Jewish Neighborhood Becomes Flashpoint in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

For Israelis, Gilo is part of Jerusalem, for Palestinians, it's their land

The disputed Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem
The disputed Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem

Israel's recent decision to build more homes in Gilo, which Israel says is part of Jerusalem, has ignited more anger among Palestinians who say it's a settlement on land captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and then annexed. The issue is explosive because both Israelis and Palestinians consider Jerusalem their capital. 

On the surface, it's a quiet suburb. For decades, however, this neighborhood has been on the firing line in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Sara Walter came to Israel 29 years ago from Argentina.  This is where the Israeli ministry of housing and absorption put her.  Zionist ideology, she says, is not the reason she lives in Gilo. "We came here because here we received an apartment.  But it could have been in another place." 

Gilo sits across a ravine from the West Bank town of Beit Jala. It was from here in the last Palestinian uprising, known as the Second Intifada, that militants fired bullets and rockets at Gilo, aiming to kill Jews.

Sara, like other residents, lined her apartment windows with bullet-proof glass.

On the other side of the gorge, anger simmers among Palestinians like Victoria al-Gattas.   She says Israel seized 40 hectares of her family's land to build Gilo more than three decades ago. "Ten hectares right now have become settlements, housing.  Besides the 10 hectares there are close to 30 hectares that are full of all kinds of trees, olive trees and others. The Israelis built roads and tunnels on our land," she says.

Her claim rests only on deeds issued by Ottoman Turkish authorities more than a century ago .  Victoria says her family was not among those firing at Gilo. But she is driven to regain what she has lost. "I'd must die before they take all of this," she says.

Concrete barriers to keep out sniper fire are but a few reminders for Gilo residents of the anger that exists a few meters away.

But this, residents say, is not like a West Bank settlement.  To them, it is Jerusalem and Jerusalem is Israel. "I don't think that if they return Gilo, there would be quiet, that everything would be resolved.  But, I do think that places outside Jerusalem, outside Israel, the settlements, I'm against them.  Definitely, neighborhoods should not be built there," says one resident.

In the view of Palestinians on the other side of Israel's security barrier, Jerusalem or the West Bank, it's all the same. In their view, it's theirs.

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