This is not a Peace Now report, but an official document of the Jerusalem Municipality: According to a survey conducted at the request of the mayor’s office, 60,718 new housing units are slated for construction in Jerusalem in the next decades. Of those, 52,363 of them will be built east of the Green Line, in the territory annexed to Israel after the Six-Day War.
The document, revealed today by the daily paper Maariv, states that 23,628 of the planned units were already approved by relevant zoning committees – 20,263 of those for the “eastern” part of the city. In the area of Silwan, the biggest Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem, nearly 5,000 housing unites are planned. Silwan has seen many demonstrations in recent years against the attempt to settle it with Jews, and tension is likely to grow in light of the new plans.
Jerusalem employs a system of separation between the Palestinians living in the city, who only hold the status of “residents” and the Jews, who enjoy citizen rights. Under those conditions, Arabs in Jerusalem don’t have the right to vote in national elections, their ability to purchase houses are limited, and if they leave the country for several years, they are likely to lose even their legal residency status. Most Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem receive limited municipal services.
So much for freedom of religious practice: Israel allows Christians from Gaza to travel to their holy sites, but rejects similar requests from Muslims
When demanding to maintain its control over both East and West Jerusalem—and especially, over the city’s holy sites—one of Israel’s main arguments is that it allows freedom of worship in the city to members of all religions. The Knesset’s Basic Law: Jerusalem from 1980 [Hebrew link, PDF] states that the holy sites will be guarded by Israel from any harm that might prevent access to them (btw, a 2001 provision to this law states that a Knesset’s special majority is necessary for removing Israel’s authority from parts of the city, placing another barrier on reaching a two states solution – but that’s a different story).
The problem is that Israel itself is the one preventing access to Jerusalem’s holy sites. It takes a special permit for Palestinians from the West Bank to enter the city to pray, and this permit is given mostly to members of certain age groups (the official excuse, like always, is security concerns).
Israel seems to be less concerned when it comes to Palestinian Christians. In recent years, Israel has even allowed Christians from Gaza to travel to Nazareth and Bethlehem. The Palestinians had to be cleared by internal security and go through a search to their body and personal luggage, to which they all agreed.
Last February, seven Muslim women from Gaza have filed a petition [Hebrew, PDF] to the Beer-Sheva court, demanding to be granted the same rights as the Christians pilgrims. They agreed to go through the same security procedures, or whatever other means the authorities would find necessary. All they asked is to be allowed to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Gisha, an NGO which deals with freedom of movement, joined their appeal to court.
Recently, the court rejected [Hebrew, PDF] the petition and ordered the petitioners to pay legal fees in the unprecedented amount of 25,000 NIS (approx. 7,250 USD). Justice Eliyahu Bitan, who sat on the case, even made disdainful remarks toward Gisha, referring to it as a “human rights” organization (quotation marks in the original).
The court declared that even if Israel continued to control Gaza strip, it had no obligation to allow any Palestinians from the Occupied Territories to pray in Jerusalem.
This verdict demonstrated again how unwelcoming Israeli courts are to Palestinians. Equality in government practice has long been recognized as a guiding principal by the Supreme Court, but when it comes to Palestinians, the court allows policies which are based on ethnicity and religious affiliation. The decision also showed the hollowness of Israel’s pretension to be the protector of the holy sites in Jerusalem. The call for an international regime in the holy sites has never been more justified.
The third troubling aspect in the verdict is what seems like an attempt by the court to limit the work of non-governmental organizations by placing unprecedented legal fees on them – which look more like a form of fine (again, the Supreme Court has ordered in the past not to use legal fees to fine petitioners). It seems that the court wants to deter organizations and human rights group from trying to protect the rights of Palestinians through Israel’s court system.
Gisha has filed a petition [Hebrew, PDF] to the Supreme Court against the Beer-Sheva court’s verdict. I have asked the IDF spokesperson unit to outline the policy by which permits to pray in Jerusalem are given or refused from Palestinians. When I receive a reply, I’ll post it here.
