marwan Barghouthi, commenting on the release from jail of students of Beir Zeit University who recently stoned French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. (Reuters Mar 5)

Commentary...

Israel's Ticking 'Time Bomb'

By The Center for Security Policy

Even by Mideast standards, last weekend's announcement by the Arab League that Israel risked war if it withdrew unilaterally from Lebanon was extraordinary. The Arab foreign ministers served notice that the Jewish State had to first address what they called a "time bomb": as many as 360,000 Palestinians who have lived for years in squalid refugee camps on Lebanese territory and who demand the right to return to live in what they call "Palestine" -- an area that on their maps includes all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel within the "green lines" (that is, territory it controlled prior to the Six-Day War in 1967.)

What's Really Afoot

This being the Middle East, things are rarely what they seem. The Arab ministers were moved to issue their threats not solely, or even primarily, by sympathy for the Palestinians. After all, many of the participating nations have unnecessarily compounded and politically exploited these refugee's plight by confining them to just such camps elsewhere in the region and by refusing to assimilate a generally talented and hard-working people into their own societies.Rather, the Arab League acted at the behest of Hafez Assad of Syria, a ruthless dictator who appears no more willing to allow Israel to live in peace today than at any other point in his murderous, decades-long reign.

Assad, who has been as hostile to the Palestinians as any Arab leader, appreciates that if Israel ends its widely denounced occupation of a nine-mile-wide strip of Lebanon, his own, despotic occupation of the rest of Lebanon may become politically untenable.

The Israelis are in an unenviable position. They have, for the first time in their history, effectively conceded military defeat by an Arab army -- albeit the rag-tag irregular one of Hezbollah, the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Islamic extremist group that insists on driving the Jews not only out of Lebanon but out of the rest of greater "Palestine" as well, and "into the sea." As a result, Israel's northern border will remain exposed, and surely subject, to continuing attack.

Beware the 'Right of Return'

The relatively "low intensity" blood-letting served up by Hezbollah is likely to pale by comparison with the danger that would ensue should Israel accede to Arab demands to grant the "right of return" -- presumably not only to Lebanon's Palestinians but to as many as two million refugees scattered around the world since 1948.Indeed, even before any new influx of Arabs into Israel occurs, the Jewish State is increasingly facing a "time bomb" of its own -- an armed and dangerous Palestinian nation emerging in its midst and the prospect of a fifth column formed from Arab citizens of Israel. Here are a few of the ominous storm clouds gathering on the horizon:

Last week, Israel's Supreme Court issued a ruling that calls into question the long-standing policy of locating Jewish communities in areas for strategic purposes. The decision was a defeat for the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, established during the period of Britain's Mandate Palestine to promote Jewish immigration and settlement there. The New York Times reported on March 9 that, the Agency's chairman, Salai Meridor, said:The main issue is not equality [between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens.]

We're all for equality. The question is how we ensure equality while also making sure that areas with a massive Arab majority near the territory of an emerging Palestinian entity will remain part of the state of Israel.

Along with equality, Israel must safeguard its national and security interests. That these interests are indeed at risk was underscored by a news item published a few days later in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. On March 13, the paper revealed that:[Yasir Arafat's] Palestinian Authority (PA) has been implementing a policy of 'strategic construction' inside East Jerusalem and on the outskirts of the city, building thousands of new apartments there since 1997 although a substantial portion of the buildings remain vacant. Sources at the PA say that during the final status negotiations, the Palestinians will demand the return of more than 100,000 refugees, some of whom will settle in the buildings currently being constructed in East Jerusalem....Israeli intelligence agents...suggested that the Palestinian construction aims to cut through and isolate Jewish settlements around the city.

On February 2, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset used his position to force a public, if brief and uninformative, discussion of one of the most delicate of Israel's national security matters:the Jewish State's suspected but unacknowledged nuclear arsenal.As Gerald Steinberg put it in an op.ed. article in the Jerusalem Post of February 18, "Issam Makhul [of the Arabs' Hadash Party] insisted on raising the subject, but did not demonstrate any understanding of or interest in the substance and dilemmas of the Israeli policy. His main purpose was clearly to needle the government on a very sensitive issue, in order to gain popularity and publicity in the Israeli Arab sector. For the past decade, the Egyptian government has led an obsessive crusade to strip Israel of its deterrence capabilities, and to use this issue in order to isolate Israel."

