Jerusalem's Har Homa Waiting for Expansion

PA and US protest new neighborhood, but Housing Minister denies ordering a halt to construction. New budget includes funding for 500 units.

Hillel Fendel,

Har Homa
Har Homa

Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim halted construction on 120 new housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. According to the Makor Rishon daily newspaper, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave the order in reaction to international protests against approval of 307 new housing units in the same neighborhood.

Boim's office staffers, however, told the newspaper that there "are no delays in anything relating to Har Homa construction."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas, and even UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon sharply castigated Israel, at the recent fund-raising extravaganza for the PA in Paris, for deigning to build Jewish housing in territory liberated in the 1967 Six Day War. 

Olmert was Hysterical
Makor Rishon's Haggai Huberman and Nava Stoler reported on Sunday that when Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni heard of the Har Homa controversy, they reacted with "hysteria."  Former Jerusalem Mayor Olmert and Livni actually considered calling off the entire construction project, but then calmed down and ordered only a temporary and partial halt.

Interestingly, an allocation of tens of millions of shekels for Har Homa construction is included in the national budget proposal currently being considered in the Knesset.  The 2008 budget includes 50 million shekels for 500 new apartments in Har Homa - including, according to Housing Ministry spokesman Kobi Bleich, the 307 units disputed by the PA and the US. 

Residents Invite Olmert, Barak, and Netanyahu
The residents of Har Homa - the official name is Homat Shmuel, named by-then Mayor Ehud Olmert for former Deputy Mayor Shmuel Meir, who took the lead in developing the area - have invited Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Opposition Leader Binyamin Netanyahu for a visit.  The invitations to the heads of Israel's three largest political parties were proffered so that they could "see from up close how our neighborhood has developed since it was first populated in 2002."  The invitations state, "Your visits are important and will help give over a clear and unambiguous message to the entire world, that you have no intention of responding to the calls to stop construction here."

The invitation also notes that ever since the Rabin Government, "all the governments of Israel have backed the construction of Har Homa, which is within the municipal borders of the City of Jerusalem. We ask you to unite and cooperate against the intentions to slow down the strengthening of Jerusalem - the Jewish Nation's eternal capital."   

Last week, Cabinet Minister Avigdor Lieberman and members of his Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party visited Homat Shmuel.  "We will not allow the government to stop building here," Lieberman said. "As far as we are concerned, that would be a reason to quit and bring down the government. Har Homa is totally in the national consensus." 

Growing and Thriving
Some 2,500 families currently live in Har Homa, and there are plans for another 4,000.  Har Homa is Jerusalem's south-eastern corner - south of Ramat Rachel and north of Bethlehem, and east of Gilo.  It is encircled by some Arab villages, such as Tzur Baher, Biet Sahour and Um Tuba.  It is considered the newest bastion of religious-Zionism, with three religious youth groups, two synagogues, many informal daily prayer services, two religious schools, Talmudei Torah, nurseries, and an abundance of Torah classes.  Two yeshivot, Har HaMor and Mekor Chaim, plan to relocate to Har Homa.