Guess Who is Building in Jerusalem?

PM gave green light for building in Ramat Shlomo and Har Homa. Peace Now will probably object, as it did in Gilo and Givat Hamatos, but actions speak louder than words.

Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn, RZA


The "gotcha" approach has become a staple in the impassioned world of Israeli politics and combatants in the latest debate over construction in Jerusalem have been pointing at the revelation that a Peace Now anti-"settlement" activist is privately invested in some of the very Jerusalem housing construction that he publicly condemns.

Yes, that's hypocritical. But there's a much more important lesson in the story.

Peace Now co-founder Tzali Reshef was on Israel Television's Channel 2 recently, debating the latest Jerusalem controversy with Dani Dayan, former chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria. Dayan defended the right of Jews to reside in all parts of Jerusalem. Reshef argued that building housing for Jews in parts of Jerusalem beyond the pre-1967 lines would harm the chances for peace.

The entire story of the rebirth of the State of Israel is a story of re-establishing the Jewish presence on the land, and then having the patience to wait until the world -- including Peace Now -- gets used to it.
The next day, Dayan revealed that Reshef's company, Ariedan Investments Ltd, has invested in construction in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Gilo and French Hill, both of which are beyond the 1967 line. The neighborhood which was the focus of the latest controversy, Givat Hamatos, is directly adjacent to Gilo. For Reshef to build in Gilo while condemning Givat Hamatos, less than a stone's throw away, is of course grossly hypocritical. 

The reason that Reshef's company can blandly assert, on its web site, that it has successfully invested in Gilo and French Hill is that those neighborhoods are so completely integrated into the rest of Jerusalem that average Israelis do not even realize that they are technically beyond the 1967 line, and simply take for granted that they are part of “Jewish Jerusalem.". 

Gilo and French Hill are not clusters of caravans on isolated, wind-swept hilltops anymore. They are fully developed urban areas with apartment buildings, schools, parks, and normal bus service that connect them to every other part of Israel's capital city. So are Har Homa and Ramat Shlomo.

But Palestinian advocates call them "settlements" and the Obama administration echoes that description, while Peace Now itself called the tender for 700 housing units in Gilo "undermining peace". However, anybody who has ever been to Gilo or French Hill knows that the term simply does not apply. The notion that they could be "dismantled" to make way for the capital of a Palestinian state is patently absurd.

Really, the entire story of the rebirth of the State of Israel is a story of re-establishing the Jewish presence on the land, and then having the patience to wait until the world -- including Peace Now -- finally gets used to it.

There's a reason that many of these modern Israeli towns and villages began as "tower and stockade" settlements. The British Mandate authorities in the 1930s and 1940s also frowned upon Jewish "settlement" initiatives. So the Zionist pioneers had to establish "facts on the ground" by setting up whatever they could create in a single night, when the authorities weren't looking.

A makeshift guard tower and a wooden stockade could be hastily set up by moonlight. When the British discovered the new site in the morning, they were faced with a new reality. The land itself had already been legally purchased by the Jewish National Fund; an old Turkish law stated that a building, even if illegal, could not be demolished if its roof was already completed; and the settlements were helpful to the British in dealing with Arab attackers. So once the tower-and-stockade were in place, the British left them alone.

More than fifty kibbutzim, moshavim, and other towns were created this way, including two of Israel's most highly-regarded religious kibbutzim, Tirat Zvi and Sde Eliyahu. Eventually, the world got used to their existence. No reasonable person today would dare suggest that Tirat Zvi or Sde Eliyahu are illegal "settlements" that should be dismantled.

Eventually, the world will get used to the fact that Givat Hamatos, too, is an irreversible part of Jerusalem. And before long even Tzali Reshef's company, Ariedan, may invest there.

[Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn are members of the board of the Religious Zionists of America]