Jerusalem: Capital City on Hold

Thousands of housing units in Jerusalem delayed for years due to fear of international response. Meanwhile, Arabs freely build thousands of housing units without proof of land ownership, building permits or basic infrastructure.

Shalom Wasserteil ,

View of Jerusalem
View of Jerusalem
Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

My recent visit to the Atarot Airport complex was a fascinating but upsetting experience. The tour was led by Atarot resident Ruth Danon, who was a young girl when her brother fell in the IDF retreat from Atarot during the War of Independence.

The Atarot settlement was established on hundreds of dunams purchased by the Jewish National Fund. First built in 1919, it protected Jerusalem from the north. It was looted and destroyed by Arab rioters during the War of Independence.

Then, after its liberation during the Six Day War, a master plan was approved for the construction of close to 25,000 housing units.

This would have been an ideal solution for the young couples of Jerusalem, which has received the dubious title of "the city with the highest negative migration balance in Israel." Since then, the plan has been gathering dust as it awaits final approval.

Meanwhile, as we delay and deliberate over international condemnation to every Jewish home and street in Israel, things look quite different in the neighboring Arab village of Akev, which is within the municipal area of Jerusalem, and borders the Atarot airport.

There, Arab Israeli citizens have built no less than 70,000 housing units in densely crowded proximity, without recognized land ownership, building permits or basic infrastructure.

In East Jerusalem the problem is just as bad. There, in Mevaseret Adumim, (known as Area 1E), an area of 12 dunams connects Jerusalem from the slopes of Mount Scopus eastwards to Ma'ale Adumim. Planning has been neglected over the years, and although it is state-owned land, Bedouin tribes settled there.

Agreements for evacuation were signed with the Civil Administration, but the Bedouins learned very quickly that with the backing of radical leftist groups and international pressure, they can safely settle and build on government property, with no fear of eviction in the foreseeable future.

Even in southeast Jerusalem, in Kidmat Zion, whose land has been owned by Jews since 1925, no one dares to develop the land into the hundreds of homes it could comfortably hold.

Just a handful of devoted families maintain Jewish presence. Only in South Jerusalem, after more than two decades of nerve-grating bureaucratic hurdles, the construction of 2,000 housing units was finally allowed on Givat Hamatos.

On the other hand, when 17 houses were recently redeemed in the City of David, willingly sold by the owner at full price, an international uproar erupted.

The legal property rights of the owner and seller vanished into thin air. Whenever our national cowardice is displayed, our enemies raise their heads. As a resident of the Old City of Jerusalem, I remember very well that at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, while our reserve soldiers scrambled to respond to their emergency call, the neighboring Arabs, anticipating victory, made plans to divide our homes among themselves.

There is a verse commonly sung at Jewish weddings, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten. May my tongue cling to my palate if I do not remember thee, if I do not raise Jerusalem above my greatest joy."

When areas of Jerusalem are forgotten, the right hand of our nation is forgotten along with it, and the voice of our nation is silenced. When the Israeli right fails in its responsibilities, and we remain silent when protest is necessary, it is not just the problem of the left.

This is an issue that must unite Jerusalem, right and left together. Only then can we rid our land of terror and violent uprising. Jerusalem, the eternal city, will not forgive those who suffice with prayers to "speedily rebuild Jerusalem, the Holy City," but did not lift a finger towards its growth and expansion.

(The author is the chairman of the real estate company, Tzipha International)