Israel's announcement last month that it was to build a new Jewish suburb in south-eastern Jerusalem raised a storm of international protest. From Cairo to Washington as far afield as New Zealand the world raged.
Israel was accused once again of riding roughshod over Palestinian aspirations, violating international law, and threatening the Oslo process.
Har Homa is a 1,850 dunam site within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries.
The land is vacant. No homeowners, Jewish or Arab, will be displaced.
The land was expropriated by the Israeli government in 1992, in accordance with "eminent domain" laws which exist in various forms in most countries around the world.
Approximately 1,400 of the 1,850 dunams at the site (or 75 per cent) were expropriated from Jewish owners, while nearly 450 dunams (or 25 per cent) were owned by Arab owners.
Much of the Jewish-owned land was bought before 1948. Following the 1948 War of Independence, in which Jordan occupied Judea-Samaria and half of Jerusalem, the Jordanian authorities planted a pine forest at Har Homa to prevent misuse of the land by local Jordanian residents. Since 1967 that forest has been maintained by the Jewish
Israel's High Court of Justice, which enjoys a reputation of being vigorously independent of government, approved the expropriations and rejected appeals by both Jewish and Arab landowners. On December 22 1994, the court ruled: "There is no other option for constructing the neighbourhood other than expropriating the land, and
building the neighbourhood as planned by the state."
6,500 housing units, as well as schools, parks, public buildings, and commercial and industrial zones are planned. In the first stage, 2,456 housing units will be built.
Simultaneously, permits will be granted for the building of 3,500 new homes, worth US$42,5 million, for Arab residents in 10 existing neighbourhoods.
(courtesy of Israeli Government Press Office; Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America)
The Distortions and half-truths
"Israel has defied world opinion by deciding to build thousands of homes for Jews in an Arab suburb of Jerusalem." (Sky TV News, February 26)
The building is to take place "in a section of Jerusalem home to mostly Arabs". (a CNN newsreader on February 26, even as a camera panned over the barren site, home right now to neither Jew nor Arab.)
The houses to be built will comprise a "new settlement", for "Jewish settlers" (BBC TV, March 26, and repeated regularly since then.)
"The new neighbourhood is a concession to those who place their dependence on security enforced by physical barriers." (New Zealand Herald, March 10)
The decision is a "clear violation of the Oslo Agreement and unfortunately this government is doing everything to destroy the peace process and provoke the Palestinian people." (PA "Jerusalem Affairs Minister" Faisal Husseini, speaking to IMRA, March 4)
Yasser Arafat also claimed on March 4 that Israel's plans to build at Har Homa were part of a plot to cut off Jerusalem from nearby Bethlehem, and by doing so hijack the massive influx of Christian tourists expected to visit Jesus' birthplace in the year 2000.
NEITHER A MOUNTAIN NOR A WALL
"Har Homa", the hottest name in the news, is neither a mountain or a wall (In Hebrew, 'Homa' means a massive wall in a city or fortress). The name Har Homa was given to it by the commanders of Israel's No. 16 Jerusalem Brigade.
The disputed site is a round hill with a small stone fence which was part of the Arab Legion front against southern Jerusalem. The trenches of the Legion can still be seen on the site. From this ridge of hills ... the Arab Legion shelled the city during the War of Independence.
[Egyptian] President Mubarak, who harshly criticised Israel's aggressive stand on Jerusalem, seems to have forgotten that in the same war, Egypt sent an invading force. In May 1948, this force, including tanks, reached Kibbutz Ramat Rachel adjoining Talpiot, just one mile from Har Homa ..."
Israeli historian Eliyahu Tal
(The Jerusalem Post, March 12)