Op-Ed: Gilo? You've Picked the Wrong Fight, Mr. Kerry!
Testifying before Congress on April 9, Secretary of State John Kerry revealed the real reason for the absence of peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.
It turns out that it's not the refusal of the Palestinian Authority leadership to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. It's not the Palestinian Authority's constant glorification of mass murderers as "heroes" and "martyrs." It's not the PA's glaring failure to keep any of its other obligations from the Oslo accords.
No, the reason there is no peace is because an Israeli government ministry published a routine, legally required notice permitting construction companies to bid for contracts to build some apartments, to be occupied only years from now, in a 40-year-old neighborhood of Jerusalem already home to 40,000 Israelis.
Sorry, Mr. Kerry, but you have really picked the wrong fight.
The "housing tenders," as they are known, pertain to the construction -- authorized years ago by the Israeli government and municipality of Jerusalem -- of 708 apartments in the Gilo neighborhood.
The New York Times, reporting on this non-controversy that the Obama administration is trying to inflate, said the apartments are for "Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem."
"Settlers" ?? Have any Times reporters actually met the residents of Gilo? They resemble “settlers” about as much as residents of Brooklyn’s Park Slope.
"East Jerusalem" ?? Have any Times editors bothered to look at a map? Gilo is a section of southwestern Jerusalem that has been under development since the early 1970s.
Gilo is not some remote frontier outpost populated by wooly-haired, gun slinging cowboys. Physically inseparable from the rest of Jerusalem, Gilo is a huge neighborhood of high-rise apartment buildings, modern shopping centers, and thirty-five synagogues.
It has a home for handicapped adults, a hostel for autistic young adults, and a community center that boasts -- environmentalists, take note! -- a hybrid water-heating system that minimizes pollution and energy usage.
The more than 40,000 Israelis who live in Gilo equal the number of Israelis living in Tiberias or Afula, more than in Kiryat Yam or Dimona.
Gilo was not created by some extreme right-wing Israeli government as part of a secret plot to promote "Greater Israel." It was established way back in 1973, by the Labor Party government of Prime Minister Golda Meir. Every Israeli government since then, regardless of its political orientation, has continued developing Gilo.
Like other Israeli cities, Gilo has ancient Jewish roots. It's mentioned in the Book of Joshua and the Book of Samuel. It's no coincidence that archaeologists digging in Gilo have discovered buildings, graves, and agricultural tools from both the First Temple period and the Second Temple period. During the 1930s, Zionist pioneers purchased the land where Gilo is situated. Their rights were not canceled just because Arab armies occupied the area during the 1950s and 1960s.
Gilo is certainly not in "East Jerusalem." Look at a map. It's in southern Jerusalem, and in fact is further west than the City Center, Mea Shearim, and even the Knesset.
"East Jerusalem" is a fictional term intended to suggest that the eastern part of the city is a separate area which belongs to the Arabs. In fact, it is only by sheer accident that the area on which Gilo was built temporarily ended up on the other side of the "Green Line," that is, the armistice line between Israel and Jordan after the 1948 war.
Control over that part of Jerusalem shifted back and forth repeatedly during the war. It happened to be in Arab hands the day the armistice was proclaimed. That historical accident does not make Gilo "Arab territory," legally, historically, or morally.
The blame-Israel crowd has on occasion succeeded in driving a wedge between Israel and some American Jews. When more contentious issues have arisen, not all American Jews have rallied to Israel's defense.
But not Jerusalem. Secretary Kerry will find Israelis and American Jews standing shoulder to shoulder in defense of undivided Jerusalem as Israel's capital and the right of Jews to continue building in all neighborhoods of their 3,000 year-old capital.
(Moshe Phillips is president of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia Chapter; Benyamin Korn, the former executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, is chairman of the RZA-Philadelphia