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. Read the rest of this entry »

OMG! the White House is dismayed! (how the US continues to get it all wrong)

Posted: November 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The day opened with the front headline in Yedioth Ahronoth quoting the American demand from Israel not to go on with a new building project of some 900 housing units in Gilo, a Jerusalem neighborhood on the eastern (Palestinian) side of the Green line. Just a few hours passed, and the city’s Planning Committee happily approved the project. The committee also had a few words for those who didn’t get the message:

“The fact that the United States is against this or not is not a factor,” one of the committee members told Ynet. “According to what is accepted at the moment, this territory belongs to Jerusalem and to Israel, and thus the Israeli planning and construction law applies to it and the committee must discuss the plan.”

The US was quick to response. Politico’s Laura Rosen’s reports:

In a rare White House statement on the Middle East peace process, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs issued a stand-alone statement from China today expressing sharp dismay at an Israeli municipal body’s decision to expand the Gilo settlement.

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” Gibbs said in a statement. “At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations. The U.S. also objects to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes. Our position is clear: the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

Forgive me if I’m not so sure this one will keep the lights on all night in Netanyahu’s office.

No really, what are they thinking at the White House? The President’s spokesman, during a key visit to China, exchanging messages with Jerusalem’s Planning Committee? And when the president of the United States is practically being told to go to hell by some low level bureaucrats, the administration chooses to response publicly by expressing “dismay”? what’s next? An attack of “concern”? How do they ever expect to be taken seriously?

This whole fiasco just shows how hopeless things are, with regards to any diplomatic progress. Unless there are some big things happening in the background, it seems that the administration simply lost its way. First the US is rushing to declare that it will object a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence, and then the White House is surprised – astonished! – that it has no leverage over Jerusalem.

Gibbs could have been ten times more effective if instead of saying that such actions “make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed” (and they say Democrats can’t use force!), he would have said, even hinted, that unilateral steps by Israel – and basically, this is what these settlements are, one big, decades-old, unilateral move – will make the US consider supporting the Palestinian unilateralism. And you know what? He didn’t even have to go public. A phone call to Netanyahu would have worked even better, and it wouldn’t have hurt the administration with its Jewish base. But I guess someone though that a statements fight with the Jerusalem city hall would be smarter.   Read the rest of this entry »

Netanyahu accepts a Palestinian state (has some tiny conditions, though)

Posted: June 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

cross-posted with FPW.

You can say that Benjamin Netanyahu raised impossible demands from the Palestinians in his “major diplomatic speech,” as he called it (full text here). You can say that he didn’t accept the American demand for a complete stop of all construction projects in the West bank and East Jerusalem. You can say that he spent most of his time repeating his usual narrative of peace-seeking Israelis and Arab Rejectionism, and that he was “boldly stepping into 1993“. And you would probably be right in saying all this.

But what I heard today was the last Israeli leader to accept the idea of a Palestinian state.

There is no national figure to the right of Netanyahu, only second rate extremists. Avigdor Liberman long ago accepted the idea of a Palestinian state. So did, in less than a decade, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni – all of them formerly Likud people, even hard-liners, who finally understood that from an Israeli point of view, even a Zionist one, there is no real alternative. Twenty years ago, even Labor leaders didn’t speak of a Palestinian state. It was considered a radical-leftist idea. Things changed; one can’t deny that – but at what price!

So much for historical perspective. Now we can take apart some of the smaller details of the speech:

Negotiations: Netanyahu called for immediate negotiations with all Arab leaders, “without preconditions.” This in something Israeli leaders always said, and the Arabs will probably reject this idea again. The reason is simple: The only asset the Arab leaders are holding is the possibility of legitimizing Israel, and negotiations can be seen as a form of legitimation. That’s why most leaders will ask for something in return before engaging in direct talks – if not from Israel, than from the US.

A Jewish State: Netanyahu wasn’t completely honest when he claimed to be ready to negotiate without preconditions. He had some conditions, especially for the Palestinian side. First, he asked Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state (in fact, if I got it right, he kind of asked the whole Arab world to do so). This is something the Palestinians will never do, because they would be betraying the cause of Palestinians citizens of Israel – which make up 20 percent of the population – for equal political and civil rights. But Netanyahu knows that this demand sounds good to the Israeli public, as well as to American Jews (unlike his insistence on building settlements), so he keeps on raising the issue, assuming it can help him out of tough corners in the future.

