Jerusalem: occupation, discrimination and colonization / an answer to

Posted: April 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a response to a post on which dealt with the renovations of the Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem’s old city. This was a unilateral move by Israel, which brought some protest from the Palestinian side, and I’ve used this opportunity to criticize Israeli policies in the occupied parts of the city.

Last week, the author of the original post, which uses the nick “TheMiddle”, posted his reply. It’s worth reading, also because TM sums up pretty well the “pragmatic” Israeli view of city and its future: a unified capitol now, which will probably be divided later.

TM objects to expelling Palestinians from their houses (on the condition that they settled there before 1967), but supports Israel’s actions in the Old City and on the nearby neighborhood of Silwan. Though he doesn’t say it in so many words, I conclude that he also supports the construction of new neighborhoods for Jews on the eastern (occupied) parts of the city. I gather this from article 9 in his post, where he states that building houses for Jews on purchased land is OK.

I’d like to use this post to argue that Jerusalem is not a unified city, that its Arab residents are discriminated both de-facto and de-jure, that Israel is doing almost everything in its power to colonize the city and to push Palestinians out of it, and that from a legal perspective, there is not such a big difference between building in the Old City of Jerusalem to having Jews enter houses in Sheikh Jerrah (which TM opposes). The international community is right in not recognizing Israeli control over the so-called unified city.

If one wants to understand the nature of Israeli occupation, its pseudo-legal system and all its absurdities, all you have to do is look closely at what’s going on in Jerusalem.



The Israeli government decided to annex the eastern parts of the Jerusalem two weeks after the Six Days war, on June 26 1967. Seven years ago, Haaretz published some parts of this cabinet meeting’s protocol. The ministers took great effort to portray this as an administrative order, and to avoid public attention as much as they could. They even contacted the Israeli Censor involved for this purpose.

After the war, the government also formed a secret administrative unit called Igum who was in charge of purchasing land from Arab citizens of Jerusalem and turning it over to Jews. This unit was also involved in “encouraging” Arabs to leave the city. Israel also took immediate unilateral moves to evacuate the Jewish part of the Old City from its Arab residents. Luckily, an offer by IDF chief Rabbi to blow up the mosques on Temple Mountain was rejected.

There are two very important issues that must be understood and considered when discussing Jerusalem:

1.    Israel annexed in East Jerusalem an area more than 10 times bigger than the original Jordanian city – 71,000 dunams (71 sq. km.) as opposed to 6,000 dunams of Jordanian Jerusalem (see map above). This area includes 28 Palestinian towns and villages which were never part of historic Jerusalem. Since than, more than one third of the annexed land was confiscated by the state and used for the construction of Jewish neighborhoods. They house now around 250,000 Jews. Israel also confiscated land to build its government offices in the east side of town, including in the controversial Sheikh Jerrah neighborhood.

2.    When Israel annexed East Jerusalem and the towns and villages surrounding it, it gave Palestinians living there a status of “residents” and not citizens. This is a major point. Residents cannot vote in the general elections, they are not issued Israeli Passports; they cannot buy apartments or houses on state land (which makes most of the land in Israel and almost all the land in Jerusalem). If they leave Jerusalem for more than 7 years they lose their residency permit, and are left without any civil status; and because of the new citizenship order, they cannot live in East Jerusalem with partners who are not residents as well. If a Jerusalem Palestinian marries a woman from nearby Ramallah or Bethlehem, he can’t bring his wife to live at his home.

In short, Israel took the land but not the people. Palestinian residents can apply for Israeli citizenship, but it’s not an easy process, and they have to give up their Jordanian passports, something which is not required from Jews applying for citizenship. Furthermore, this is considered as acknowledging Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, something Palestinians won’t do as long as the city’s future remains unclear.

So we have two populations living right next to each other, sometimes door next to door: Jews with full rights, and Palestinians as second class citizens.

Watch Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat trying to explain the resident/citizen issue – as well as his vision for the future of this city, to an extremly well-prepared Sky journalist:


TM’s main point, I think, is that the entire West Bank is not “occupied territory” but rather “disputed territory”. It goes for Jerusalem as well, so he sees no problem in Israel confiscating the land and having its Jewish citizens move there. This is a well know argument by Israel’s supporters, and the common Israeli answer to the accusation that Israel is violating the Forth Geneva Convention by moving citizens into an occupied land.

I don’t agree with this view of the legal status of the West bank (I explained why here), but in the case of Jerusalem, this debate is unnecessary: Israel annexed the land, so clearly it views it as its own and not as “disputed” (mayor Barket declares so in the above video). Israel also acts as if the entire city is under its full sovereignty, hence the refusal to freeze construction in East Jerusalem. The question remains: why weren’t the people living there given full rights? Why have two legal systems based on ethnicity?

