The Israeli government does a bang up job of not explaining anything to anyone, including to Israelis, so to find out what's going on in Jerusalem, I often travel to the Palestinian propaganda pages.
I call them "Palestinian Propaganda Pages" (herinafter PPP) because they are clearly meant for foreign, not domestic, consumption, being written in English -- probably by ghost-writers from English-speaking NGOs.
So in an effort to find out where the park is going to go in Har Homa, I came across a PPP about Har Homa....
The page opens with the heart-rending story of a Palestinian family who lives "in the shadow" of Har Homa and have been living here since 1953, their lives now disrupted by the Jewish population who has moved into the neighborhood.
Stop. 1953? Yes, 1953. Why is that important? Because prior to 1948, land on the hill known as Har Homa (Wall Hill, for the ancient Byzantine wall on the top) was owned by both Arabs and Jews.
After 1948, the Jordanian Army seized the area and used it as a supply depot for Jordan Legion troops stationed across from Kibbutz Ramat Rachel (the adjoining hill) who would periodically mow down kibbutznikim and visiting archeologists whenever the mood took them.
Notably, the Jordanians recognized that this was Jewish land as they placed it into the hands of the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property and refused to allow any cultivation or grazing on the hill.
After 1967, when Jordan unwisely followed Egypt's lead into war with Israel, Jews again had access to their properties on Har Homa. Since this was prior to Arafat's order that anyone selling land to the Jews be shot, Arab landowners had no problem with selling more of this arid hilltop to Jews stupid enough to buy a place without any water. By the time building started in Har Homa, roughly 75% of the land on this arid hilltop was owned by Jews.
Both Jews and Arabs shared a beef with the Jerusalem Municipality which had nothing to do with national aspirations of either party -- the government took the land (all the land, not just Arab land) under the doctrine of eminent domain and payed the owners for it.
Why is this a beef? Because Jewish and Arab owners alike hoped they could make waaayyy more money if they sold their land privately to the various builders who wanted to construct housing here. The Municipality squelched that idea, wanting a uniform building plan instead of a hodge-podge of various buildings with no central planning.
So what has this to do with my Palestinian neighbor? (Yes, he lives down the street from me in a sprawling ranch-style house and farms a large swath of an adjacent hillside, and grazes his sheep in the wadi below where Jerusalem's Mar Elyas Monastery has its olive groves.)
It means that he moved into the area after it was confiscated and occupied by Jordan in a war of aggression. In other words -- he's a Settler!
None of this is mentioned by the PPP website, of course. My shepherding neighbor is portrayed as some kind of victim, despite the fact that he basically moved here and staked out his own claim. I'm not even sure he has legal title to his land, but I suspect he might since the neighborhood is building around him and leaving his hillside untouched. Either that or the Municipality just doesn't want to pick a fight.
My neighbor's political victimization is allegedly due to the fact that he and his family "were issued with West Bank identification cards. This means they cannot enter the city without a special permit from the Israeli military."
Reaaallly? And who is going to stop them? The main road runs right by their property, and so does the bus. At any time any family member can go into Jerusalem because there is no barrier between his front door and the city itself. How do I know this? Because I have offered one family member a ride (she graciously refused) when I saw her walking home alone; I have stood beside that same woman at the bank in Talpiot where we both conduct our banking.
And the Israeli military is noticeably absent from Har Homa, so I think we're being fed a line of something that male bovines excrete.
This same PPP goes on to moan about "A complex system of checkpoints and terminals impedes and regulates Palestinian traffic,preventing the free movement of Palestinian goods and people required for successful economic development. The new Bethlehem terminal built by Israel restricts Palestinian Bethlehemites’ access to East Jerusalem."
As if Israel built the terminal out of spite. Prior to the Intifada, there was no terminal--or separation barrier or anything at all to indicate one had traveled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, apart from a sign. A wave of Palestinian terrorism brought carnage to Jerusalem's streets, and that alone brought the wall, and the terminal.
And its hard to swallow the "restricts the access" argument when I see literally dozens of shuttles running out of Bethlehem every single morning taking Bethlehemites to various points all over Jerusalem. Do they have to pass through the terminal? Yep -- and I had to pass through a similar installation coming back to the US from Mexico, too, so what's the gripe here? Border control? Happens everywhere.
The same page whines "Har Homa is located on the arable lands between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem."
No, it's not. Arable is the key word. This hilltop is so UN-arable that water has to be piped in. The Byzantine settlement, which was the last civilization to live on this hill, dug cisterns under the hill to hold water since we are IN the Judean desert and there is no water.
Down in the wadi below us, the monastery still maintains olive groves, but olives need very little water (too much water will kill an olive tree) and the trees benefit from being on the downslope of the surrounding hillsides so the winter rains pool into the wadi.
The hill of Har Homa itself? It has rocks. Lots of rocks. Some wildflowers in the spring right after the rains. Some pine trees planted by the Jewish National Fund decades ago, who struggle bravely in the dry heat of summer, freezing cold of winter and the wind.
"Arable" is the last word I would use to describe this hillside.
Building here hardly interrupts life between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem--the fleet of minibuses that travel between the two locales daily is probably a huge improvement over the donkey track that runs from Bethlehem down the hillside across the wadi to Umm Tuba. I know -- I've walked that "road." It's still there, unused except by trekkers, the curious, dog-walkers, kids and Palestinians sneaking into Jerusalem to find employment.
Yossi has a Palestinian acquaintance who does things like lay tile, remodel bathrooms, build pergolas--small construction projects. He comes into Jerusalem without papers almost daily. This gentleman lives in Beit Sahur. "How does he get here every morning?" I asked once. "There are ways," Yossi told me. "The border is open if you know where to go."
I never did find out exactly where the park is going, but I did find out that rampant Arab building in Jerusalem (Umm Tuba, Sharafat, Tantur just to name a few) is okay; Palestinian settlers from Jordan in Jerusalem are okay; sprawling expansion of Palestinian townships like Beit Sahour is okay. Omitting mention of the wide open and sparsely populated spaces east of Har Homa that provide an easy link between Bethlehem and Beit Sahour with Ramallah is a lie of ommission, but acceptable because such mendacity serves the cause of Palestinian propaganda. Describing Gilo and Har Homa as settlements serves the Palestinian cause of delegitimizing Jewish neighborhoods while failing to mention that these locales previously served as Arab military outposts rather than Palestinian farmland.
Wait until I tell you what the Palestinians are saying about Sharafat. Next time.