Hamas: Netanyahu had another condition for the Palestinians. He demanded the PA does something the Israeli Army couldn’t do: remove Hamas from power and re-seize control over the Gaza strip. Again, Netanyahu probably knows that moderate Arab leaders, with the silent support of the Obama administration, are moving in the opposite direction, of establishing a Palestinian unity government that will be able to negotiate with Israel. The Hamas problem allows him to buy time.

In my view, this is currently the biggest obstacle in the way of the peace process. This is not about declaring something about a Jewish homeland, like the previous demand. We can always work out a fancy statement that will keep almost everyone happy. This is a real political mess: Hamas controls Gaza. The PLO controls the West Bank. Are we to establish three states? The position Netanyahu took actually gives veto power over any agreement to Hamas – and the PM might be counting on them to use it.

Settlements: Thirty words. That’s what Netanyahu had to say about the issue which stood at the bottom of his confrontation with Obama, as well as his political problems at home. Bottom line: the PM presented the consensus he was able to build in his government as a response to the American demand. No new settlements will be built, and there will be no further confiscation of Palestinian land (I won’t go into the legal details, but this doesn’t mean much, because Israel decided long ago most of the land in the WB is “public land”, and therefore open for construction). We will have to see what Israel really does on the ground – and how the Administration responds – in order to judge both sides’ commitment to their positions.

Borders, Security, Refugees and Jerusalem: we had nothing new here. A typical Israeli hard-line. Netanyahu even said at one point that “my positions on these matters are well known.” And that’s exactly how we should look at them – his positions, which will be subject to whatever happens at the negotiating table.

And that’s my bottom line: I never thought – and I still don’t think – that Benjamin Netanyahu is the right man to lead Israel out of the West Bank (not to mention bring peace for the region). Not because he is a radical – Sharon was considered much worse before he took power – but because he hasn’t got the right character, nor the right ambitions. But he can still play a big role in this process, and if he does, this day will be remembered as his first step. It took Obama only two months to get him there. We should be optimistic.

Israel’s stronghold in Washington

Posted: June 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Politico’s Ben Smith has an interesting story on what seems to be a growing concern amongst the House Democrats due to Obama’s pressure on Israel.

… even a key defender of Obama’s Mideast policy, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), is seeking to narrow the administration’s definition of “settlement” to take pressure off Obama. And the unusual criticism by congressional Democrats of the popular president is a sign that it may take more than a transformative presidential election to change the domestic politics of Israel.

This was kind of expected. The House was always Israel’s stronghold in Washington. After it decided in the 90′s to move the American embassy to Jerusalem – against the will of the WH, and even the Israeli government! – pundits used to joke that the House is more Zionist than the Knesset (all foreign embassies in Israel sit in Tel Aviv, because Jerusalem’s international statues was never resolved).

One should also note that two of the Representatives criticizing the president in the Politico article come from New York, what probably makes them super-sensitive to the concern of the Jewish community there.

The bottom line is that unlike on economic issues, the House is not that central in shaping foreign policy. And the American embassy, I should note, is still in Tel Aviv.

I don’t listen to Peres, and you shouldn’t either

Posted: May 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

As international pressure is mounting, Israel goes back to the old habit of speaking in two languages. The first one is aimed to please the world (This is the traditional role of Shimon Peres), the second one – reserved for internal use only – deals with the things we really plan to do.

Daphna Golan has a great example in today’s Haaretz:

It’s to be hoped that the White House gets a subscription to one of the local Jerusalem newspapers ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington. Simply leafing through the giant advertisements would save American and Israeli taxpayers significant amounts of time, money and grief.

Israel has long promised there would be no new construction in West Bank settlements. President Shimon Peres reiterated this promise recently to Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country currently holds the European Union presidency. Topolanek, in turn, promised to work to improve Israeli-European relations. Netanyahu, during his U.S. visit, is certain to repeat the same lies uttered by Peres.

Yet this week, a Jerusalem daily promised that any Israeli factory willing to move to the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim would benefit in three ways. First is the community’s “Ideal location,” ten minutes from Jerusalem. The map featured in the ad shows only Israeli communities as recommended sites for factory owners to build in – no Palestinian communities, even those next door to the settlements.

read the rest here.

The Election is Over, Let the Election Begin

Posted: November 13th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: elections | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The municipal elections are over, and there were a few interesting results, including surprising losses for some of Israel’s longest serving mayors: Yaakov Turner in Beer Sheva, Meir Nitzan in Rishon Le’tzion, and Zvi Zilker in Ashdod.

In Jerusalem, secular businessman Nir Barkat got the upper hand in his battle against Orthodox MK Menachem Porush. This doesn’t mean that Jerusalem is getting more secular. Porush lost because he failed to win the support of some important orthodox groups, most notably the Hasidics of Gur.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Communists are Coming!

