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October 14, 2014 1:59 pm

‘Settlements’ Are a Historic Part of Jerusalem

avatar by Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn

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The Jerusalem light rail on Chords Bridge. Photo: Matanya via Wikimedia Commons.

The “gotcha” approach has become a staple in the impassioned world of Israeli politics. This week, combatants in the latest debate over construction in Jerusalem are 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 this week, 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 1967 line would harm chances for peace.

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  that is the focus of the latest controversy, Givat Hamatos, is directly adjacent to Gilo. For Reshef to build in Gilo while condemning Givat Hamatos, which is less than a stone’s throw away, is of course grossly hypocritical.

The reason that Reshef’s company blandly asserts, on its website, 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 – that they are simply take for granted as part of “Jewish Jerusalem.”

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

Palestinian advocates call them “settlements” and the Obama Administration echoes that description, but 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 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 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.

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