February 27, 1997
Building in Har Homa
Israel's plans to build new housing in the Har Homa area of municipal
Jerusalem have been widely misrepresented in the media and by Palestinian
spokespersons. The project has been cast as "right-wing", a land-grab,
a violation of the Oslo Accords, and the continuation of an alleged Israeli
policy of "Judaizing" Jerusalem by preventing Arab growth and building
in the city. The facts tell a different story.
Ownership of the land at Har Homa
- The government acquired an area of 1850 dunams (about 460 acres) by
eminent domain for the Har Homa project. Of this, 1400 dunams came from
owners and 450 dunams from Arab owners. Among the parcels expropriated, the
largest (almost 800 dunams, or about 43%) belonged to David Mir, who is
- Much of the 1400 dunams owned by Jews was acquired prior to 1948.
Following the 1948 War of Independence, in which Jordan occupied the West Bank
and half of Jerusalem, the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy
Property 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 National Fund.
- All of the land in question is vacant, most of it forested. No homeowners,
Jewish or Arab, will be displaced by the project.
- Although full compensation was offered, both Arab and Jewish owners
contested the eminent domain order in
court. The matter eventually reached the High Court, which denied the claims and
ruled in favor of the government.
Building at Har Homa consistent with Oslo Accords
Yasir Arafat, Palestinian spokespersons, and many media reports have falsely
portrayed Israeli plans to build at Har Homa as a violation of the Oslo Accords.
- Neither the Declaration of Principles nor the Interim Agreement place any
restrictions on Israel concerning Jerusalem. All issues concerning the city were
left to the Permanent Status negotiations, though it should be noted that the
agreements do specifically bar Palestinian Authority (PA) jurisdiction over
1. ... the jurisdiction of the Council will cover West Bank and Gaza Strip
territory as a single territorial unit, except for:
a. issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations:
Jerusalem, settlements, ... (Interim Agreement, Article XVII).
- Since Jerusalem, and the final borders between the PA and Israel, were left
to the Permanent Status negotiations, Israeli building in Jerusalem is no more a
violation of the Accords than the extensive Palestinian building which is taking
place throughout PA-controlled areas.
Palestinian threats of violence violate Oslo Accords
In clear violation of the Oslo Accords, which bar incitement and threats of
violence, Palestinian leaders have repeatedly attempted to inflame the situation
with provocative statements:
We are preparing for a confrontation. For us, Har Homa is the end of the
peace process. (Ghassan Andoni, Financial Times, 26 February 1997)
If Israel decides to go ahead with building at Har Homa, the Palestinian
response will be hard and violent. (Mohammed Jadallah, Agence France-Presse,
21 February 1997)
... this decision gives the green light for riots, clashes, starting a
battle, a war. (Faisal Husseini, Paris Radio Monte Carlo, 21 February
If Israel continues these unilateral actions (in) Jerusalem ... they are
undermining not just peace with the Palestinians but peace in the entire region.
(Hanan Ashrawi, Associated Press, 20 February 1997)
If Prime Minister Binyamin decides to build in Har Homa this will be a
declaration of war on the Palestinians. (Faisal Husseini, Yediot Ahranot,
18 February 1997)
Such Palestinian threats of violence are clearly violations of the Oslo
Accords, which require that the two sides:
... foster mutual understanding and tolerance, and shall accordingly abstain
from incitement, including hostile propaganda, against each other ...(Interim
Agreement, Article XXII)
... shall take all measures necessary in order to prevent acts of terrorism,
crime, and hostilities directed against each other, against individuals falling
under the other's authority ... (Interim Agreement, Article XV)
Most Israelis support Har Homa project
Many press reports have falsely portrayed the Har Homa project as "right
Under pressure from rightist members of his coalition to proceed with the
Har Homa plan ... Netanyahu ... (Los Angeles Times, 24 February 1997)
Right-wing coalition partners and several members of the main opposition
Labor party have been pressing Netanyahu to give the green light for the project
... (Reuters, 20 February 1997)
Netanyahu has been under growing pressure from members of his conservative
coalition to build in Har Homa ... (AP, 20 February 1997)
Contrary to such reports, there is actually broad support in Israel for the
project. In a Gallup poll 46% of respondents favored building at Har Homa, with
only 29% opposed (Ma'ariv, 21 February 1997). A Dahaf poll placed
overall support for building Har Homa at 69%, with 38% for building "immediately,"
and 31% for doing so "at the right moment," and only 24% opposed (Yediot
Ahranot, 21 February 1997).
