Eye on the Middle East Jun/Jul 1997

The debate that has raged over the Israeli building project at Har Homa, an area in southeast Jerusalem, has raised a fundamental question—one that reflects the central issue in Israel’s sputtering peace process with the Palestinians. Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have claimed that the construction of residential units on the previously vacant property amounts to a seizure of “our land.” Western media sources have dutifully referred to the area as “Arab East Jerusalem,” and once again the public is confused about what is actually going on.

Initially, Arab response to the proposed building was mild. The units were to be built on barren land in the midst of existing Jewish neighborhoods. An Arab shopkeeper in Bethlehem commented that he saw no problem with Israelis building housing units on the property. After all, most of the land has been owned by Jews for decades—some since before the establishment of the modern State of Israel itself. “The land was sold to Jews [by Arabs],” the shopkeeper said. “Why should I have to get myself killed because someone made money on it years ago?”

Yasser Arafat, however, saw the project as an opportunity to appropriate land for Palestinian purposes and, in the process, freeze any construction by Israel on land he chooses to lay claim to. But how much of the land do militant forces in the Palestinian community claim as “our land”? The fact is, they claim all of it—Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, etc. You name it, they claim it. Thus, almost anywhere Israelis try to lay a building stone will be an affront to those whose ultimate aim is to wipe Israel off the face of the map.

Israel’s current Prime Minister is well aware of this. He has decided to place the national interest above threats of reprisals and the ire of media forces who feel they have nothing to lose by baiting Israel and urging on their enemies. It is Jews, seldom reporters, who die when the bombs go off in the restaurants and city streets of Israel.

Perhaps it is time to remember that the fundamental issue in the peace process is the survival of the State of Israel and the rights of Jewish people to have a secure home in the land of their fathers. Har Homa illustrates how severely these rights will be tested.

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