Paris in Jerusalem

Attracted by the neighborhood’s affordable price, French immigrants are flocking to Har Homa.

Har Homa in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
Har Homa in Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
 Har Homa is one of the most sought-after areas in Jerusalem, a far cry from some 17 years ago when it was one of the most controversial neighborhoods in Jerusalem, spurned by many.
One of the reasons that it is in such demand is the anti-Jewish atmosphere in France, which has made life in France difficult and uncomfortable for Jews. The result is a large immigration to Israel, and many of these olim have set their sights on Har Homa. French is heard everywhere in the neighborhood, and some people are already calling it “Little Paris” or “Paris in Jerusalem.”
These French olim are not people of unlimited means, and they are attracted by what for Jerusalem are inexpensive real estate prices and the fact that there is a sizable French-speaking community.
Har Homa is the newest neighborhood in Jerusalem. It is located in the southeastern corner of the city, near the Arab town of Beit Sahour.
Har Homa had a very controversial history. In 1997 it starred in a special UN security council meeting which condemned construction of the neighborhood.
It was built in east Jerusalem on land that was annexed after the Six Day War.
Har Homa was once called Jabal Abu Ghneim (“the mountain of the father of Ghneim”). During the War of Independence in 1948, the area was used as a base by the forces sent by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to help the Palestinian Arabs in their fight against Israel.
After the cessation of hostilities, the Egyptians turned it over to the Jordanian Arab Legion. After the war, the Jordanian authorities planted a small pine forest, which exists to this day. Incidentally, the name “mountain wall” was given by the Israeli forces stationed opposite to it at Kibbutz Ramat Rahel because of a wall built by the Arab Legion that is clearly seen from the kibbutz. Har Homa is officially called Homat Shmuel.
Initial planning of the neighborhood started in 1984 by the Construction and Housing Ministry, together with the municipality.
But they faced opposition from the green groups who objected to the plan because of environmental issues. The initial plans included rooting out the pine mini-forest. The conservation groups wanted to keep the forest, which spread over much of Jabal Abu Ghneim, as a green lung for the benefit of the residents of the surrounding area.
They got their way.
The second wave of opposition came from Palestinian groups, who were less successful. They were opposed to the government’s decision to expropriate the land necessary to build Har Homa, as all the land expropriated belonged to Palestinians.
The issue was dragged through the Israeli courts; consequently, construction work started only in 1997 after the courts approved the expropriation of land.
In 1997, the US vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions that called on Israel to stop construction work. The US was the only country of the 15 members on the council to vote against the resolution.
Nevertheless, despite its vote in the UN, the US has said time and again that it disapproves of Israel’s building activities in Har Homa.
Most of the residents of Har Homa today are young families who moved there in search of affordable housing. The controversy over the area at first deterred potential buyers. Another major deterrent was the distance from the city center. Consequently, prices were low. In those first years, a three-room modern terraced apartment with parking and elevators sold for NIS 700,000 at the current value of the shekel.
The low prices attracted buyers, and with time the demand was like that of similar peripheral neighborhoods. Nevertheless, prices in Har Homa are still lower than in some peripheral neighborhoods such as Gilo, Neveh Ya’acov, Pisgat Ze’ev and East Talpiot. This price differential is also encouraging demand for real estate in Har Homa.
Although it is relatively far from the center of town, Har Homa is a handsome, well-planned neighborhood. Because of the lengthy period it took from the planning stage to the actual building stage, a lot of time and thought were invested in planning an attractive residential quarter with modern, well-constructed apartment buildings with stone-clad facades. It is an uncrowded residential area of wide streets and recreational areas. Demand is being fueled by the attractive prices. Many new immigrants – not only from France – are moving in, giving the neighborhood a slightly cosmopolitan ambience.
The average price for a three-room apartment is NIS 1.15 million.
An average four-room apartment can cost NIS 1.5m, and NIS 1.85m can buy one an average five-room apartment. A four-room garden apartment can cost NIS 1.75m, while an average five-room penthouse can cost NIS 2.25m. •