Incredibly, the Clinton-Gore Administration appears to be exacerbating the dangers Arabs within Israel might pose to the United States' most important ally in the Middle East. On February 14, one of the Knesset's most influential leaders on national security matters, the Likud Party's Uzi Landau, wrote President Clinton a stern letter. It said, in part: "The following headline appeared in Yediot Aharonot, Israel's most widely-read newspaper, on February 11: 'U.S Embassy Tries to Mobilize Arab Support in the Referendum.'

According to the article, senior U.S. Embassy officials have of late conducted a series of meetings with Israeli Arab leaders. The express aim of these meetings, according to the report, is to pressure Arab leaders to produce a large turnout among their constituency in the event that a referendum is held regarding the future of the Golan Heights, as the Arab vote could prove decisive. In addition, the report states that the U.S. diplomats promised to arrange financial assistance to back information campaigns that will be undertaken by Israeli Arab groups for this purpose.

In response, the U.S. Embassy spokesman did not deny this information."Mr. Landau correctly concluded, "If the information in the article is accurate, this would constitute an unprecedented and intolerable act of gross interference in Israel's internal affairs. I cannot emphasize enough the severity of this act, which demonstrates blatant disregard for the most elementary norms of accepted international behavior between states and nations." It is unknown at this writing what, if any, response the Knesset's former Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman has received.

The Bottom Line

The converging demographic (the Arabs have a far higher birthrate than Israel's Jews), strategic and political trends constitute a true "time bomb" for Israel. Starting with the round of negotiations that will get underway in Washington this week, President Clinton must make clear to Arafat, Assad and other Arabs that the United States opposes measures that will jeopardize the security and integrity of the Jewish State. To do so, however, he must see to it that his Administration is not actually a party to such measures. (Center for Security Policy Mar 13)

Get Answers on Alois Brunner

By P. David Hornik

With the release of Adolf Eichmann's memoirs, the notorious administrator of the Holocaust is again in the news. His capture and execution by Israel almost four decades ago is still considered a milestone in the country's history, symbolizing the country's full confrontation with the Holocaust, its horror and its meaning.

Yet, even now when Eichmann has returned to the spotlight, the fact that his deputy, Alois Brunner, is being sheltered by the Syrian regime of President Hafez Assad evokes little interest. Brunner, whom Eichmann once called his "best man," was known for particularly virulent antisemitism. He became Eichmann's personal secretary, and as head of the Nazis' Jewish-affairs office in prewar Vienna, orchestrated the persecutions that forced thousands of Jews to flee.

During the war Brunner organized mass transports of Jews from Austria, Germany, Greece, and France, sending a total of 130,000 Jews to their deaths.

Living under an alias in Germany till 1954, he then fled to Damascus where he has been sheltered ever since, working as a businessman and "government adviser."

Although there have been reports of Brunner's death and Assad has consistently denied knowledge of his whereabouts, last October German journalists visiting Syria said Brunner was living at the Meridian Hotel in Damascus. Brunner is easily identifiable, having lost an eye and several fingers from letter bombs sent him years ago by the Mossad.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center regards Brunner as alive and in Syria, and has requested the Austrian, French, and Polish governments to demand his extradition; all them have publicly agreed to do so.

Brunner was already sentenced to death in absentia in France in 1954; more recently, a new suit was filed there based on his sending 250 children to Auschwitz. Germany previously applied for his extradition in 1987, and in 1991 the European Parliament condemned Syria for harboring him.

In a little-noticed bill presented to the Knesset last November, three MKs, Avraham Herschson, Dan Naveh (Likud), and Michael Kleiner (National Union, now Herut) proposed that "the Israeli government not approve, present for the approval of the Knesset, or present for a referendum, any agreement with Syria ... that does not include a clear and practical provision for the handing over of Nazi war criminals who are in Syrian territory ... It is unthinkable that the State of Israel will sign a peace agreement with a state that continues to give refuge to Nazi war criminals ...."

