Advance with bricks and bulldozers

November 9, 2011
Sarah Benton

Report: Israel plans 50,000 homes in East Jerusalem

Ma’an news

JERUSALEM — Israel’s Jerusalem municipality plans to build more than 50,000 new homes in the city’s occupied eastern sector over two decades, Israeli media reported on Sunday.

A study commissioned by Israel’s Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barakat to address housing shortages in the city, obtained by Hebrew daily Maariv, shows designs for 60,718 housing units in the city, with the majority — 52,363 homes — planned for East Jerusalem.

Most of the city’s land available for construction lies in the eastern sector, with West Jerusalem lacking viable sites, the study says. Israel annexed East Jerusalem — regarded as the capital of a future Palestinian state — in a 1967 war, and its control over the area is not recognized by the international community.

According to Maariv, the study shows:

— 23,628 homes have already been approved, 20,263 in East Jerusalem and 3,365 in the west.

— 13,824 are pending review, 12,819 in East Jerusalem and 1,005 in the west.

— 23,266 housing units are still in planning stages, 19,281 in the east and 3,985 in the west.

Of these, the municipality plans:

— 10,366 homes in northern East Jerusalem, including illegal Israeli settlement Pisgat Zeev and Palestinian town Beit Hanina.

— 5,239 homes in southern East Jerusalem, including Gilo settlement and Palestinian district Beit Safafa.

— 4,886 new units in central eastern Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan and Jerusalem’s Old City.

A spokesperson for Israel’s Jerusalem municipality told Maariv the construction of tens of thousands of homes over the next 20 years will “allow young couples and families to purchase apartments in the city.”

The vast majority of land on which Jerusalem is built, including the settlements in the city’s occupied eastern sector, is state land, and the property built on it can be purchased by anyone who is an Israeli citizen, or who is Jewish.

Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, very few of whom have Israeli citizenship, must first obtain a special permit to purchase land or property there. Rights groups say such permission is virtually unheard of.

We Live Here, We Exist Here
By Gary Spedding, Palestine News Network Op Ed

Within the walled enclosure that now surrounds the little town of Bethlehem and its surrounding villages, there can be found up towards the hilltop facing the Mediterranean Sea a small, less famous but still biblical town known as Beit Jala.

A once small village with rich Christian history that has lasted to this day, Beit Jala is home to a diverse community of Palestinians. With a majority Orthodox Christian community along with some Catholic and Lutheran Arabs as well as a sizeable Muslim population, this peaceful town is known to be the place that the real Saint Nicholas dwelled for a time during the 4th century. In the area that he stayed stands the now 1100-year old Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, a testament to his patronage as saint of all Beit Jala. It is now a common rumour that he came down from his icon during the 1967 war to defend the town from Israel’s rockets and shells.

It is now widely known that the Israeli government decided to collectively punish the Palestinian people for their victory at UNESCO earlier this week. Netanyahu has decided to approve a further 2000 new housing units in various West Bank settlements, including in East Jerusalem, which for all intents and purposes Israel views as including the settlements that current cripple Beit Jala especially that of Gilo and Har Gilo.

Technically speaking, this reveals the larger Israeli goal to include the majority of Beit Jala land within the municipal boundaries of the illegally annexed city of Jerusalem. Yet the main issue here for Beit Jala is the now fully revealed and blatantly calculated plan of the Israeli government to steal as much land as possible from the residents and legal owners of the land.

In a move designed to cripple the Palestinian peoples and discourage them from supporting the PA in further moves for recognition at the UN, Israel has stepped up its attack on Beit Jala. The plans for Beit Jala have likely always been on the agenda for the right wing government in Israel since Netanyahu was elected or even in previous Knessets. This can be proven just by witnessing the gradual confiscation of land in the area during the last 44 years, in which Beit Jala lost two-thirds of its land to Israeli settlement construction, military bases and the concrete wall.

From almost 15,000 dunums of land that Beit Jala originally held as a municipality before 1967, only 4,500 remains, according to municipal records. As if that wasn’t enough, the Israeli government recently ruled to take a further 37 dunums of land from Beit Jala, along with the Cremisan monastery and its winery. The path of the annexation wall will cut Cremisan out of Beit Jala, taking with it a school used by many children, including a young boy with whom I have lived with during the summers with his family.