As I said, we are also talking de-facto discrimination: there are hardly any municipal services given to the Palestinians of East Jerusalem (and there are none for more than 50 thousands of them who were left on the eastern side of the wall. Currently it’s not clear who is supposed to take care of them). Though Palestinians make one third of the city residents, in more than 40 years since the city has been united, less than 10 percent of the municipal budget was used for services to the Palestinian population.

As far as construction goes, there wasn’t a single neighborhood or major housing project built for the Arab community in the city. Not one. The authorities have also prevented Palestinians from building private projects. One third of the land in East Jerusalem was confiscated by Israel; another third is forbidden for construction due to its historic and cultural value; and problems with legal documentation and other bureaucratic barriers prevent the Palestinians from using the remaining territory. The inevitable outcome is that almost all Palestinian houses built after 1967 are considered “illegal” by the municipality and occasionally some of them are demolished.

In this reality, claims such as TM’s that the municipality is simply evacuation illegal residents and renovating the disputed neighborhoods such as Silwan for the good of all the city residents as if it was an inner city project in Baltimore, are simply ridicules. But if further proof is necessary, we should mention the fact that Jerusalem’s mayor is currently refusing to carry out a court order and demolish a Jewish settlers’ building in Silwan, even though his own city’s lawyer made it clear he might be charged with contempt of court. At the same time, he sends the police to evacuate Palestinian refugees from their homes.

Indeed, there are different rules for Jews and Arabs in this city.


Apart from the Government led effort of colonizing the Palestinian side of the city, there is the so called “private” effort to colonize the city. Extreme right-wing groups, financed mostly by US Jews and Evangelist Christians, are using any way the can to put their hand on Arab assets in East Jerusalem and especially in the Old City and nearby Silwan. The government is backing them up in numerous ways: It provides them with protection and infrastructure services, and in the Old City It cooperates with the most radical organizations in the controversial excavations under Temple Mountain.

TM claims that it’s OK for Jews to buy houses in the old city and colonize them. Even if we forget the socio-economical reality, and the role official Israeli agencies play in this effort, we are still left with the fact that this is also a one-way law: Irvin Moskovich can buy any place he likes in Jerusalem and settle it with religious fanatics, but a rich none Israeli Arab can’t buy a Jerusalem home even if he finds a Jew who would sell it to him, since most of the land in Jerusalem is declared as “state land” which can be sold only to Jews or Israelis. Even East Jerusalem Palestinians, who are only residents and not citizens, can’t buy Jewish property on state land. This is not a free market, but a well orchestrated effort to push some people out and to bring others in, and it has been going on for decades.


We finally reach the heart of the matter – the holy basin, sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims. TM is very suspicious of the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem, arguing that “they got it into their heads” that this is a holy city (article 2 in his post). I’m not one of these Israelis who suddenly became experts on Islam and Arab history and can now explain why Muslims should forget about Jerusalem and how come there is no such thing as a Palestinian people – Just as I don’t question the fact that Jews consider themselves both a nation and a religion. This blog deals with political reality, not myths. There is a Palestinian nation now, and it views Jerusalem as its capitol. That’s all that matters.

I also don’t think that the fact that Jerusalem is so unique authorizes Israel to do whatever it pleases there, as TM implies. If anything, it should make Israel extra careful in handling the situation in the city and not make unilateral moves just because it can.

I read his post several times, and I still don’t see what legal principle he applies in the city, let alone in the Holy Basin. If Jews have the right to “rebuild ancient destroyed synagogues that carry serious emotional and historical weight” because of UN resolution 181 (article 6 on TM’s post) than this right should apply anywhere and to everyone in the city, including Palestinians. This is clearly not the case, and no Israeli would have the Palestinians enjoy their rights under UNGAR 181 today.

If Jews have the right to the Old Quarter or Sheikh Jerrah, because it was Jewish territory before 1948, than Palestinians should have the right to the places they lost before the war as well. Nobody is even considering this. If it’s a united city, it should finance the reconstruction of mosques and build projects for the Arabs as well. That’s not happening either.

If the Holy Basin is currently split between Jews (who have the Wall and the area next to it) and the Muslim Wakf (Haram el Sharif), than Jews shouldn’t enter the Temple Mountain or excavate under it, as they do now (btw, I thinks Jews should have the right to visit the entire Temple Mountain, and not just the Wall, but that’s beside the point). And if all of this is a temporary situation until the city’s final status is decided, then no one should do anything for now, let alone introduce unilateral moves in the heart of the disputed territory.

The fact is there is no coherent legal policy. It’s just cherry picking of arguments and regulations that could serve our purpose in pushing Palestinians out and colonizing the entire city. When it suits us, we quote resolution 181; when it helps we use the situation before 1948 and show British and Ottomans documents, but when the Palestinians present the same documents, we say only Israeli ownership laws apply here. We use the Green Line as a starting point, but than we call the area east of it “disputed” (so why not “dispute” the western part as well?). And when everything else fails, we go back to the bible, declare that this is a special place for Jews for 2,000 years, and do whatever the hell we feel like.

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