They Thought They're Living in a Jerusalem Suburb. But Actually, They're Settlers

Turns out, a street in an upscale Jerusalem suburb is actually outside the State of Israel

Mevasseret Zion, a Jerusalem suburb.
Emil Salman

Since the mid-1990s, Mevasseret Zion, an upscale suburb of Jerusalem, with a population of some 25,000, has undergone significant expansion northward, in the form of the Rekhes Halilim neighborhood. It now turns out that in some parts of that neighborhood’s northern section, the homes are situated outside the town’s own municipal boundaries – and also outside the State of Israel. The major deviation is on Bareket Street, where more than 20 structures were built across the 1949 Green Line, in the West Bank. In four or five other cases, the Green Line, [which served as Israel’s border until the 1967 Six-Day] runs right through the houses themselves.

A little to the west, a facility of Hagihon, the Jerusalem region water company, was also built across the Green Line. Not far from there, about two years ago, local residents placed two mobile homes which became a "pirate" synagogue that has functioned without interference ever since. On top of all this, the Israel Land Authority is promoting a new plan to build 300 residential units in the area. A source familiar with the subject said that some of the dwellings will be built over the Green Line. The local council and Mevasseret residents object to the plan.

The anomaly was discovered by Dror Etkes from Kerem Navot (Naboth’s Vineyard), a non-profit watchdog organization that monitors Israeli land policy in the West Bank. “I’d always known that the water tower is across the line, and suddenly the penny dropped: The street is, too,” says Etkes, referring to Bareket Street. But you don’t need to be an expert at deciphering aerial maps to see this. Google maps always show the 1949 armistice line, and the deviation is easily discernible on the world’s most widespread mapping app.

The Rekhes Halilim neighborhood was built under the auspices of the Israel Land Authority, which is not authorized to operate in the West Bank. The land in question is part of what once belonged to the Palestinian village of Qalunya, which was located not far from the present-day community of Motza, and the West Bank village of Beit Suriq. The planners would surely have noticed the existence of the Green Line: The state itself expropriated extensive areas in this region of the West Bank, and the southern expropriation boundary is congruent with the Green Line. The deviation is also apparent in the records of the military government’s Civil Administration.

However, the aberrations were dealt with by the state’s geographic information system, which moved the Green Line slightly northward. A separation barrier was built between Mevasseret Zion and the Palestinian villages of Beit Suriq and Beit Iksa, but as in many other cases in the West Bank, it was erected not along the Green Line but closer to the Palestinian villages. The result was to create a kind of no-man’s-land between the boundary of Mevasseret and the fence.

Mevaseret Zion

“It’s obvious that the planners of this neighborhood knew very well where the Green Line runs,” Etkes notes. “But they chose to 'straighten' the line there in order to make room for a few dozen more homes. It’s only natural that the state, which for decades has been investing massive resources in seizing control of the space of a neighboring people, should also expand communities situated within the Green Line into the West Bank. The amazing thing is that any sort of effort is being made still to maintain the distinction between communities within the Green Line and the settlements, since the declared policy of most of Israel’s governments in the past five decades was and remains the very opposite.”

Etkes discovered a similar phenomenon in the new neighborhood being built in Tzur Hadassah, in the Judean Hills southwest of Jerusalem. During earthworks there, the contractor crossed the line onto land belonging to the adjacent Palestinian village of Wadi Fukin. The reverse phenomenon exists in the southern section of the West Bank, where most of the land of the settlement of Shani, which is administered by the regional council of Southern Mount Hebron, is actually inside Israel.

Reached for comment, a spokesman for the Mevasseret Zion local council issued this statement: “The homes were built according to plans that were approved more than 20 years ago, and the council today has no information about the authorizations and the permits that were issued in those years. The information and the powers in this regard lie with the Harel territorial planning and building committee and with the district planning and building committee. The plan currently being promoted is vigorously opposed by the council and the local residents, and they are working together to block the project. The council and residents object to the plan going ahead with regard to both the areas across the Green Line and those in the permitted areas.”