During my visits to Beit Jala I have witnessed the wall being built under the guise of self-defense because of a controversial road that links the illegal settlements of Efrata, Har Gilo, Neve Daniel and countless others directly to Jerusalem. This road cuts out the Hebron – Jerusalem road that runs through the middle of Bethlehem, completing the total separation of Jewish settlers from Palestinian locals. There is also the issue that access to the only Arab hospital in Beit Jala at the top of the hill may be restricted, thus risking the lives of countless elderly people who require medical care around the clock.

There is an important message to get out there from the people of Beit Jala which is that the people of this small town most assuredly live there and certainly do exist. To spread this message, a group of locals decided to hold a demonstration at the gates of the Cremisan on the 4th of November 2011 at 3 p.m. local time.

The demonstration included a Christian prayer session, emphasizing that unlike the stereotype many people in the West are fed about Israel-Palestine being a Jewish-Muslim conflict, there are Christians in Palestine that suffer the exact same discrimination, humiliation, abuses and death as the Muslim population, simply for being Arab.

There were a number of people in attendance at this demonstration including some of the local clergymen who facilitated the mass. On its Facebook page, the event reined in international support from as far away as America with the Greek Orthodox Bishop Savas Zembillas showing solidarity with the people of Beit Jala.

During the course of the demonstration local Palestinians young and old sang songs and prayed while some other youth put a large banner on the side of the hilltop with the words ‘We live here, we exist here.’  Other reports from the demonstration are still coming, in but altogether it seems to have been a success.

As one of the Palestinian towns hardest hit by the occupation, Beit Jala has lost many of its original Christian inhabitants to places like Chile. The Municipality in its recent press release called for the principled support of friends worldwide, asking that all people worldwide show solidarity with this village and all of Palestine at a time when the Israeli government is becoming more right-wing and its crimes are becoming easier to ignore.

The people of Beit Jala are vibrant, strong and proud, but they are being exhausted by the presence of the Israeli military just 800 meters from their city centre. They’re being devastated by the continued unilateral efforts of the State of Israel to destroy the lives of the generations to come. Let us not forget that there are children who are going to lose not only their school but their green open spaces, grandparents who may die without access to a hospital, and entire families who could have their homes demolished depending on the route of the wall. This is the very real and very human side to what Israel is doing in destroying these people’s lives: the policies of the state of Israel simply have to be changed!

Gary Spedding is the president of the Belfast-based Palestine Solidarity Society

Israel’s vandalism of Palestinian heritage
Abe Hayeem, Opinion, Electronic Intifada

Despite the machinations by Israel and the US, there was great joy expressed at the assembly of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) when Palestine was voted in as a member state last week.

Like thwarted bullies, both Israel and the US reacted with theatrical pique and fury. The US, never applying sanctions against Israel’s decades-long war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank by suspending its billions in aid and arms, immediately withdrew its $80 million contribution to UNESCO as a collective punishment.

In addition, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the US will “consider new legislation to impose additional restrictions on American funding of the UN, threaten cutting aid to the Palestinian, and slash military assistance to key foreign countries in retaliation to their support for the Palestinian bid for full UN membership” (“US cuts funding for UNESCO after Palestinian vote,” 31 October 2011). The US is bound by two laws passed by Congress in the 1990s to cut the funding to any UN body involved with recognition of a Palestinian state, even at the risk of harming America’s own interests (“The UNESCO mess,” Al Jazeera English, 1 November 2011).

Israel went even further. Haaretz reported the possibility of Israel “imposing sanctions on the Palestinian Authority … increasing settlement construction, and halting the transfer of tax money which Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority.” Israel announced the go-ahead for yet another 2,000 settler homes in East Jerusalem, using illegal means like the theft of land to punish a democratic vote in favor of the Palestinians, as it did with the democratic election of Hamas in 2006 (“Netanyahu: It is Israel’s right and obligation to build in Jerusalem,” Haaretz, 2 November 2011).

Israel’s warning that it “will now reconsider its cooperation with UNESCO” is the biggest irony. Like its relentless impunity to international law including UN resolutions, Israel has disregarded all the warnings by UNESCO ever since its illegal annexation of East Jerusalem not to change the status of the Old City and its environs (“The Director-General of UNESCO voices his alarm over the resumption of tensions in the Old City of Jerusalem,”Haaretz, 8 February 2007).

