The newest of the city's developments, its construction in the 1990s within the extended municipal boundaries that are disputed by the United Nations was met with international controversy.
In the 1940s a Jewish group purchased 130 dunams (32 acres) of land on the hill between Jerusalem and Bethlehem known in Arabic as Jabal Abu Ghneim, and the Jewish National Fund then planted a forest on the site.
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the hill was a base for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a position taken over by Jordan's Arab Legion. The Hebrew name "Har Homa", or "Wall Mountain", stems from a structure built on the remains of a Byzantine church there: the Palmach forces at neighboring Kibbutz Ramat Rahel saw the wall looming over the Jordanian fortifications as an imposing sight and named the hill for it. Unlike other JNF forests in areas captured by them, the Jordanians didn't allow Jabal Abu Ghneim's trees to be uprooted, and added to them.
After Israel captured the hill from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, a group was set up to purchase land on the hill from Arabs, and the forest was thickened by the JNF. There were plans for residential development as early as the 1980s, but they were successfully opposed by Israeli environmental groups who worried about decreasing open areas in Jerusalem.
In 1991, then Israeli Cabinet Minister Yitzhak Moda'i approved the expropriation of land on the forested hill for a new building project. Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres initially approved construction plans for Jewish homes on the site, but decided to postpone groundbreaking to avoid a conflict with the Palestinians, who were taking legal action through the Israeli courts to prevent construction (Boston Globe, 5/1/98). Groundbreaking for the building of apartments did not begin until March 1997, under the government of then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which asserted that construction of homes at Har Homa is a legitimate expansion of Jerusalem (Boston Globe, 5/1/98). By the end of July 1998, the Israeli government had completed the confiscation of the land at Har Homa from its owners in preparation for building (Agence France Presse, 7/27/98).
An overwhelming majority of the land (75%) was expropriated from Israeli owners, the remaining land belonged to Palestinian villagers, mainly in Beit Sahour and other nearby villages. No homeowners, Jewish or Arab, were displaced by the project.
Har Homa is a neighborhood that lies within the municipal boundaries of the City of Jerusalem. Palestinians as well as the United Nations and European Union contend that this neighborhood is an illegal settlement because it was partially built on land southeast of the Jordanian-Israeli cease-fire line (the "Green Line") drawn at the conclusion of the 1948 war. They argued that it completed a ring of Israeli settlements around Jerusalem and sealed off the city from the Palestinians (Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem Website), and that it violated the Oslo Accords because it created facts on the ground which predetermine final status negotiations (Palestinian National Authority Official Website).
Israel has responded to these claims by pointing out that the land is within the city limits of Jerusalem (unlike neighboring Beit Sahour, under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction) and therefore legally subject to municipal development, and that most of Har Homa's land was owned by Jews prior to its conquest by Jordan in 1948. Israel has pointed out to its critics that the land was unoccupied and undeveloped prior to the construction of the Har Homa neighborhood; that both Jewish and Arab landholders were compensated for the land; that the Palestinian residents of Beit Sahour would be unable to develop the land in any event as the Oslo agreements specifically barred Palestinian jurisdiction over Jerusalem for the time being.
Palestinian residents of neighboring Beit Sahour, in conjunction with Israeli peace activists, campaigned vigorously against the Municipality's decision to develop the Har Homa neighborhood, setting up what they referred to as an "international peace camp" at the site. While its development was the subject of much international criticism, as well as many organized protests by both local Palestinians and International activists in the late 1990s, Har Homa is now largely completed and most of its population consists of young families seeking affordable housing in Jerusalem.
At the same time that the Municipality of Jerusalem approved the initial 2,500 housing units in Har Homa, it also approved 3,000 housing units and 400 government financed housing units in the Arab neighborhood of Sur Baher, which faces Har Homa. The plans were originally initiated in 1994, but were revisited in May 1997 as a means of balancing the building of the Jewish development at Har Homa (Jerusalem Post, 5/23/97).
Palestinian officials dismissed the construction in Sur Bahir as a ploy aimed at deflecting international criticism set off by the work at Har Homa (Baltimore Sun, 5/23/97).
Having failed through demonstrations to stop the construction and development of the site, the residents of Beit Sahour have petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to return the undeveloped land between Beit Sahour and Har Homa to the Palestinian municipality, and to move the security fence to reflect their ownership of this land.
The U.S. vetoed two different UN Security Council resolutions that called on Israel to stop construction at Har Homa. The U.S. was the only country of the 15 members on the council to vote against the resolution (Jerusalem Post, 3/9/97).
In a vote of 134 to 3, the United States, along with Israel and Micronesia, were the only countries among the 185 members in the UN General Assembly to vote against an April 1997 resolution demanding an immediate halt to construction at Har Homa. The previous month, a similar resolution condemning Israeli activity at Har Homa was passed 130 to 2, with only the U.S. and Israel voting against it (The Times, 4/26/97).
The Clinton Administration cautioned that while its UN votes do not indicate support for the project, the U.S. does not believe that the UN is the appropriate forum to debate the peace process. Ambassador Bill Richardson stated that "such interference can only harden the positions of both sides" (Jerusalem Post, 3/23/97).
The United States has traditionally refrained from describing Jerusalem neighborhoods as settlements, but the Bush administration's Condoleezza Rice was critical of building tenders in Har Homa announced after the Annapolis meeting.
As of 2008, there were approximately 4,000 families, 12 kindergartens, 6 day care centers, 2 public grammar schools, 3 medical clinics, and 3 shopping centers. There are three Egged bus lines, including the 74 and 5 which connect Har Homa to downtown and the central bus station, and the 34 which connects it to the Malha Mall and Ramot.