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Legalizing the Jerusalem Lie

July 1, 2010

A great article written by a friend of mine who works for Palestine Monitor (palestinemonitor.org):

Three months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “spat in Obama’s eye” by timing high-level diplomatic visits with the announcement of sweeping development plans in East Jerusalem, the city is about to codify into law an even more ambitious master plan for taking over the entire heart of the stateless Palestinian nation. And once again, Bibi is off to Washington.

In symbolic microcosm, construction began this past weekend on the controversial grounds of the Shepherd Hotel. The compound lies in the traditionally Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on the Palestinian side of the green line in Jerusalem, just north of the old city. The hotel itself was considered property of the Jordanian authority (having passed from the erstwhile ownership of the Grand Mufti Haj Amin Al-Husseini) until it was purchased in 1985 by Irving Moskowitz, a wealthy American Jew and a major financier of the Israeli settler movement.

In the wake of dramatic 2008-2009 settlement activity in Sheikh Jarrah — recall that several Palestinian families are now living in tents outside their former homes while protected Israeli settlers sleep inside — plans were floated to construct 20 Jewish-only housing units on the large property of the Shepherd Hotel. The plan was met with international condemnation and was silenced more than once, but it never went away. On Sunday, construction work began. The new development will see upwards of one hundred Israelis wedged into the heart of Palestinian East Jerusalem.

“You see, they want all Sheikh Jarrah,” says local resident Muhammad Sabagh. Muhammad has problems of his own, because a legal claim against his house is currently grinding through the Israeli courts. He hopes to be luckier than some of his now-homeless neighbors. “We don’t accept settlers in our neighborhood,” he says.

On Tuesday afternoon, there was no activity at the hotel site. A security guard present said that construction work had never begun. The heavy-duty digging activity on the weekend, he explained, was just to test the support strength of the ground.

For decades, East Jerusalem has been the intended capital of a future Palestinian state, but in recent months, Israeli officials have pumped up the volume on their propaganda slogan that all Jerusalem is “open and undivided.” In this view, the east-west distinction is no longer relevant, and Israelis should be able to build and develop on the occupied Palestinian side as freely as they do on the Israeli side.

In a statement issued this week, city officials cleverly obfuscated, “Just like any other municipality in Israel, Jerusalem Municipality hands out building permits in the entire city based on their compliance with professional criteria only, and without checking religion, race, or sex, which is against the law.”

This statement, however, includes a massive lie of omission, because it implies that Palestinians have equal building rights. While the city may not discriminate on “religion, race, or sex, which is against the law,” they in fact discriminate on the basis of citizenship. The Palestinians of East Jerusalem have been deemed “permanent residents” by Israeli authorities but specifically excluded from citizenship. This distinction is crucial because only citizens can legally obtain building rights from the Israeli Land Administration, which has jurisdiction over most of the city’s residential landscape — both East and West Jerusalem.

As a report issued by an Israeli non-profit organization, Ir Amim, concluded: “Of all the land designated for housing development in West Jerusalem and in the Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem [35,000 dunams], at least 79% [27,642 dunams] is ILA land, and therefore theoretically off limits to the city’s Palestinian residents.”

This means that outside of traditional Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, Palestinians have the official legal basis for building or owning in just 20 percent of combined Jerusalem by virtue of their non-citizen status. And within that sliver of the city, along with their own already inhabited neighborhoods, obtaining legal permits is notoriously difficult, both financially and bureaucratically.

As important as these details are, we must be careful not to lose the forest for the leaves. The fact is that Israel holds East Jerusalem by occupation, taken by force in the war of 1967. Like the rest of the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem was never meant to be a part of any Israeli state. Under international law, to which Israel is bound as a signatory, the transfer of civilian population into occupied territory is a war crime. East Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians.

Despite this inconvenient truth, just this week, the city’s right-wing Israeli Jerusalem Municipality approved a provocative and self-styled “Master Plan” for urban development. The new document codifies into law the formerly talking-point view that Jerusalem is “open and undivided,” providing the legal framework for unlimited Israeli expansion in occupied East Jerusalem.

Under the new arrangement, projects like the Shepherd Hotel compound in Sheikh Jarrah would require no special authorization. There would be no difference between East and West Jerusalem.

Further, the plan appears to allow residential development on previously protected land. In the past, Israel has softened the perception of its appropriation of Palestinian territory by declaring certain areas off-limits to housing development of any kind. Now even these so-called “green areas” are fair game, rendering many previous points of contention irrelevant.

For example, according to Israel’s daily newspaper Haaretz, “Despite the National Planning and Building Committee’s decision to designate the City of David – which sits in the heart of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan – as ‘a national park,’ the new master plan allows for the construction of residential units in the area.” So while Israel buttered the Silwan bulldozing announcement with promises that Israeli settlers would not move into the cleared neighborhood, the lie has been revealed.

Under the false banner that Jerusalem is “open and undivided,” the peace-killing initiatives underway in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan will become the new normal and predictably the basis of tomorrow’s bloody conflicts.

There may be a prospect that America will reign in its rogue state, to reign in its rogue municipality, but even with Israel’s premier knocking on Obama’s door, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Michael J Carpenter is a post-graduate student of the University of Victoria in Canada with a special focus on human rights and security issues, currently residing in Ramallah.

http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=296074

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