Even as the two leaders reveal their differences, the White House continues to oppose both the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and the Palestinian Authority’s moves at the UN – without getting anything from Jerusalem in return
Daily papers are not printed in Israel on Saturdays – weekend editions are distributed on Fridays, and the political commentary pieces go to press on Thursday afternoons. U.S. President Barack Obama gave his speech on the Middle East on Thursday evening, and throughout the week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s people insisted, both on and off the record, that the speech not be too hard on Jerusalem. The new national security advisor, Yaakov Amidror, actually denied a story on Yedioth Ahronoth reporting his knowledge that President Obama would mention the pre-1967 borders in his remarks, claiming that “the only correct thing in this piece was my and the former NSA’s name.”
Well, Obama did mention borders, and Netanyahu made some harsh comments on Thursday night, declaring that he “expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004.” So it happened that while the newspapers’ weekend political sections and op-ed pages reflected a somewhat smooth ride for Netanyahu in Washington, the front pages told the story of a new rift between the American president and the Israeli prime minister.
The confrontation couldn’t have been clearer after the White House meeting between the two leaders. Netanyahu even went so far as declaring his opposition to the president’s positions to his face – before lecturing him on Jewish history and Middle East politics. There wasn’t even an attempt made to disguise their differences and mutual mistrust.
Netanyahu’s problem is not so much with the White House, which already made it clear that it would not support a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence. In recent weeks, Israel launched a diplomatic counter attack, aimed at bringing as many European countries as possible to vote against the Palestinian initiative at the United Nations in September. But when the U.S. administration publicly confronts Netanyahu, more countries are likely to go a step further and take diplomatic initiatives that support the Palestinians. In the past, anonymous proxies to Netanyahu told the Israeli press that they suspect the White House is behind some such moves on the part of the Europeans. Similar theories are now likely to reemerge, and perhaps we will even see a return to the rhetoric of “Obama as Pharaoh,” which was sounded by government ministers in the months after the elections.
Netanyahu’s harsh response to the president – both in his Thursday statement and in his comments after the White House meeting – suggests that he intends to maximize the political capital such a confrontation might bring him with his base. So far, the diplomatic deadlock and the growing isolation of Israel have not hurt Netanyahu with the public, and according to recent polls, if elections were held today, their results would be pretty similar to the previous ones. If, on the other hand, the prime minister were to embark on a serious peace initiative, his coalition is likely to collapse. Netanyahu knows that, and he is unlikely to agree to any concessions before November 2013, when new elections are scheduled. The problem is that even those elections could result in the same coalition and political pattern.
I must admit that the logic behind the U.S. administration’s move is not entirely clear to me. There is no hope of launching meaningful negotiations anytime soon. Even if the president can somehow get Netanyahu and Abbas into the same room – a very unlikely scenario, given the political circumstances on both sides and the proximity of elections – one can say with some certainty that nothing would come of it.
At the same time, the White House opposes both the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and the Palestinian Authority’s moves at the UN, and might even to do some work behind the scenes in support of Israel’s positions on these issues – without getting anything from Jerusalem in return. In fact, a substantial opposition to the Palestinian UN effort is likely to strengthen Netanyahu at home, and could even secure his re-election. Does the administration hope that by confronting both sides we might achieve a breakthrough before September? I find it hard to believe. PM Netanyahu made it clear he will never allow a real Palestinian state, so it’s time to look for new paths to end the occupation.
The solution, I believe, lies the in recognition of the Palestinians’ right to oppose the occupation through diplomacy, as well as in support of growing non-violent protests and in respect for their political choices. This road might take longer to achieve results, but the alternative could be a recipe for the renewal of violence, once the current path leads to its inevitable dead end.
Jerusalem’s municipal planning committee ratified today the plan to built 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in the “eastern” part of the city (Ramat Shlomo is actually in north Jerusalem, but still in the part of the city which Israel occupied and unilaterally annexed in 1967).