Posted: November 10th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: elections | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Three things to watch in the municipal election this Tuesday:

1. Tel Aviv: Mayor Ron Huldai is running for a third term after 10 years in office, backed by both Kadima and Labor parties. On the previous election Huldai won in a landslide without really campaigning, but public opinion of him has changed in the last two years. Huldai has failed to address the problem of raising rent and further worsened the situation for himsels by declaring that this was a normal result of the free market. Tel Aviv during his time in office became so attractive, he claimed, that everyone wanted to live in it. Huldai, a former pilot for the Air Force, who became a national figure as the successful principal of one of the city’s most prestigious high schools, has also made some unpopular decisions, such as taking down the legendary Osishkin basketball arena, home of Hapoel Tel Aviv, the second most popular team in the city.
His surprising challenger is MK Dov Khenin of Hadash, the radical left wing party. Khenin has built an Obama-like coalition of representatives from the poor neighborhoods in the south of the city, and the young students, journalists and bohemian crowd from the city center. Khenin is the grandson of an important Chabad rabbi, and was the former chairman of the “Environment and Life” organization, which amalgamates most of the environmental organizations in Israel.
The polls gave Huldai a 20 plus points advantage just a month ago, but the race has tightened since and the margin is considered to be in the high single digit area. Still, even the slight chance that a communist like Khenin will lead Israel’s cultural and financial capital is surprising, to say the least, considering the current political atmosphere.
My prediction: Huldai, by a margin of 15 points or more.

Read the rest of this entry »

An Obama Effect?

Posted: November 5th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Most Israelis were just waking up when John McCain conceded and Barack Obama was officially declared the next president of the United States. On Monday you could still find articles predicting [in Hebrew] that in the end “The Real America” will have the last word and McCain will win. On election day there was an ugly article on Ynet by Naomi Ragan, the right-wing religious novelist, who quoted most of the rumors about Obama as if they were facts (for example: Obama’s campaign was funded mostly by rich Arabs, some of them from Gaza). Reading this article again this morning was particularly fun.

As for myself, I guessed a 318-220 victory for Obama and 52-48 on popular vote, which was not that far-off.

We will have to wait for tomorrow’s papers to see what the pundits have to say about the outcomes effect on Israel and the middle east. Meanwhile, here are some of my thoughts.

The US support of Israel– both diplomatically and financially –will remain the same. Assuming Israel will continue asking the US for permission to use military force (like it probably did before the attack on the nuclear facility in Syria) we will not see major change in security issues. The million dollar question is what will happen if Israel wishes to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. My guess is that for as long as the US is in Iraq, nobody in Washington will care to open a third front (this goes for W as well on his two remaining months in the White House).

So what difference does the presidential election make? Well, the US has direct influence on two key issues here: the peace negotiations and the settlements, especially those around Jerusalem.

In his eight years in office, George W. Bush didn’t do much to reignite the peace process. Instead, he supported unilateral steps taken by Israel, such as reoccupying the West Bank cities and the withdrawal from Gaza. The result was an increase in the power of all extremist groups in the region, most of all the Hamas. Lately, there have been signs of a change in policy, the result of Condoleezza Rice’s efforts. As I wrote before, there is a learning period for any new administration, so it will take some time before we can evaluate if there is a real change in policy.

During this time, Israel will build settlements. We have been doing it for more then 40 years, regardless of the identity of the guy in the oval office – or in the PM office in Jerusalem for that matter.

All settlements are harmful, but some are worst than others. Even the neo-cons and neo-Zionists around Bush didn’t allow Israel to build in the area called E1, east of Jerusalem. The Israeli plan is to build there a Jewish neighborhood, an industrail park and even a few hotels, that will eventually be part of Jerusalem, thus diminishing the last option to divide the city into Israeli and Palestinian capitals. And if Bush didn’t allow it, nobody else will. Hopefully, Obama’s people will also keep a closer eye on other construction project in the West Bank, which only serve to to prevent the two states solution.

Finally, there has been some talk on the influence of an Obama victory on Israeli politics, and especially on the results of the general election in February. Some people, both here [Hebrew] and in the US, think that the “Change” massage coming from America will help those candidates who are perceived as “fresh” (aka Tzipi Livni). It has also been speculated that Netanyahu will be considered as someone who will find it harder to deal with the new president, given his hawkish stands. However, one might also claim that some voters will move to the right, in hope of a government that will stand up to American and international pressure towards concessions. But most importantly – in order to have an Obama-like spirit of change, you must have an Obama-like candidate. We don’t.