The strategic significance of Har Homa

Har Homa, established in 1997, is another Jewish neighborhood on Jerusalem's southern flanks.

Har Homa 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Har Homa 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Seven years ago enemy snipers attacked southern Jerusalem. The stage is now being set for a repeat performance. Last month the Ministry of Housing issued a tender for the construction of some 300 apartment units in the Har Homa neighborhood of Jerusalem. Immediately, Palestinian spokesmen screamed bloody murder: Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat described the housing starts as "raised fists" against the peace process. "We loudly ask the US administration to act as the judge and compel Israel to implement its commitments which the Road Map plan specified," Erekat told the Voice of Palestine. "If Israel went on, this will destroy all the efforts that aim at launching a meaningful peace process leading to ending the Israeli occupation which started in the 1967," he continued. No one was surprised when Erekat's complaint was quickly echoed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, "The United Nations' position on the illegality of settlements is well known. The Americans must pressure the Israeli government to stop settlement activities." The real surprise came when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined the chorus and expressed her opposition. She told a news conference and Foreign Minister Livni, "We're in a time when the goal is to build maximum confidence between the parties and this doesn't help to build confidence. There should not be anything which might prejudge final-status negotiations." One British newspaper described her comments as, "delivering what for the Bush administration is rare criticism of Israel over its settlements policy." The de-legitimization of Jerusalem's new (post-1967) neighborhoods and the diplomatic attack on their expansion appears to have begun anew. The last time we saw such an assault was in 2000, and it was accompanied by deadly gunfire, as well. During the first two years of the second intifada, more than 400 shooting attacks were unleashed on the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and its 40,000 residents from the nearby Arab town of Beit Jala. Although the town was predominantly Christian, Beit Jala was infiltrated by Fatah's Tanzim gunmen who shot at Gilo, hoping for Israeli retaliation against the local residents. Gilo residents began to evacuate. Belatedly the Israeli government provided cement barriers and bullet-proof glass to protect the Jerusalem neighborhood's residents. IGNORING the fact that the neighborhood consisted of major apartment complexes, schools and shopping centers, much of the world press condoned the attacks on the "Israeli settlement," as if it were some temporary military camp. The British press was quick to claim that Gilo was "illegal under international law." Reuters' correspondent Christine Hauser tried to show that it was the Arab town of Beit Jala under Israeli attack by describing the piles of brass bullet shells collected by the Palestinian locals, not realizing that spent casings are found at the source of the shooting, not the target. The media distortion was so great that in 2001 CNN issued a memorandum to its staff stating that "We refer to Gilo as a 'Jewish neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem'... We don't refer to it as a settlement." Har Homa, established in 1997, is another Jewish neighborhood on Jerusalem's southern flanks. With an estimated 6,000 residents, the suburb is a strategic impediment to Palestinian attempts to link up northern Bethlehem with Jerusalem. Google Earth's maps of the area show Har Homa about a kilometer from the Palestinian Authority-controlled town of Bethlehem. Just north of Har Homa are several Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, and the Old City of Jerusalem lies just 5.5 kilometers beyond. No wonder Palestinians are launching an attack on the building of a measly 300 apartments. The city of Jerusalem is ringed by neighborhoods built after 1967. They house about one-third of Jerusalem's burgeoning population, and they also serve to protect the city. The neighborhood of Ramot serves as a buffer to the north; Mount Scopus, French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, and Sanhedria protect Jerusalem's east; and Gilo and Har Homa serve as a buffer to the south. Somewhere in the Palestinian Authority's security forces, or Fatah's al-Aksa Brigade, or Hamas, or Islamic Jihad, military commanders are planning their attack on Har Homa, probably from neighboring Bethlehem. Snipers, mortars and Kassam rockets will be the order of battle. And if a "fire-when-ready" order from the UN, Europeans or Americans was ever necessary, it was just delivered. The author served as Israel's deputy chief of mission in Washington. Today he is an international consultant. He blogs at