Three months ago, the initial decision on the project caused a major crisis between Washington and Jerusalem. According to a report in Haaretz, the committee approved today the protocol of the meeting that dealt with Ramat Shlomo. This is a procedural act, which will enable the city council to move the project to its next stage.
Committee member Yair Gabay told Haaretz that Prime Minister Netanyahu prevented the protocol from being ratified on the committee’s last meeting, due to the visit of U.S. special envoy George Mitchell.
Two more Palestinian families from East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood received this week eviction orders. According to Haaretz’s report, the families were requested to leave their houses within 45 days. No alternative residency was offered to them.
“Failure to comply [with the order] will force my client to act against you with all means available according to the law [...] in such a way as may cause distress, anxiety and large and unnecessary expense,” the notices said.
The lawyer who served the order, Anat Paz of law firm Eitan Gabay, informed the families they would be liable to a fine of NIS 350 for each day the remained in their homes beyond the eviction deadline.
Each family was also ordered to pay NIS 12,000 per year for each of the last seven years. The notices did not reveal names of the claimants to the properties
The Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah are refugees who fled their homes in Jaffa and West Jerusalem in 1948. They were offered a land in Jerusalem to build their homes on by the Jordanians in exchange for agreeing to give up their refugee status (ironically, that’s what Israel always demanded the Palestinians in Arab countries do). Israel conquered and annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, and recently, the pre-1948 Jewish owners of the land in Sheikh Jarrah authorized a rightwing settlers group to have the Palestinians evacuated and the neighborhood settled with Jews.
Israeli courts repeatedly ruled in favor of the Jews claiming the land based on the pre-1948 documents – while at the same time the Palestinians were forbidden from claiming back the houses they left in 1948. Unable to have their old houses, evacuated from their current homes – Jerusalem’s municipality plans on building there 200 housing units for Jews – the Palestinians have literally nowhere to go. They don’t even hold a refugee status.
The injustice in East Jerusalem is so evident, that the struggle to stop the evacuation of the Palestinians became a new symbol for many Israelis. What has began as a very local grassroots effort by a handful of activist (many of them Anarchists) is now drawing a crowd of hundreds each week – and sometime more people and more than once a week. Here is a video from the protest two weeks ago, when some 30 demonstrators were arrested by police, and one had his arm broken.
Personally, I find the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah to be the best thing that happened to the Israeli left in years. The number of the people present there doesn’t seem that impressive, but the crowd grows each week, and it is clear that the police and the municipality will find new evacuations very hard to carry out.
More important, this struggle is becoming an inspiration to many who all but gave up on political activism – and not just in Israel. And it’s happening without any political party or a leftwing organization supporting it, and under some very radical messages. For the first time I can remember in years, the left doesn’t try to “move to the center” in order to win the support of the more conservative public, or engage in all sort of competitions in patriotism with the rightwing – ones that we obviously will never win – but rather sticks to its principles without apologizing or justifying itself.
There is no common platform in Sheikh Jarrah except for this very specific struggle. Nobody asks if you support one or two states, if you are a Zionist, Post Zionist or anti-Zionist. People just come each Friday to Jerusalem and stand for what they think is right – and so far, it works well enough. Sometimes I even get the sense that if this thing wasn’t happening here, it would have happened somewhere else. The energy feels bigger than this specific incident, as if there are finally enough Israelis who say that things have been going in the wrong direction for far too long – that a line had to be drawn, and it happened to be drawn in Sheikh Jarrah.
I took those two pics on the weekly protest last Friday, to which author Mario Vargas Llosa paid a visit.
The best way to support the protest in Sheikh Jarrah is to simply come each Friday (more details here). If you don’t live in Israel, you can make a donation, as legal expenses for the defense of arrested activists and organizers are mounting.
