Sunday, January 31, 2010

The History and the Future of Har Homa

Although it is really difficult for me to get to the varied and interesting Friday activities at the abandoned Shdema IDF Army Base, this past week, I really planned ahead for Shabbat. I bought take out, finished all my Shabbat shopping early, and we were off to Shdema.
Mayor Shaul Goldstein popped in and told visitors two pieces of exciting news: 1) He had just completed the March of the Lamed Hei.
2) Very soon, a Jewish presence would be returning to Shdema, IY"H, first in the form of an Army pillbox. The crowd cheered.
The morning also included great music by Adam Tzachi, a short address by Avraham Azoulay, the editor of the Le Petit Hebdo French weekly, and an inspirational talk by the head of the Har Homa Residents Committee Herzl Yechezkel.
I remember the Har Homa controversy in the 1990s, but I found out much more about the community from Herzl Yechezkel, who spoke eloquently and with great poise.
Herzl, an eight-year resident of Homat Shmuel (the real name of the Har Homa community, dedicated in memory of former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Shmuel Meir, o'h, who was one of the main proponents of building the neighborhood), remembers the struggles and demonstrations for and against the building of Har Homa in the 1990s. Har Homa was an international incident! It was a neighborhood that Arabs threatened would cause a war, chas v'shalom.
Herzl said, "It was just a simple mountain. Who ever even thought that Jews will live there?" He noted that the biggest voice against Har Homa was Faisal Husseini, a grandnephew of Hitler's best friend in the Middle East, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Husseini was also a member of the PLO, and sat as head of Jerusalem Affairs for the Palestinian Authority. Herzl said, "Husseini led the fight, and the entire world was screaming at us. How could anyone even imagine that anyone would live one day in Har Homa?"
Herzl Yechezkel commented, "In the end what decides, what determines [the outcome] is the deed, the doing! David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, said, 'It is not important what the goyim will say. It is important what the Jews will do!' The activists in this room know how to do!"
Herzl remembered the first time that he and Yehudit Katzover came to Shdema. "We couldn’t even reach this structure (that we are in today). There were stones all around and there were a Fifth Column here. But the victory is determined by physically getting here and planting roots and struggling until you win. That’s how it was in Homat Shmuel in 1996."
Binyamin Netanyahu was prime minister then, Herzl recalled. When Israel began building Homat Shmuel, they did not anticipate it being a great success. Herzl laughed, "Today the community is populated by about 5000 families - 20,000 residents – and that is only two-thirds of the planned building." The Ministry of Housing had planned for Har Homa to reach that number by the year 2020, and yet it has reach 20,000 ten years early than aplanned. Ultimately Har Homa is supposed to be home to 35,000 residents in the next few years. Long range plans include yet another 3000 residential units.
Herzl noted, "We hope too connect Yerushalayim to Gush Etzion through Har Homa, which sits as a thorn in between the Arab villages of Bet Lechem, Zur Bacher, Bet Tzafafa, Um Tuba, and Beit Tzachur. It is vital to note that if we hadn't built here, we would have lost a lot of land. We would have lost Southern Jerusalem, and that would have been a crying for generations."
Herzl reiterated his goal of connect Gush Etzion and Har Homa through Shdema, and added, "BE"H, with our faith we will do and we will succeed."
After seeing the growth and development of Har Homa over the past years, I have no doubt of Herzl words. And they also remind me of something Chaim Silberstein of the Jerusalem Development Corporation said ten years ago. "Har Homa is part of a ring around Jerusalem that protects the Holy City."
BE"H, may G-d bless the residents of Homat Shmuel, the future residents of a Jewish Shdema and those of Eastern Gush Etzion among all Am Yisrael.

Watch Herzl Yechezkel's address on VoicesTV:

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