The bill was easily defeated by a vote of 44 to 28, with MKs from One Israel, Meretz, Center, Shinui, Shas, the National Religious Party, and Arab parties voting against it. The votes in favor came from the Likud, National Union, Yisrael Ba'aliya, Am Ehad, United Torah Judaism, and Shinui.

On the matter of the Holocaust, official Israel and actual Israel seem to have diverged somewhat. Official Israel reacted forcefully to the inclusion of Joerg Haider's party in the new Austrian government, withdrawing its ambassador from Vienna (though Haider is not a war criminal, but a praiser of war criminals who later retracted the praise). Official Israel still holds solemn commemorations on Holocaust Day, still sends high school students on educational tours of the sites of the camps in Poland.

Actual Israel, however, is tired. Amid the controversy over a peace deal with Syria, the issue of Brunner's presence in Syria has received little notice. Those who favor a deal with Syria seem determined to kill the issue with silence. Those who oppose such a deal occasionally mention it but, for the most part, have hardly given it prominence.

Israel, to be sure, is a sovereign state, not a synagogue in Philadelphia, and must play the game of realpolitik. Those who believe a treaty with Syria will bring peace and spare Israel the horrors of war might rationally maintain that peace is more important than an 88-year-old war criminal in Damascus (though, if so, one wishes they had the courage to say it out loud).

Others might feel that this is taking realpolitik to an extreme. What sort of peace is possible between a Jewish state and a regime that feels an ideological affinity with a murderer of 130,000 Jews? Has Israel lost its moral compass? (Jerusalem Post Mar 15)

Jerusalem -- On the Brink of Partition

by Judy Lash Balint & Dr Colin L Leci

When Jewish tourists think of Jerusalem, they generally have in mind the Western Wall, the Israel Museum, Ben Yehuda Mall and Yad Vashem. Tourists, like most Israeli Jews, don't spend much time in eastern Jerusalem -- despite the fact that this part of the Holy City holds the most historical, spiritual and strategic significance for Jews.

But as the final status negotiations which will determine the fate of Jerusalem are set to begin, perhaps it's time to understand the dynamics of the eastern part of the city and the implications of Yasser Arafat's daily declarations that his Palestine state will have east Jerusalem as its capital.

In the face of Palestine Authority rhetoric, Israeli politicians both left and right cite "Jerusalem, the undivided capital of Israel" as the consensus mantra. It's the definition of the phrase that's fraught with surprises.

Some ministers in Ehud Barak's cabinet, for example have publicly expressed their opposition to the project under construction at Maale Hazeitim (Ras el Amud). Yet this is a development with all permits intact, on undisputed Jewish-owned land. According to Haim Ramon, Minister without Portfolio for Jerusalem Affairs, the project is a provocation and a threat to the 'peace process.' Thus, the idea that Jews have the right to build and live wherever they wish in Jerusalem, under Israeli sovereignty, is an unacceptable concept for people like Ramon, who nevertheless continue to proclaim their belief in a "united Jerusalem."

Without the strategic assets of Jewish development in eastern Jerusalem, the city would indeed be divided, de facto. Jews will continue to work and live in the western section, and Arabs will predominate in the eastern part of the city where so much of Jewish history took place.

The idea of surrounding the inner core of Jerusalem with areas of Jewish settlement is not new. Successive Israeli governments since 1967 have consistently carried out this policy--developing the neighbourhoods of Maaleh Adumim, Pisgat Zeev, Givat Zeev, East Talpiot and the re-established Neve Yaakov (founded in 1924). Even a cursory look at a map of greater Jerusalem will reveal that these communities play a crucial role in forming a buffer against PA efforts to achieve territorial contiguity between the Old City and the three nearby areas already under PA control--Ramallah to the north, Abu Dis to the east and Bethlehem to the south. If this contiguity were to be achieved, Arafat will have created a viable capital within shouting distance of the Temple Mount.

