New Settlement Puts Pressure on Jerusalem Palestinians
by Jon Elmer (bio)
As some settlements come down, others go up. In this West Bank village annexed by Israel, the future, upscale settlement of Nof Zion is big, close and ominous.
Jabel Mukhaber, West Bank, Aug 16 - Situated on a hill overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, the new Israeli housing development looks like it could be an upscale planned community in suburban North America: a billboard solicits buyers for "phase one" housing units; another shows the blueprint of the future community, complete with a daycare, a shopping center, a school, parks, a country club and, eventually, a hotel.
But Nof Zion, due to open in 2007, is not your average suburb. Built amid 10,000 Palestinian residents of the East Jerusalem village Jabel Mukhaber, the 395 new housing units of Nof Zion will comprise a Jewish settlement in the heart of the area that every internationally recognized peace plan considers the future capital of a Palestinian state.
Backed by discriminatory housing laws and demographic-manipulation policies that favor new Jewish residents over Palestinians with centuries of direct heritage there, Nof Zion's developers and future residents will be the beneficiaries of the Israeli push to lay permanent claim to as much of the West Bank as possible.
[PHOTO: The view of Jerusalem from Nof Zion. © Jon Elmer, 2005]
Unlike Palestinians, who have to prove that they primarily reside in Jerusalem in order to maintain the right to be there at all, a realtor selling Nof Zion units in the US said they are going mostly to Americans who do not yet live in Israel, including many who may never make Jerusalem their primary place of residence. Nof Zion's first 30 sales have been primarily to Americans, according to Yaakov Simkovitz, who works for Anglo-Saxon realty, the agency in charge of securing buyers for the housing units.
Nof Zion is advertised as a "private neighborhood" with "the 24-hour peace of mind of a closed-gated-community." In Simkovitz's words, "Many of our buyers appreciate the added security that is offered by the closed-gated community."
It is not clear to Palestinians in the area just how those closed gates will impact their own neighborhoods and lives. Once the settlement is built, the residents of Jabel Mukhaber will be caught between Nof Zion and the so-called "Jerusalem envelope" barrier – an 8-meter-high concrete wall adorned with sniper towers. Villagers worry that if they are barred from using the access road, which they now share with the settlement, they will be effectively cut off from both Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.
Asked how he will live if his village is cut off from Jerusalem, Palestinian landowner Osama Zahaikah replied, "The idea is not to live; the idea is for us to leave."
Defending the project from the objections of area Palestinians, Simkovitz claimed that Nof Zion will help the residents of Jabel Mukhaber by adding public services such as sewage and water lines, lighting and enhanced road infrastructure. "If you ask the Palestinian residents of Jabel Mukhaber, privately, they will tell you they are very happy about the project," he told The NewStandard.
"But which 'public'? Which 'services'?" Zahaikah asked rhetorically when told of Simkovitz's remarks. "We are here. We have been for more than a hundred years. Where are the schools? Where are the water systems? Where are the roads and the lighting? Where are these public services they claim?"
[PHOTO: Osama (left) and Saleh Zahaikah look out over their family's land. Israel has confiscated it for use in creating infrastructure for the Nof Zion settlement. © Jon Elmer 2005.]
Zahaikah pointed a finger out over the freshly bulldozed, terraced land where the foundations of Nof Zion are already in place. The extended Zahaikah family, owner of land upon which Nof Zion is being developed, has brought numerous claims and challenges to the Israeli courts. "But we have lost every case; every one of them," Zahaikah said.
"This land was confiscated for 'public services,'" Zahaikah noted, pointing to the 8.5 dunams taken from his brother, Saleh, who showed TNS a deed granting his family title to the land dating back to the days of Ottoman rule.