Even with this extreme rightwing government at power, the conventional wisdom is that “Israelis want peace”. Most of the polling shows more than 50 percent of the public supporting the two state solution, and even parting Jerusalem is no longer taboo with Jews. The mystery is how with such a dovish public, Israel is still building settlements and using every trick in the book to postpone what seems like an inevitable evacuation.
Consider the following: about two-thirds of Israelis support the evacuation of most settlements as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Yet at the same time, only 30 percent believe that this is the opinion held by the majority (…)
Thus, a majority that supports the evacuation of most settlements as part of a peace agreement sees itself as a minority, while, perversely, a small but vocal minority that is against the evacuation acts as if it represents the general will. The majority’s mistake derives not only from its silence and preoccupation with other things, but from the reluctance of its leaders to offer a convincing sense of urgency to the issue at hand. The minority’s strength is in turn derived from the voluminous way it expresses itself, its focus on one issue only, and of course, from the trepidation displayed by the leaders of the majority.
One might add that Israeli leaders – as well as most journalists – are simply lying to the public, leading it to believe that we can reach an agreement while keeping settlements which are deep into the Palestinian territory, such as Ariel and Maale Edomim; that we can have a peace settlement without parting the holy basin in Jerusalem; or that we can make Hamas disappear (and when all of these fail to materialize, they blame Arab rejectionism). Akiva Eldar just had an interesting piece in Haaretz on the damage of baseless believes on both sides.
But the failure of leadership is only half the story. The real problem is the fact that Israelis are unwilling to pay the price that the implication of the two state solutions involves. As I’ve written before, the status quo is simply too comfortable for us, and there is no real incentive to go through the difficult internal confrontation – not to mention obvious security threats – that a withdrawal from the West bank might bring.
This is why I only partly agree with Baltiansky’s conclusion – that a foreign leader who wants to make progress should communicate itself to Israelis. Communication is important, but it will be all but useless without applying real pressure on Israeli leaders, such pressure that will make it clear that the current situation cannot go on.
“Each Friday, there are at least 10 demonstrations involving Israelis and internationals in the West Bank,” tells me Didi Remez, as we drive to Nabi Saleh, the tiny village that has been fighting for months to regain access to a small spring that was taken over by settlers from nearby Halamish. Dozens of Israelis come to these protests, not counting the hundreds who arrive each Friday to Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.
Not much is going on when we arrive at Nabi Saleh. As we wait for the protesters to gather, we are offered lunch and cold water in a local house. Around 1.00 pm we join a small march down the village’s main street. Suddenly, three army jeeps appear and block the street, and about a dozen soldiers come out. About 25 protesters, most of them children and young girls, go all the way down to the soldiers, singing and shouting, accompanied by the photographers and the internationals. This goes on for about half an hour.
Then someone throws a stone. The soldiers respond with tear gas, lots of it. Together with a few other Israelis, I find shelter behind a local house. The wind carried the gas into the house and the old woman who lived there is now seating outside, tears running down her face. She signals me not to try and wash my face and instead just wait for the effect of the gas to fade.
The soldiers are chasing protesters into the village. Some of them occupy one of the houses, while the others fire tear gas from the street. Some of the nearby houses fill with gas, as their windows are broken from previous demonstrations. The Palestinians move to the upper part of the village, while the Israelis and internationals – who don’t take part in the stone throwing – are looking for safe corners, trying to avoid both the gas and the (very few) flying stones. Every now and then, the wind carries another cloud of gas towards our way.
The soldiers are shooting the gas cans directly at the protesters, and not in an arch, like I remember we were taught to do it in the army (you can see this in a these videos from a previous demonstration). Later, a Palestinian is injured after suffering a direct hit in his face.
After a couple of hours, we decide to leave the village (though the protest will go on almost till dusk). On the way back to the car, I see several boys, around the age of ten, falling to the ground, gasping for air after inhaling too much gas. Their faces are red and one of them is hardly breathing, but in a few minutes he recovers and rejoins the protesters.
