Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Last week’s latest US State Department condemnation of Jerusalem’s decision to approve new housing for residents of its Gilo neighborhood should not be shrugged off as just another routine example of its ongoing obtuseness regarding Israel’s sovereign capital. Its timing so close to the American election and the uncertainty of President Barack Obama’s intentions during the interim before his successor’s inauguration raises the question whether this does not in fact herald the approach of yet another unnecessary confrontation between our countries.
Amid a growing international campaign by the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions Movement to delegitimize Israel, the State Department’s continuing refusal to acknowledge simple facts of history must be taken in the same context of denying Israel’s legitimacy.
Last Wednesday the Jerusalem Municipality approved the addition of 181 housing units for the capital’s southwestern neighborhood of Gilo, home to some 40,000 mostly Jewish residents. In July, the US, EU and UN criticized Israel for plans to build there as counterproductive to – non-existent – peace negotiations for a future Palestinian state with a capital in east Jerusalem.
The municipality’s approval was swiftly condemned by State Department spokesman John Kirby, who has previously said such a decision “raises serious questions about Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.” As he added Wednesday, “We strongly oppose settlement activity.”
Housing construction in a long-established Jerusalem neighborhood – Gilo was founded in 1973 – cannot by definition be located in a “settlement.” But the meaning of words doesn’t matter to the European Union as well, which said the decision to build in “the settlement of Gilo, built on occupied Palestinian land in east Jerusalem, undermines the viability of a two-state solution.”
Almost half a century since Israel reunited its bitterly divided capital city – divided, like Berlin once was, by war – the media ignorantly parrot the Palestinian narrative that claims east Jerusalem as its future capital, as if the section of the city that the invading Arab Legion captured and which Jordan occupied for 19 years had been an historic entity. Consistent with this warped view, the foreign media insistently refer to Jews living in the heart of their historic capital as “settlers.”
They capitalize the term “East Jerusalem” as if it were a historical fact, like the erstwhile East Berlin. In simple truth, it is an ideology-driven, but geographically impossible term, especially with regard to Gilo. The capital’s southernmost neighborhood is on the other side of town from the area misnomered as “East” Jerusalem. Purchased by Dov Joseph for the Jewish National Fund during the 1930s, Gilo was once indeed occupied territory: it was Jordanian-occupied Israeli territory from 1949 to 1967, after which its Israeli sovereignty was restored.”
One country stands out in its defense of truth from those who seek to delegitimize Israel: Australia. Its attorney- general told the Senate last week that Australia will no longer refer to east Jerusalem as “occupied” territory. “The description of east Jerusalem as “Occupied East Jerusalem” is a term freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful,” George Brandis said.
For three millennia, Jerusalem has been the capital of only three native Jewish states – Judah, Judea and Israel.
Jews have constituted the majority of Jerusalem’s residents since the pre-Zionist 19th century.
In contrast, Palestinian Arabs have not ruled Jerusalem for a single day. Arab dynasties have ruled it temporarily, between 638 and 1099, under the Ottoman Empire, and under the Jordanian occupation between 1949 and 1967.
Political influence over language is also reflected in the use of the term “West Bank.” In the best of rainy seasons, the Jordan River is only a few meters wide. The claim that its western bank extends for some 65 kilometers, encompassing Judea and Samaria, demonstrates how politicized terminology drives the ongoing conflict. In fact, the Jordanian government marketed the term in the 1950s in an attempt to legitimize its occupation of the region.
Before Israel’s War of Independence, the British Mandatory authorities referred to the region as Judea and Samaria.
The expansion of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods to accommodate the city’s growing population is a matter for the municipality. It is not the concern of third parties such as the US State Department, which would be doing all of us a favor by simply studying the facts.