Let's examine the Jewish development projects currently underway which are helping to unify Jerusalem. First, on the northernmost ridge of the Mt of Olives, sits Beit Orot--a hesder yeshiva and development initiative. Located just below the Mt Scopus campus of Hebrew University, the yeshiva, founded by MK Rabbi Benny Elon and former MK Hanan Porat, educates and houses more than 100 students every year. Until recently, the yeshiva maintained a hall for weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs which brought more than 50,000 people to the Mt of Olives every year. A beautiful mini-promenade was created last summer to take advantage of the spectacular view over the Temple Mount. Beit Orot hopes to soon obtain permission to start building the first Jewish neighbourhood on the Mt of Olives in two thousand years.

Down the hill and to the west of Beit Orot lies the newly reclaimed neighbourhood of Shimon Hatzaddik (established in 1891). Less than half a mile from Meah Shearim(1874) north of the Old City, the area is named after the nearby tomb of Shimon Hatzaddik. Israeli flags now fly proudly over the complex of small houses and a synagogue which make up the neighbourhood.

Ownership of the site, and a six dunam area of the neighborhood, lies in the hands of the Vaad Sephardi Haredit -- a Sephardic communal body whose members populated the area until the Arab riots of the 1920s and 30s drove them out. Jewish organizations recently acquired the "protected tenancy rights" of the Arab tenants who had squatted there for many years.

Vaad members noted that the bar mitzvah of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef took place in 1933 at the synagogue there. Behind the synagogue is a flight of stairs leading to Derekh Har HaZeitim, the road where 77 doctors and nurses trying to reach Hadassah Hospital on Mt Scopus were murdered in 1948. A simple monument marks the spot.

Shabbat minyanim at the renovated synagogue now draw residents of nearby Ramat Eshkol and Maalot Dafna. While Kollel (advanced) students learn every afternoon in the synagogue.

Over the past six months, six units in the immediate area have been legally acquired and put to use housing married students from Beit Orot as well as an office for the educational foundation, Kedem Yerushalayim.

A larger area of Jewish renewal is Ir David (the City of David), the original biblical city of Jerusalem. Older than the Old City, it is the Ancient City. Currently known as Shiloah or Silwan, it lies right below Dung Gate in the southern wall of the old City, the traditional entrance to the Western Wall. Ir David is where King David created his capital and it is there that 3,000 years ago he united Israel and Judea politically, religiously, and economically.

One hundred years ago, the City of David was home to a Jewish community consisting primarily of Yemenite Jewish immigrants. But it was here that Jerusalem was founded. Not in the old city nor where the Western Wall stands today. So it's not surprising that young Jewish families want to live there today. In fact, more than twenty families now make their homes in Ir David. Extensive archaeological excavations have been taking place in recent years, and a new visitors center entices people to learn more about Jewish history.

Strategically, strengthening Jewish presence in Ir David is important, since the area lies on the only access route to the Western Wall from the south. Another important strategic asset directly facing Ir David from the opposite side of the Kidron valley is the Ma'ale Har Hazeitim neighborhood (Ras el Amud) along the Mt. of Olives ridge. It creates a buffer between Abu Dis and the Temple Mount. Arafat's capital building is in Abu Dis, just a short distance to the east.

To arrive at Maale Hazeitim you travel along the Jericho Road which cuts through the Mt of Olives cemetery, the oldest Jewish burial ground in the world. The site commands a magnificent and unusual view of the Temple Mount, and will make property there most desirable. Construction is underway on the first buildings in the neighbourhood which will eventually house more than 130 families. The site is a private initiative of Florida-based philanthropist Dr. Irving Moskowitz who purchased the property more than 10 years ago from its former Jewish owners who had purchased the site over 130 years ago.

