J.r. Almoslino
Ma'an News Agency
December 18, 2007 - 12:33pm

Israel announced a plan last week to build 307 new housing units in what most international media are calling "a Jewish neighborhood of East Jerusalem."

Har Homa's white apartment blocs are draped on a hillside overlooking the city of Bethlehem, where I work. Like other West Bank settlements, it was erected on high ground, with the intention of intimidating the Palestinian population below. Spatially speaking, Har Homa is no more in Jerusalem than Bethehem itself is.

The ongoing expansion of Har Homa has been evident to Palestinians in Bethlehem long before it aroused the "concern" of officials in Washington and Brussels. Every day the cranes swivel and the bulldozers move the earth, all in plain view on the adjacent hillside. New buildings seem to materialize before our eyes.

In the lived reality of Bethlehem's residents, Har Homa is an eyesore, a sign of the weakness of the international system and of the collapse of past peace talks. It disfigures the landscape and serves as a perpetual representation of defeat. Har Homa's Israeli residents are a mystery. Physically they are our neighbors, but due to the segregation of Israelis and Palestinians, they might as well live on Neptune.

Calling Har Homa a "Jewish neighborhood of East Jerusalem" gives the reader the sense that the settlement is somehow a natural, historic, and integral part of the city of Jerusalem. This is a fantasy.

Har Homa was first constructed amid international outcry in 1997. It is built within the artificially-expanded municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. After Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem in June 1967, it enlarged these boundaries. Just two weeks after the end of the war, the borders of East Jerusalem bulged to ten times its pre-occupation size, so that they now abut the towns of Bethlehem to the south and Ramallah to the north.

The United Nations recognizes East Jerusalem as occupied territory, and therefore rejects Israeli sovereignty over the area. In response to the expansion of Jerusalem's borders, the United Nations Security Council ruled the move "invalid" in resolution 252 of 1968.

In July 1980 the Israeli government reaffirmed its de facto annexation of this area through the enactment of the Basic Law on Jerusalem. In August 1980 the Security Council, in Resolution 478, declared that "all legislative and administrative measures taken by Israel, the occupying power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and, in particular, the recent 'Basic Law' on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith."

Official United States policy also does not recognize Israeli authority in East Jerusalem. In the 1991 Letter of Assurances to the Palestinians, part of the official record of the Madrid Peace Conference, the United States said, "We do not recognize Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem or the extension of its municipal boundaries."

Israel's strategy, then, has been to use the construction of settlements to shape political space. The aim has always been to establish "facts on the ground" that would supplant and defy international norms of what is just and legal. Violence, not spatial reality, is what made the area known to Palestinians as Jebel Abu Ghneim, now Har Homa, "part of East Jerusalem."

The violence of Israel's establishment and its subsequent conquests will have inevitably shaped any future Palestinian state. Replacing violence with justice is not possible under the present circumstances, but it is nonetheless important to insist on the illegality of settlements like Har Homa. Ultimately, in a possible two-state resolution to the conflict, it is the "mainstream" settler communities around Jerusalem that will become the most difficult. Israelis know that the militant outposts deep in the West Bank must be dismantled, but this understanding is not the case with the larger, more entrenched colonies along the western "seam zone."

The use of concrete buildings, as much as the use of terminology, to shape the hegemonic conception of where Israel's boundaries in fact lie, is crucial here. If the 1967 borders, even in their arbitrariness, are to be the terms of reference, let us be relentless in our insistence on them.


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