There is also a consensus against giving in to threats of PA violence.
A poll completed on February 24th by Dr. Yaacov Katz of Bar Ilan
University reported that 63% of respondents (73% of Jews) were against
postponing construction at Har Homa in the face of violent threats from
PA-members. The poll also placed support for building "at Har Homa
and similar sites in Jerusalem" at 58%, including 67% of Jews. (As
reported by 25 February IMRA).
Labor Party's Teddy Kollek, former Mayor of Jerusalem, supports Har Homa
Reflecting the Israeli consensus on the Har Homa project, prominent Labor
Party member Teddy Kollek, who was Mayor of Jerusalem for 28 years, stated:
I am in favor of building now. One cannot give in every time an Arab leader
makes a threat (Ma'ariv, 27 February 1997).
Rabin and Netanyahu on building at Har Homa
The late Prime Minister Rabin supported plans to build at Har Homa in words
remarkably similar to those of Prime Minister Netanyahu:
... the land expropriations in Jerusalem were not designed to usurp anyone's
property, but rather to turn uncultivated areas into construction projects for
both Arabs and Jews. (Prime Minister Rabin, Ma'ariv, 12 May 1995)
I want to make clear that we will build in all of Jerusalem, and we will
build also in Har Homa... First of all because there is a big housing deficit in
Jerusalem, there will be construction for both Jews and Arabs. (Prime Minister
Netanyahu, AP, 25 February 1997)
In accord with these statements, municipal plans for Jerusalem
include 20,000 housing units for Jews and 8500 for Arabs, reflecting the
demographic balance in the city (Jerusalem is 71% Jewish).
In Jerusalem Arab growth rate surpasses that of the Jews
- Since 1967 Jerusalem's Jewish population has increased by only 105%, while
its Arab population has increased by 156%. In other words, despite Arab charges
that Israel is "Judaizing" the city, Jerusalem is less Jewish today
than it was in 1967. (This and the next 2 points are based on 1993 data from the
Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem.)
- Excluding the Old City (where little building takes place), the average
size of Jewish homes in Jerusalem is 67.2 square meters, while the average size
of Arab homes is 75.1 square meters.
- While the Arab population of Jerusalem has increased greatly, crowding has
actually decreased. Since 1967 the number of rooms-per-person in Arab households
has increased by 11%.
- The Arab residents of Jerusalem have also built at a faster rate than
their Jewish counterparts. In 1967, after reunification, there were 12,200
apartments in East Jerusalem; by 1995 the same area had 27,066 apartments, an
increase of 122%. During the same period the number of apartments in the Jewish
areas of Jerusalem increased from 57,500 to 122,780, an increase of only 114%.
(Israel Kimhi, formerly Jerusalem City Planner.)
- Much of the new Arab building in Jerusalem has taken place in the
neighborhoods of Ras al-Amud and Arab a-Suwachra in the south-east, and in
Shuafat and Beit Hanina in the north. Arab villages within the city, such as
Isawiya, A-Tur, Sur Bacher and Beit Safafa, have also grown significantly.
- Meron Benvenisti, the former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, now much quoted by
Israel's critics, in the past criticized propagandists who distorted Arab and
Jewish population growth in Jerusalem:
These complaints were taken up and accepted in wide circles all over the
world. However, demographic data did not justify such complaints. The massive
Israeli efforts only ensured that the growth of the Jewish population of the
city did not lag behind that of the Arab community. As in many other areas, the
complaints rested not so much on real facts as on the declarations of
politicians. The efforts made for the rapid construction and development of the
city brought about a relatively swift growth of the Jewish population, but they
also brought about a relatively faster growth of the Arab community. Like
Siamese twins, the two communities nourished each other and were obliged to
advance at the same pace. The true beneficiary of the efforts directed towards
development was not the Jewish community, nor the Arab one, it was the city as a
whole (Jerusalem, The Torn City, 1976).
Since Benvenisti wrote these words in 1976 Jewish building in Jerusalem has
continued to lag behind the Arab efforts, as noted above.
Alexander Safian, Ph.D.
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