ISSUE: The international communnity is mobilizing to stop Israel from going ahead with its long-delayed plan to build Har Homa. On Feb. 26, the Israeli government announced its approval of the construction of a large, new Jewish neighborhood named Har Homa on Jabel Abu Ghoneim in East Jerusalem. Pressed by his coalition's right wing, Prime Minister Netanyahu made the decision despite many warnings. The head of Israeli General Security Services said that "construction in Jerusalem can arouse fierce and unpredictable protest that Arafat cannot control." Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini has stated that any development on Abu Ghoneim would effectively kill the Oslo process.
ACTION: Write to Secretary of State Albright and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson. You may also want to send your letter for publication in your local newspaper. Make the following points:
þ The US government should insist that Israel not begin construction of a new Jewish neighborhood, Har Homa, in East Jerusalem. As the primary sponsor of the peace process, the United States has a responsibility to dissaude Israel from this action which would provoke violence and jeopardize prospects of Palestinian-Israeli peace.
þ Israeli construction of a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem preempts the Oslo agreement's final status negotiations by creating facts-on-the-ground. The construction of Har Homa, and all Israeli settlements, violates international law such as the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit the movement of populations into conquered territory.
þ Stopping the building of "Har Homa" is of particular importance to the Palestinian Christian city of Bethlehem and the international Christian community. Har Homa would cut off Jerusalem's Arab-populated areas from Bethlehem.
þ The United States must not veto a Security Council resolution on Har Homa/Jabel Abu Ghoneim. The U.S. should stand stand with the international community in opposing Israel's decision to build Har Homa in East Jerusalem.
WRITE, PHONE OR FAX: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright US Department of State 2201 C St. NW, Washington DC 20520 Fax: 202 647-7120 Tel: 202 647-6575
Ambassador Bill Richardson U.S. Mission to the United Nations 799 U.N. Plaza New York, NY 10017 fax 212/415-4443
BACKGROUND: The issues of Israeli settlement building and Jerusalem's status are joined on a forested hill near Bethlehem that was occupied by Israel in 1967 and annexed to "Greater Jerusalem" in 1980. Abu Ghoneim, the proposed site for Har Homa, is home to a variety of wildlife. Close to Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, the Abu Ghoneim area is believed by some to be the biblical "Shepherds' Field." It abounds with Christian holy sites, including St. Timothy's Well and 5th and 6th century Byzantine monasteries and churches such as Bir Qadismu, which marks the place where Mary dismounted before giving birth to Jesus. Palestinian Christians and the Middle East Council of Churches have led the international Christian community in focusing opposition to Israeli settlements on this specific case.
The political significance of preventing the building of Har Homa is profound, for both Jerusalem and settlements are final status issues yet to be negotiated. For Israel to build a new exclusively-Jewish neighborhood on land that historically was Palestinian and whose sovereignty is subject to negotiation, is a slap in the face of the peace process. It is a deliberate attempt to strengthen Israel's hold on occupied parts of Jerusalem by altering its physical and demographic status. Har Homa would sever the natural link between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem. There is concern in Bethlehem that Christian tourists, the principal source of income in Bethlehem, would be rereouted to Har Homa, the so-called Bethlehem of Israel.
Writing in the Washington Post of March 2, Jerusalem correspondent Barton Gellman dismissed Netanyahu's remarks about also building new housing for Arabs. His report notes that of the 38,500 apartments built on expropriated land in East Jeruslam since 1968, none has been built for Arabs. The number of building permits approved for Arabs has averaged only three per year, all in Arab neighborhoods and limited to two stories. A former official of the Jerusalem municipality calls the promise of Arab housing "a joke."
President Clinton's warm reception of President Arafat on March 3 was reportedly designed to reinforce State Department criticsm of Israel's decision and to enhance the status of the Palestinian leader. However, neither Clinton nor any other official gave any indication that the administration would take specific steps to head off the controversial housing development.
For two years international pressure has kept this plan from going forward. Pressure must be applied again, and quickly. The United States is expected to seek to moderate criticism of Israel in debate by the United Nations Security Council.
Corinne Whitlatch Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) 03/05/97