The JTA is reporting that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is coming to the US to drum up support among American Jews for his plans for the city. He hopes to find Jewish "shareholders" for several special economic zones that will focus on culture, life sciences and tourism.
The JTA article doesn't make it clear whether any of these economic zones will be in East Jerusalem. However it is widely known that one of the areas that Barkat wants to "develop" is the Palestinian neighborhood Silwan, which he is currently threatening with a series of home demolitions to force at least 1,000 Palestinians out of the area. Hillary Clinton criticized him for this plan on her last visit to the region. Here is how he is responding to the criticism on his trip:
Barkat, who favors settling Jews in Silwan — several dozen families
have moved into the largely Arab area in recent years — rejects such
criticism and says the people who live there will be relocated.
“If you have a group of people trying to plan housing in Central
Park, what do you think Mayor Bloomberg would do?” Barkat asked
rhetorically. “And this park has more importance than Central Park
because of its historical significance.”
My guess is that anyone in the US who takes the time to look into Barkat's analogy will figure out how ludicrous it is. But that raises the question – will anyone take the time to figure out what they're investing in?
This site often brings up the issue of how American Jews are implicated in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is often thorough their tacit ideological support for Israeli expansionism and militarism, but sometimes it is explicit participation. One example is the new settlement Nof Zion, which is located in the East Jerusalem neighborhood Jabal Al Mukabir, and is being marketed as a luxury destination for diaspora Jews. The website http://www.nofzion.co.il was set up to sell the settlement to American Jews, and gives the contact information for Gita Galbut, the US sales representative based in Miami. The image above (click to enlarge) is from that website. Nof Zion is located between Silwan and Jabal Al Mukabir, severing a crucial point of continuity between Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem. This continuity is essential if East Jerusalem is ever to become the capital of a Palestinian state next to Israel in a two-state solution.
The building of Nof Zion points to the unequal nature of life in Jerusalem between its Jewish and Palestinian residents – realities Barkat is most likely ignoring on his current tour. From Joshua Mitnick's New York Observer article "Luxury Condos for American Jews (in Arab East Jerusalem)":
A newly installed traffic circle starts the descent along a path
under construction to upgrade the narrow road to a divided street to
accommodate the traffic. Infrastructure in Palestinian neighborhoods in
Jerusalem is notoriously underfunded by the municipality, and the lack
of street lights or sidewalks make Jabel Mukaber look more like an
outlying village than an actual part of the capital.
Though Palestinian residents are grateful for the new road, they say
their requests to be hooked up to Nof Zion's sewage system have been
turned down, leaving the Palestinians without a sewage system.
They also complain that Nof Zion has received permission to build
five- and six-story buildings while they are limited to two stories . . .
The plan to make Nof Zion a gated enclave with 24-hour security
stirs worry. "There will be restrictions from one place to another,"
predicts Ali, the unemployed neighbor of Nof Zion. "In the future there
will be gates and guards, and I won't be able to cross."
But Ms. Galbut, the U.S. marketing agent, insisted the restrictions
won't put a crimp on the neighbors. Theoretically, the Palestinians
from the surrounding areas will have access to Nof Zion's parks if they
can tell security guards the name of friends in the development.
According to Galbut there is a lot of interest in the settlement, and it looks from the website that it will be ready for people to move in soon. Its impossible to tell if the investors in Nof Zion know what they're getting involved in, but most articles on the settlements make it clear that it is not geared towards ideological or religious settlers. Rather it is being sold as 5 star accommodations with a view of the Old City. And so it continues.
While Barkat is an advocate for expanding Israeli settlements in Jerusalem, he has been critical of the type of "revitalization" that Nof Zion represents. He feels it benefits rich foreigners at the expense of the poor Jewish residents of Jerusalem. He calls on absentee
homeowners to rent their apartments to
Jewish university students at subsidized rates, calling it a "a classic win-win.” This is only a "win-win" for the efforts to judaize Jerusalem, whether investors know it or not. In the end, it decimates Jerusalem's Palestinian community and destroys the chance for a viable two-state solution. Is this what American Jews want to be investing in?