Two of Jerusalem's leading philanthropists, Moshe Wittenberg and Nissan Bak, acting on behalf of the Chabad and Wollin Hassidim Kollels (community groups), purchased this 15-dunam plot (almost four acres) on the southern lower slope of Mt. of Olives (Har HaZeitim) facing Jerusalem's Old City walls. In 1928, Wittenberg and Bak formally transferred ownership of the land to the Kollels. The Kollels then leased the parcel to an Arab farmer. The Kollel paid the property taxes levied by the authorities and this point was crucial when decades later the Arab leaseholder illegally transferred title deed to his own name.

When the Trans-Jordanian Legion captured the eastern side of Jerusalem in 1948, all Jewish property was transferred to the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property Office. In 1951, the Arab leaseholder went to have the Jordanian Land Registration Office change the name on the title deed over to his own name, while concealing the fact that the land really belonged to Jewish owners. A meticulous Jordanian clerk then discovered the aforementioned tax records paid by the Jews, and the Jordanian Custodian Office attempted to block the leaseholder's being listed as the owner. They did not meet with full success, however, as the tax records alone were ruled insufficient to prove other ownership.

Subsequently, the Jordanian Custodian Office discovered the original title deed of the Land Registry proving Jewish ownership, and applied to the Jordanian Court to invalidate the false registration of the dishonest Arab leaseholder. This was shortly before the 1967 Six-Day War and the Jordanian Court had not yet issued its ruling when the war broke out. Following the war the two Kollel community groups then pursued the case in Israeli courts. The District Court ruled in their favor, but the Arab leaseholder appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also ruled in favor of the true Jewish owners fourteen years ago, in 1984.

The Jerusalem Municipal Planning Commission, with the agreement of then-Mayor Teddy Kollek, approved the plans. However, then-Interior Minister Chaim Ramon froze further discussion of the plans, but his successor, Ehud Barak, cancelled the freeze and deposited the Jerusalem Municipality's approved plans into the State of Israel's Jerusalem District Zoning Commission (which is comprised of representatives of various interested government ministries such as Defense, Interior, Housing, and other public figures) for approval. Final approval being given in 1996.

The site is continually referred to in the international press as being in "traditionally Arab east Jerusalem." Standing on the roof of the original structure on the site, it's difficult to understand what is traditionally Arab about this area. To the north lies the ancient Mt of Olives Jewish burial ground. Behind the site, to the east is the Israeli police headquarters for Judea and Samaria. Look west and you'll see the City of David and the Temple Mount surrounded by the walls of the Old City. The majority of residents living in the neighborhood today are Arab, but that hardly justifies the "traditionally Arab" appellation.

One more area of Jewish development in eastern Jerusalem that is of enormous strategic significance is Har Homa. Located within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries, Har Homa is in the southern part of Jerusalem near Kibbutz Ramat Rachel and Gilo, bordering on PA controlled Bethlehem. The 1,850 dunam site is on a previously desolate uncultivated and barren hill.

The building project at Har Homa is slated to take place in two stages and will ultimately include 6,500 housing units, as well as schools, parks, public buildings, commercial and industrial zones. After years of stalling under the threat of Arab violence, construction on the first stage of 2,456 housing unit finally began on election day, 1999 . In order to implement the Har Homa construction project, the government expropriated the land, compensating the various owners. What is not widely known, is that most of it was Jewish-owned. Approximately 1,400 of the 1,850 dunams at the site, or 75%, were expropriated from Jews, while nearly 450 dunams, or 25%, were owned by Arabs. The High Court of Justice rejected appeals by both Jewish and Arab landowners and approved the expropriations.

As the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated in the Knesset on May 15, 1995, "Building Jerusalem, like any other city, sometimes requires confiscating land both for construction needs and for public needs, like roads, schools, kindergartens, and community facilities...this decision (to commence construction) gives the green light for riots, clashes, starting a battle, a war," threatened PA Jerusalem Affairs official, Faisal Husseini, (Paris Radio Monte Carlo, 21 February 1997)

Indeed, the days are short before the battle for control of Jerusalem will be decided. Efforts to establish Jewish strategic assets remain the best hope of ensuring that "a united Jerusalem" will mean more than just a slogan. (arutzsheva.org Mar 8)


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