Finding Gilo on the map

'If Gilo was evacuated so Palestinians could have it for their capital, it would pose a terrible threat.'

Gilo panorama 311 (photo credit: Matthias Guggisberg)
Gilo panorama 311
(photo credit: Matthias Guggisberg)
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally gave in to pressure from US President Barack Obama and imposed a settlement freeze in the West Bank, he made it clear that the 10-month moratorium on new housing starts would not apply in Jerusalem. Much of the international community does not accept this distinction. The gulf between the two positions was apparent when - a week before the freeze was announced on November 24 - Israeli authorities unveiled plans for 900 new homes in Gilo, a Jewish neighborhood in southwest Jerusalem where some 40,000 Israelis reside.
Reaction was swift and furious. European Union officials called it an 'illegal' settlement expansion that prejudges the outcome of final-status negotiations, while the US State Department said it was 'dismayed' by the move. Obama himself claimed such a decision only 'embitters the Palestinians in a way that could end up being very dangerous.'
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon condemned Israeli building in what he referred to as a 'settlement' built on land 'conquered from the Palestinians in 1967,' adding that 'such actions undermine efforts for peace and cast doubt on the viability of the two-state solution.'
Russia, China and dozens of other countries, not to mention the Palestinians and Arab states, of course joined the chorus of criticism.
But Israeli officials defended the move, explaining that Gilo was built on a barren ridge in southern Jerusalem, and today is considered an integral part of the capital.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who was responsible for the decision, noted that 'Israeli law does not discriminate between Arabs and Jews, or between eastern and western parts of the city. The demand to cease construction just for Jews is illegal, as it would be in the US and any other enlightened place in the world.'
Given the strident, seemingly knee-jerk reaction of numerous world leaders, one has to wonder how many of them could even find Gilo on a map. Its background and location show why it enjoys such broad support among the Israeli public and will never be relinquished.
Gilo is on a high ridge just over the 'Green Line' on the southwest edge of the city, miles from 'east Jerusalem.' Prior to the 1948 War of Independence, most of the area had been bought by private Jewish owners, but it was captured in fierce fighting by Jordanian forces. The loss of this high ground would prove costly, as Jordan set up artillery units on the ridge, giving them a commanding view of Jewish 'West Jerusalem' during the bitter siege of the city.
According to Eliezer Wharton, a veteran journalist who fought in Jerusalem during the 1948 war, shelling from Gilo posed a constant threat to the 100,000 Jews encircled in the western half of the city. 'It only makes sense that Israel made it into a barrier neighborhood between Jewish and Arab areas after recapturing it in 1967,' he recently told The Christian Edition. 'If Gilo was ever evacuated so that Palestinians could have it as part of their capital, it would absolutely pose a terrible threat.'
Given its history, strategic location, size and overwhelming political backing within Israel, many mainstream media refer to Gilo as a 'neighborhood' of Jerusalem, rather than a 'settlement.'
The US also refrained from classifying Gilo and certain other locales in east Jerusalem as settlements.
That is, until the new Obama administration took office.