Misleading tourists

Israel continues to clash with UNESCO and the UN over the designation of holy sites in Jerusalem (“Israel clashes with UNESCO in row over holy sites,” Haaretz, 3 November 2010). Israel’s planned “Historical Trail” designed to “strengthen ties between global Jewry and Israel’s historical and Zionist legacy” includes many sites in the occupied West Bank; Israeli tourist advertisements include a map showing the whole West Bank as “Israel” (“Israel mulls NIS 500M ‘heritage’ trails that reach into West Bank,” Haaretz 15 February 2010).

Israel has displayed no hesitation to destroy or seriously damage historic areas of cities like the casbah in Nablus, or the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as it did during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. Immune to Muslim sensitivities and world protests, it continued with the destruction of graves in the ancient Muslim cemetery in Mamilla, Jerusalem, to build the “Museum of Tolerance” (“A monument to intolerance?” The Guardian, 26 November 2008).

Israel has carried on with questionable archaeological activities since the 1967 war. It has declared the entire Old City a site of antiquity, and all the archives and collections of the Rockefeller Museum (including the Dead Sea Scrolls) in occupied East Jerusalem, and other institutions were declared to be the state’s “national and cultural” property, contravening the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

This “ownership” is still emphasized today by Benjamin Netanyahu who has declared “United Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours.”

Jerusalem’s Old City reconstruction was “fashioned over ruins incorporated into the new structures, so as to appropriate previous historical narratives into the expansion of the Jewish nation state, to establish a ‘priority of right’” (“Facts on the Ground,” Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, 10 June 2009).

Most controversially, excavations have been allowed to be taken under control by the ultra-religious authorities and organizations like Ateret Hacohanim in the Western Wall Heritage Tunnel, and the radical settler movements like Elad in Silwan, a district of East Jerusalem beside the Old City’s walls. This is now being questioned by Israeli archaeologists themselves, worried at the dangerous concoction of its use as part of the colonial expansion in the Old City and the Holy Basin.

Now Israel has given over the administration of the City of David National Park to the complete control of Elad, which is being questioned by human rights organizations in the courts (“Israeli NGO: Elad group has ‘veto power’ over Jerusalem’s City of David,” Haaretz, 24 October 2011).

New threat to al-Aqsa mosque
The controversial demolition of the Mughrabi Bridge onto the Haram al-Sharif and the building of a new bridge to access the area is now being raised again. The new bridge will give Israeli settlers their own access to the al-Aqsa mosque area, which fundamentalist groups wish to replace with a rebuilt temple (“Demolition of historic bridge to Al-Aqsa will have serious consequences,” Middle East Monitor, 1 November 2011).

Israel’s fear is that UNESCO membership for Palestine will threaten its hegemony over the historic sites and its claim to all of the “Holy Land.” The Palestinian Authority has said it will be able to seek the status of world heritage sites for the Church of Nativity as the birthplace of Jesus, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Hamdan Taha , the PA’s antiquities and culture minister, said “UNESCO membership carries a message of justice and rights. Why must the Palestinians be left outside the international system?” (“Palestinians compile list of heritage sites as part of UNESCO campaign,” Haaretz, 10 October 2011).

This is exactly what Israel wishes to do in its opposition to the UN granting Palestinian statehood. It insists on endless negotiations on a useless “peace process” and relegating recognition of a Palestinian state to a “final status” issue, to prevent this from ever happening. As Moshe Dayan, the famous Israeli general said, “The establishment of … a Palestinian state would lay a cornerstone to something else … Either the state of Israel — or a Palestinian state.” (“Zionist ‘negotiating strategy’ sham,” Israeli Occupation Archive, 21 October 2011).

Now that the Palestinian Authority has full UNESCO membership status, it will apply for membership of the World Health Organization and 15 smaller UN agencies which will add even further to Israel’s and the US’ chagrin (“With UNESCO membership granted, Palestinians seek to join 16 more UN agencies,” 1 November 2011).

As a response to the unhinged and irrational behavior of Israel and the US over UNESCO membership, it behoves the responsible members of the UN Security Council and General Assembly to ensure that Palestine achieves full member status of the UN. That is the only way, apart from boycotts, divestment and sanctions, to break the logjam against peace and justice in the Middle East.

Abe Hayeem is a founder member of Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine

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