The residents of Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighborhood who organized opposition to the construction of a large commercial and business center at the entrance to their neighborhood never dreamed that their battle would be so short and successful. Less than a week after they began their campaign, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon folded in the face of the not-so-heavy pressure they exerted.
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud), whose ministry invested 2.5 million shekels ($730,000) in planning the project, decided not to intervene; instead, he let the plan die, despite the severe shortage of job opportunities in East Jerusalem and the fact that the plan was supposed to serve the Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa as well as well as the Palestinian neighborhood of Umm Tuba (published by Haaretz's Nir Hasson on February 12).
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It’s not hard to guess what made the Har Homa residents’ campaign so successful. It was led by right-wing politicians with help from the rabbis of Har Hamor, the ultra-Orthodox religious Zionist yeshiva that gave birth to the far-right Noam party. All the usual “not in my backyard” arguments that were raised initially, regarding issues like transportation and ruining the view, were quickly replaced by racist ones. Some of these arguments were concealed in a cloak of security concerns, but for the most part, this was patent racism – such as the people who voiced “fear for our Jewish daughters” or said “let them solve their problems in their own villages.”
Needless to say, the fact that the land allocated to the plan is “in their own villages” – or in other words, it belongs to Umm Tuba – didn’t change anything. Nor did the fact that about a third of Har Homa was built on land expropriated from Umm Tuba.
Capitulating to racism and fear of the other is wrong no matter where they crop up. The relevant authorities and politicians should have taken the opposite stand, explained the importance of the plan and the illegitimacy of the arguments against it and countered the objections. But Leon and Elkin were revealed as cowards who don’t dare stand up to a vocal but not particularly large group of residents. The mayor outdid himself by declaring that he “won’t support a plan that’s not approved by residents of the area,” even though he has supported the municipality’s position against that of the residents on many other construction, development and infrastructure plans.
Fortunately, the story of the Umm Tuba plan is the exception that proves the rule. In Israel in general and in Jerusalem in particular, there are more and more shared spaces in which Palestinians and Israelis shop, eat, work and enjoy themselves together. This is a welcome and important trend that must not be undermined due to political pressure or the upcoming election. Leon and Elkin must come to their senses and announce that they’re going ahead with the plan despite the opposition, for the benefit of residents of both neighborhoods.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.