A woman whose house was hit by tear gas (p: Didi Remez)
By the time we get to Jerusalem, the protest on Shikh Jarrah is already on its way. The turnout is the best I’ve seen here: between 300 to 400 people. Without PR or money for busing, and after no less 30 protesters were arrested last week – somehow, it seemed that the protest is just getting bigger and bigger.
As Lisa Goldman notes, after Nabi Saleh, Jerusalem seems like a peaceful afternoon get-together. But for me it’s just as important, and I feel more at home here. Supporting the protest in the West Bank villages is crucial, but I find it emotionally hard to bear. After the last time I took part in it, it took me a full month to mount the strength to come again. To have soldiers point guns at me and fire tear gas is not only scary, but extremely strange. There is something in this experience that shakes my world. After all, I’m still an Israeli, and a reserve captain in the IDF for that matter!
I don’t take part in the stone throwing, but I definitely understand it and support the villagers in their struggle. Yet today in Nabi Saleh I asked myself from time to time what happens if the demonstration becomes more violent. What would I do – or feel – if a Molotov Cocktail is thrown?
I don’t have a good answer.
The protests in Jerusalem don’t carry such ideological and emotional problems. Ironically, the political message here is much more radical, since many Israelis who think we have nothing to do in Bilin or Nabi Saleh won’t like the idea of handing Sheikh Jarrah to the Palestinians, but the difference between the two events is unmistakable. Shikh Jarrah is an Israeli demonstration (with some Palestinians present); in the West Bank’s villages it’s the Palestinians who lead the action, and we are just guests. I find it fitting. I don’t expect many Israelis to come to Nabi Saleh to protest, but I do hope many will continue to take part in the demonstrations in Jerusalem, and that many others would join them.
Driving back from Jerusalem, this time with my mother, I was a bit encouraged. Recently, I’ve come to realize that Fridays in Sheikh Jarrah don’t feel like any other leftist event I’ve been to – and I had my share of them. Over the years, we had much bigger demonstrations, on much bigger issues – but something feels more real here, something even feels better. As if for the first time in years we are really doing exactly the right thing, and for the right reasons.
Protesters in Sheikh Jarrah
I forgot my camera today, so excuse the crappy photos taken on my phone. When I get better ones from one of the photographers who were with us, I will post them.
UPDATE: read Amitai Sandy’s account of the day’s protest in village of Maasra on comment #2.
Yesterday Israel marked “Jerusalem Day”. Established by the government in 1968, this was supposed to become a national holiday, celebrating out return to the most sacred city for Jews and the unification of the Israeli capital. But Jerusalem is anything but unified, and Jerusalem Day is a partisan rightwing celebration, marked through provocative “heritage tours” by ultra-nationalists groups in the Arab neighborhoods, and met with indifference with the rest of the public.
While PM Netnayhu chose to carry a hard line political speech at Merkaz Harav” Yeshiva – the birthplace of the settler movement – It was Likud’s Knesset speaker Rubi Rivlin, of all people, who told it like it is, acknowledging that Jerusalem’s Arabs are greatly discriminated, and that the oaths to the “eternal capitol” are no more than empty words:
“We ill-treated Jerusalem. We ill-treated it by becoming addicted to poeticizing it. We ill-treated it by endlessly longing for a distant ‘Zion’ while Zion is alive here and now. We ill-treated it by endlessly debating its borders and outlines and not debating enough current substance and vision.
“We ill-treated it by writing checks we never cashed in. Checks such as ‘The Reunited Town,’ which, 43 years on, is hardly united.”
But you don’t really need Rivlin to know that. Some twenty years ago, Teddy Kollek, legendary mayor of Jerusalem, admitted – while still serving! – that the city never cared for it’s Arab citizens [PDF, the quote is on page 39 of the document]. His words are worth repeating, since the only thing that changed from his days is that now Israel is kicking Palestinians from their homes and constructing new neighborhoods for Jews in East Jerusalem, so that a territorial compromise would never be possible:
“We said things half-mindedly and never fulfilled them. We’ve said again and again that we will make Arabs’ rights equal those of the Jews – empty words… both [PM] Eshkol and [PM] Begin promised equal rights – both broke their promises… they [Palestinians] were and remain second and third class citizens.”
