TEL AVIV – Amid reports that Israel has revived plans to construct a new neighborhood in the eastern sections of Jerusalem, it is instructive to review the largely untold story of Palestinians building entirely illegally on Jewish-owned property in the same areas.
The illegal Palestinian construction has worked to generate facts on the ground, creating de facto Palestinian neighborhoods inside peripheral Jerusalem that are virtual no-go zones for Israeli civilians. The illegal housing has impacted previous Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Numerous Israeli-Palestinian peace proposals designated these very areas future Palestinian territory due to the large concentrations of Palestinians living in them.
Last week, Haaretz reported on the Israel Housing Ministry’s decision to bring back plans to build a Jewish neighborhood in the currently defunct Atarot Airport, located near Qalandia just north of Jerusalem.
Atarot Airport, the planned site of the new neighborhood, was abandoned at the beginning of the second intifada some 15 years ago for fear that the Palestinians would shoot at planes taking off there. The airport is located next to the separation barrier, not far from the Qalandia checkpoint.
The plan also spans areas west of the airport, outside the municipal area of Jerusalem in the West Bank, in lands that are nevertheless under Jewish ownership.
The Times of Israel reported the new Jerusalem homes would span several neighborhoods:
Of the 15,000 units planned over the Green Line, the lion’s share would be in two new residential neighborhoods: Atarot in the north of the city and Givat Hamatos in the south.
Another 2,000 homes would be built in Givat Hamatos, a mostly empty hill that critics say could cut East Jerusalem off from neighboring Bethlehem.
A further 3,000 would be built in Ramat Shlomo, an existing ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in the city’s north.
Some in the news media are painting the homes as controversial because they are slated for the eastern sections of Jerusalem. Judaism’s holiest sites – the Temple Mount and Western Wall – are located in eastern Jerusalem, which is steeped in Jewish history.
The Jews maintained a historic presence in Jerusalem, including in the eastern sections, until they were forced to leave the Old City en masse in 1948. Jordan illegally occupied and annexed the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem from 1948 until Israel captured the lands in a defensive war in 1967.
The 1967 Six Day War was launched after Arab countries used the territories to stage attacks against the Jewish state. In 1988, Jordan officially renounced its claims to the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem and unilaterally recognized terrorist Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization as “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”
Lost in the news media coverage of eastern Jerusalem is that major swaths of land there are legally owned by Jews, including at the Atarot Airport and in Qalandia where the plans for the new Jewish homes are centered.
In 2007, this reporter extensively investigated those areas and found Jewish-owned land was utilized to illegally construct Palestinian apartment buildings, a refugee camp and a United Nations school.
I reported at the time:
The properties in question include about 270 acres in the northern Jerusalem neighborhoods of Qalandia and Kfar Akev, located near an old Israeli airport, and about 50 acres in a north Jerusalem suburb known as Shoafat, which is adjacent to the Jewish neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev.
The lands were legally purchased on behalf of JNF using Jewish donations in the early 1900s, immediately after the organization was founded in 1901 with the specific charge of repurchasing and developing the land of Israel for Jewish settlement.
A tour of Qalandiya and Kfar Akev found dozens of Arab apartment complexes, a Palestinian refugee camp and a United Nations school for Palestinians constructed on the land.
I also further reported in 2009 these de facto Palestinian enclaves in peripheral Jerusalem neighborhoods have become virtual no-go zones for Jewish Israelis due to security concerns. The Jerusalem police confirmed at the time that security arrangements discourage Israeli Jews from entering the neighborhoods. Those security arrangements are still in effect today.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.