According to the Israeli online daily Haaretz, an Israeli construction company is attracting dozens of wealthy American Israelis to purchase apartments in Nof Zion Israeli illegal outpost in the southeast of East Jerusalem, the outpost was constructed on lands of Jabal Al Mukabber Palestinian neighborhood.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars, poured from buyers to this project with its first stage slated for completion by October 2007. The project will include 400 spacious apartments facing the Old City a five-star hotel, a shopping center, a country club and synagogues in addition to other facilities.
The settlement is planned to be completed as a ‘closed-gated-community’ of 395 luxury apartments with it’s own synagogue, country club, and other amenities all suited to fit the needs of a mixed cosmopolitan, modern Orthodox Jewish community.
Ignoring the fact that these apartments are constructed on a Palestinian private owned lands, whose owners appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court in a last-ditch effort to stop the project and the political implications of such a move, the Israeli contractors succeeded in attracting those rich buyers to have a foothold and to buy apartments with the panoramic views of the disputed city of Jerusalem especially Al-Aqsa mosque area .
The Illegal Israeli outpost "Zion Nof" is situated on a slope, two sides of which will border the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal Mukabber has already begun. The main aim of this project is expanding the Israeli settlement presence inside Jerusalem.
Yehuda Levi, Director General and one of the owners of Digal Investments and Holdings Ltd, the publicly traded company behind Nof Zion who described the site of the apartments, said that the buyers not political, and that the construction committee is not politically motivated.
"These are people who want beautiful, modern, spacious housing with incredible views of the Old City and the Judean desert", he said, "They’ve been here before, they’ve seen what they are buying, and politics has nothing to do with this."
Haaretz reported that the project, formerly known as Nof Zahav, is located just past the Goldman Promenade in an area that Jerusalem lawyer Daniel Seidemann, who is affiliated with the Israeli NGO Ir Amim.
Zahav described the project as the "downtown Jabal Mukabber". He said that the residents of the Jabal Al Mukabber, which is within Jerusalem’s municipal borders, are not "Israeli Arabs" since they do not hold Jerusalem identity cards, and do not hold Israeli citizenship, and as such, will be voting in the Palestinian Authority elections next week.
Mohammad Gbara, an Attorney representing residents of Jabal Al Mukabber, said that the foreign buyers do not realize that their dream apartment will be "in the heart" of an Arab town.
"Nof Zion is described as a Garden of Eden, or as a second Rehavia, but what’s not advertised is that it’s part of East Jerusalem," Gbara noted.
Israeli sources claimed that ,so far, one-third of the 91 apartments in the first building stage have been sold, all of them to Jews from abroad, with prices ranging from $350,000 to $560,000.
"Most of our buyers are familiar with this area," insists Levi. "People don’t buy apartments over the Internet."
But some real estate developers claimed that the foreign buyers are unaware of the politics in this divided city, and as a result, are buying into a project they don’t really understand.
"Americans buying [in Nof Zion] don’t understand where they’re putting their money and they are intentionally being 100 percent misled. This is a project that’s all about people wanting to make money off the American fad of buying apartments in Israel", Livi stated, "The Nof Zion buyers are investors who don’t understand the politics of what they are buying. They come, they see fabulous views, they’re told that the Arabs are happy, and so they buy. It’s not a political statement, because for them, it’s the same thing as Talbieh, but cheaper. The problem is that the project is being marketed as mainstream."
Nof Zion project is slated to cover some 115 Dunams, which the Jerusalem municipality expropriated from several Palestinians in the Jabal Mukabber area.
"No one is happy about this project," says Hassan Zehayka, who runs a grocery store near Nof Zion, "They say that we’ll get better services like water and plumbing, but I doubt that anything will change. If there’s an improvement, it will be only for the Jews."
Further down the road, Mahmoud Bedat agrees; "It’s like putting an Arab village right in the middle of Rishon Letzion," Bedat, a long-time Jabal Mukabber resident, says of the project. "They say that we’ll get better roads, but who needs good roads if our children won’t have anywhere to live?"
Projects like Nof Zion are part of a larger real estate boom in Jerusalem fueled, by overseas Israeli wealthy buyers looking to invest in the Israeli economy, while gaining a vacation home here in the process.
Prices have increased in some cases by as much as 40 percent in central areas like Talbieh, Rehavia, Qatamon, the German Colony and Baqa, driving many Israelis out of the city in search of more affordable living. In Talbieh, for example, apartments are being sold for about $10,000 per square meter. Prices in Nof Zion, meanwhile, are a third of that, estimated to be about $3,000 per square meter.
Meanwhile, foreign investors have been told that Israelis will buy the lower floors at lower prices, leaving the breathtaking views of the Old City available on the higher floors for the project’s American clientele.
"We’re trying to get a balance of half Israelis, half foreign buyers," Simkovitz, the Anglo-Saxon agent, said. "It’s important to us that Nof Zion does not become a ghost town."