Geopolitics

An East Jerusalem Neighborhood Is Both Political Powder Keg And Affordable Housing

While a housing crisis grips the rest of Israel, the 22,000 inhabitants of this East Jerusalem settlement enjoy affordable rents. The political price for the controversial project is not so easy to calculate.

View of the district of Har Homa (gnuckx)
View of the district of Har Homa (gnuckx)
Adrien Jaulmes

JERUSALEM - Seen from the outside, Har Homa looks like a white stony fortress on the top of a rocky hill. The buildings of this shiny new neighborhood in southeast Jerusalem wind in concentric turns. There is in fact just one entry, just like in a fortified castle.

Inside, one enters a small paradise of circular streets, kindergartens, cobblestones and well-placed giant planters. The scenery is strikingly gorgeous: overlooking the beige hills of the Judea desert, Bethlehem, and in the distance, the giant mole hill of the Herodium, the palace and necropolis of King Herod the Great. The center of Jerusalem is just 10 minutes away by bus or car.

All the inhabitants of Har Homa proudly declare that they are in Jerusalem.

In the big monopoly game led by the Israelis in Jerusalem, Har Homa is a symbolic property. It was built in the 1990's within the Greater Jerusalem's borders, whose extended limits were never recognized by the international community. Har Homa is also the symbol of the determination and tenacity of past Jerusalem city councils to construct a project on this piece of real estate as part of a longer-term goal of encircling East Jerusalem with Jewish districts. The envisioned network of neighborhoods would cut off Palestinian districts from the rest of the West Bank, and make it almost impossible to divide the city.

The example of Har Homa shows that the international community, especially the United States, is unable to oppose this aggressive, politically-driven urban planning. Like in all the controversial East Jerusalem settlements, the case of Har Homa is a political and real estate imbroglio. The project was launched on a hill nestled between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, in woodlands of the occupied West Bank. The Israelis argue that these areas belonged to Jewish landlords that were expropriated during the West Bank occupation in 1948.

The fact remains that Har Homa has been built on the east side of the green line, the boundary drawn in the 1949 cease fire, and as such is considered a settlement by the international community. The fact that the Israeli left wing and the Palestinians mobilized against this project in the 1990's did not stop this building project from going ahead.

Build and build again

Today, Har Homa is a district of 22,000 inhabitants, and more new buildings are about to be finished.

Hertzl Ezechiel, who heads the local Har Homa governing council, was part of a wave of Israeli families who moved to the district in February 2002. He is also a staunchly religious Zionist: "I moved to Har Homa for ideological reasons, and to reinforce Jerusalem," he said. "This means bringing in more and more Jews -- and to build, build and build again."

In the 1990's, there was a mobilization against Har Homa led by Fayçal Husseini, then the top Jerusalem official of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). "Where did it lead? We carried on with the planning project, and today there are 22,000 residents," Ezechiel declares. "Israel must build in Jerusalem. In 2008, Condoleezza Rice opposed any new construction. We demonstrated against it to tell her that we are free to build wherever we want in Jerusalem, and that we are not afraid of anyone."

Ezechiel does also admit that he lives in the district because he can afford a bigger apartment there than elsewhere in Jerusalem. At different levels, residents here share these motivations for being in Har Homa. They are religious without being very orthodox; they are nationalists without being staunch activists like the settlers in Gush Etzion, the neighboring settlements. They are middle-class Israelis who don't see themselves as settlers.

According to Israeli authorities, Har Homa is truly connected to Jerusalem, and is therefore not affected by the settlement freeze.

The housing crisis Israel has faced over the past few years has recently reached a climax with demonstrations in several cities. "Here you have an excellent quality of life and an apartment is twice as cheap as in Jerusalem (proper)," says Ram-El Lavi, a real estate agent who arranges viewings in Har Homa. "It is a unique opportunity for young couples who otherwise could not afford to buy a flat in town."

However, the current buildings are almost full. "There are new projects," says Ram-El Lavi. "But they are on hold in order not to make the Americans angry."

Read the original article in French (subscription)

Photo - gnuckx

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Geopolitics

In Sudan, A Surprise About-Face Marks Death Of The Revolution

Ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was the face of the "stolen revolution". The fact that he accepted, out of the blue, to return at the same position, albeit on different footing, opens the door to the final legitimization of the coup.

Sudanese protesters demonstrating against the military regime in London on Nov. 20, 2021

Nesrine Malik

A little over a month ago, a military coup in Sudan ended a military-civilian partnership established after the 2019 revolution that removed President Omar al-Bashir after almost 30 years in power. The army arrested the Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and, along with several of his cabinet and other civil government officials, threw him in detention. In the weeks that followed, the Sudanese military and their partners in power, the Rapid Support Forces, moved quickly.

They reappointed a new government of “technocrats” (read “loyalists”), shut down internet services, and violently suppressed peaceful protests against the coup and its sabotaging of the 2019 revolution. During those weeks, Hamdok remained the symbol of the stolen revolution, betrayed by the military, detained illegally, unable to communicate with the people who demanded his return. In his figure, the moral authority of the counter-coup resided.

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