A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Word About Gilo

The latest flap between the Obama and Netanyahu Administrations is over some 900 new homes scheduled to be built in the Jerusalem neighborhood (according to Israel) or the Israeli settlement (according to most other folks including the Obama Administration), Gilo. This has raised some hackles in Israel since to most Israelis, even old Laborites, Gilo is not considered a "settlement" but a long-established suburb of Jerusalem. But as the US has shown on other recent occasions, anything over the (1967) Green Line is considered a settlement. It's been so long since the US has complained seriously, about such construction (as opposed to an "unhelpful" characterization, a wink and a nod) that the Israeli government seems to be a little bit caught off guard.

Personally, I tend to think that in the absence of any progress in the peace process all settlement expansion, even in the Jerusalem suburbs, is counterproductive, and that the US is finally returning to its older position on the matter. But I'm not going to argue the point here because it's not mine to argue: it's something to be negotiated in a peace settlement. But I do think whenever we discuss facts on the ground, it helps if someone has a general understanding of the ground: if we can get our facts right. When I see the BBC refer to Gilo as in "East Jerusalem," and Al-Jazeera (which does have a Jerusalem bureau) saying the same thing,
the old journalist in me starts to wonder: did any of you think of hopping in your car or a cab and going there? I'm glad to see that CNN, at least, locates Gilo "on Jerusalem's southern outskirts."

Give them a gold star for at least looking at a map. Gilo is indeed over the Green Line, but to the southwest of West Jerusalem. It sits on the western edge of a ridgeline that runs between Jerusalem and Bethlehem: the Mar Ilyas Monastery is on that ridgeline to the east, and Gilo to the west. It looks down on the Palestinian town of Bayt Jala to its south, which in turn lies west of (and uphill from) Bethlehem. In fact Gilo takes its name from a Biblical town which probably lay where Bayt Jala is today (Arabic Jala = Hebrew Gilo).

Even the Wikipedia entry starts out, "
Gilo (Hebrew: גילֹה‎) is an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem" in its first paragraph, but by its third paragraph is saying that "Gilo is located on a hilltop in southwest Jerusalem, separated from Beit Jalla by a deep gorge." So according to Wikipedia, it's in both East Jerusalem and southwest Jerusalem.

a map from our neighbors at the Foundation for Middle East Peace (without permission: Please don't sue me, Phil), let's see exactly where Gilo is:

It's southwest of the bulk of Israeli pre-1967 Jerusalem. West of the road to Bethlehem (and very visible therefrom).

I just like to make sure when people are arguing they're clear what they're arguing about.


Anonymous said...

Isn't "East Jerusalem" just short-hand for parts of Jeruslaem on the far side (from Israel) of the Green Line, even if they're not always east of the city centre?

Michael Collins Dunn said...

I suppose Anonymous is right, that "East Jerusalem" is shorthand for parts of Jerusalem beyond the Green Zone, but in fact the pre-1967 Jordanian municipality did not extend to the south at all; this was no-man's land, or the outer reaches of Beit Jala, not part of Jordanian (East) Jerusalem. Or maybe I'm just annoyed for no good reason.