Q: And this is being said by the mayor of Jerusalem, who labored for the city’s Arab citizens, built and developed their neighborhoods?
“Nonsense! Fables! Never built nor developed! I did do something for Jewish Jerusalem in the last 25 years. But for eastern Jerusalem, what did we do? Nothing! What did I do? Schools? Nothing! Pavements? Nothing! Culture centers? Not one! We did give them sewage and improved the water supply. You know why? You think [we did it] for their own good? For their quality of life? no way! There were a few cases of Cholera and the Jews were scared that it might reach them, so we installed sewage and water.”
We also got yesterday another absurd moment regarding Jerusalem, this time from the Israeli authorities. Mordechi Vanunu, the nuclear whistleblower, was sentenced to for community work for violating his outrageous release terms (last time he was put on trail for “contacting a foreign citizens” – it happened to be his girlfriend). Vanunu asked the court to be permitted to carry out this work in East Jerusalem. The state argued that he must work “inside Israel” – ignoring the fact that we declare on a daily basis that East Jerusalem is Israel. The state won. Vanunu was sent to prison. So much for the “united city”, or for Israeli justice.
And to end the day in a positive note, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon spoke at the Irvin Moskowitz awards ceremony (honoring the US rightwing billionaire, who finance the most radical colonization attempts in Jerusalem and Hebron), and said that the city will remain under Jewish sovereignty forever, and all the talk about dividing the city are no more than “dust in the wind”. But remember, it’s the Palestinians who refuse any compromise.
Haaretz reports today that several Arab human rights group are planning a large rally in Haifa today to protest the arrest of activist Ameer Makhoul. A gag order is preventing Israeli media from reporting the arrest itself.
Arab MK’s are also planning to raise Makhoul’s issue in the Knesset, and if necessary, to appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court so it would lift the gag order and allow Makhoul to defend himself against the Shin Beit charges.
In a different issue, today begins the trial of eight activists who took part in the protest in Sheikh Jarrah, the Jerusalem neighborhood being colonized by extreme rightwing settlers (with the support of Jerusalem’s mayor). The court has ruled in the past that most of the actions carried out by the Jerusalem police against the protesters were illegal, yet the effort to prosecute and deter the demonstrators continues.
An unusual protest is scheduled for Thursday in the West Bank: settlers and Palestinians are planning to march together in protest against the security barrier Israel is building south of Jerusalem.
According to a report on Srugim, a national–religious news site, the protest was initiated by Eretz Shalom, a new pro-peace settlers’ movement. A flayer the settlers distributed (shown below), claims that the planned fence “will damage the nature in the area, hurt the residents of the [Palestinian] village Volga and their fields, won’t add to the security of Jerusalem, and will be a waste of state’s money.”
The settlers invite all residents of the area, “Jews, Christians and Arabs”, to meet at the border police checkpoint on 16.30 and march together in protest.
Is this more than a gimmick? It’s hard to tell. There has been some talk of peace initiatives coming from the far right recently. Naturally, they all lead to the one state solution, with most of the settlements staying where they are and the Palestinians becoming Israeli citizens. These ideas are yet to be developed, but I wouldn’t dismiss them altogether.
Many people on the left will find it hard to accept the idea of settlers talking about peace, but we should remember that not all the Jews living in the West Bank are like the radical and violent people of Yitzhar. Some of them are from second and third generation in the settlements, and they really struggle to find a solution that will enable them to live in peace. According to another report on Srugim, the people of Eretz Shalom don’t deal too much with politics, and view themselves as a grassroots, regional initiative. I think we should wish them luck.