Posts Tagged ‘sheikh jarrah’

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When a Family is Forced to Demolish their own Home…

July 5, 2010

Imagine building a home for your family with your own hands…putting your life savings into this house and planning a future in it for your children. Then one day, the authorities come and say that you have built your house illegally. Because of this, you must now pay a fine of thousands of dollars, and if you don’t want to pay thousands more, you must demolish your own house—leaving your family homeless.

This is the life of a Palestinian Jerusalemite.

Background on House Demolitions in Jerusalem

In 1999, the Israeli Ministry of Interior said that more than 20,000 homes in East Jerusalem (the mainly Palestinian area of Jerusalem) had been built illegally. Following this, the Municipality of Jerusalem issued 141 demolition orders that year.

Almost one hundred homes have been demolished since the Oslo Agreement was signed—causing hundreds of people to be displaced in Jerusalem.

Judaization of Palestinian Neighborhoods in East Jerusalem

The Israeli government is very clear that they want Jerusalem as the “eternal, undivided capital” of their Jewish state. This poses a major problem for the Christian and Muslim Palestinian residents who have been living for generations in homes now considered illegal.

“It was reported that at a meeting of the Jerusalem Regional Planning Committee, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert has said that the most important task in the coming years was to increase the numbers of the Jewish inhabitants within the city limits. He had also said it was important to include ‘Green areas’ in the plan. He had made little mention of any particular vision to develop the eastern part of the city.” (Jerusalem Post, 21 October 1999)

Between 1967 and 1997, only 12% of all new buildings were in Palestinian neighborhoods while at least 40,000 housing units were constructed in the Israeli public sector for Israeli Jews living on expropriated land.

The Blue Line and Green Areas

Jerusalem Now

24.5 square kilometers (35% of the total annexed area of East Jerusalem—70 sq km) is expropriated land by Israel. In theory, this leaves 45.5 sq km for Palestinian use. However, the Israeli authorities get past this using several different techniques.

Only land within the “blue line” can be built on, however, most of the land within the blue line has already been built on. The “green area” is land set aside for environmental or recreational reasons.

In reality, this is a zoning tactic used by Israel to remove the land from Palestinian use and reserve it for future Jewish housing. How many “tourist parks” does one city really need?

Here is one example of this:

The Jabal Abu Ghneim neighborhood was initially defined as a green area to prevent the neighboring Palestinian villages of Sur Baher and Umm Tuba from expanding. It was later rezoned for residential construction for the new Jewish settlement of Har Homa.

In general, there are very different attitudes and conditions used by the Israeli authorities about planning in Palestinian and Jewish neighborhoods. For Jewish ones, the authorities tend to promote and assist as much as possible  so that they can settle as many people as possible on the available land. For Palestinians, it is the opposite. They are confronted with numerous obstacles and restrictions.

Difficulties in Building “Legally”

On average, according to the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights (JCSER) the Jerusalem municipality grants Palestinians only 150 building permits per year. In addition to all the other bureaucratic difficulties in obtaining these visas, they also cost 25,000 USD—an unaffordable sum to most Palestinian residents.

Because of these obstacles, there are an estimated 1400 houses inside the Old city that are in desperate need of renovation but cannot get the permits. Because of this and the natural population increase, large scale “illegal construction” is the result.

Double Standards

When a Palestinian builds or renovates without the proper permits, the Ministry of Interior and Jerusalem Municipality respond by imposing high fines and by carrying out house demolitions. These demolitions can take place within 24 hours—leaving Palestinians no opportunity to go to court to defend themselves.

There have been some demolitions in West Jerusalem (the Jewish part) but only of an extra room or porch—never a whole building like in Palestinian neighborhoods. JCSER estimated that 84% of building violations take place in the Jewish sector of Jerusalem. While Palestinians are responsible for 16% of building violations, more than 60% of the demolitions are carried out on Palestinian homes.

Table of Palestinian Homes Demolished in 2009

Table of Palestinian Homes Demolished in 2010

Forcing Palestinians to Demolish their own Homes

As families grow, the homes need to grow as well to accommodate them. So what happens when the Israeli authorities will not give out the necessary permits so that the families can add extensions? Or when they delay giving out the permit for months or years?

In these cases, many families decide to build without permits. In doing so, they risk demolition and thousands of shekels in fines. If the family does not demolish their own home, the Israeli authorities will do it—and then send the family a bill for the costs of the demolition—leaving the family homeless and broke.

Abu Shusha Family

Abu Shusha, his wife and five children live in Al Tour neighborhood in East Jerusalem. In order to accommodate his growing family, Abu Shusha decided to add a room to the house. Soon after, he received a demolition order from the Jerusalem municipality, along with a fine of 90,000 NIS (24,384 USD).

The municipality claims that the land on which the room was constructed is part of the “green area” and therefore no construction is allowed there.

Officials from the Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli Ministry of Interior came to Abu Shusha’s house to threaten his family. They informed him that if he doesn’t destroy the room himself in the next 24 hours, the municipality will destroy it and charge the family additional costs to cover the expenses of the demolition.

To add a twist to this story, the Abu Shusha family had just moved to Al Tour neighborhood from Sheikh Jarrah. Sheikh Jarrah is one of the most infamous neighborhoods of East Jerusalem because of the problems caused by Israeli settlers moving in, and forcing Palestinians out with house demolitions.

The policy of Judaization by the Israeli authorities had forced this family to move only to be forced to demolish part of their own house.

Legal Statement

According to Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, the destruction of property is prohibited. This means that the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israeli Interior Ministry, which adopted a policy of demolishing homes in East Jerusalem since its illegal annexation, violate the Geneva Convention.

On 24 November 2001, the UN Committee Against Torture stated Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in breach of article 16 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Israel ratified in 1991.

For more information, check out JCSER’s website at: http://www.jcser.org/

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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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Weekly Report….

March 1, 2010

This week there was a lot of trouble in Hebron–a city in southern West Bank. Hebron is notorious for having crazy and aggressive Israeli settlers, even the Israeli soldiers hate being there to protect the settlers because they are provoking the Palestinians all the time. I read in an article that a soldier stationed in Hebron said that it was the place they send soldiers to punish them.

The settlers have been becoming more and more of a presence in the old market place in the middle of Hebron because of the Ibrihimi Mosque/Cave of the Patriarchs–to Jews the tombs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob along with their wives are burried there. For Muslims it is a mosque built by Abraham and his and Sarah’s tombs. It is holy for both religions.

The settlers have been slowly taking over the market place because that’s where the Ibrihimi mosque is located. So an area that was almost 100% Palestinian and an important economic center for Hebron has been almost entirely shut down by the settlers. They have taken over the upstairs apartments of the stores in the market, along with whole areas of the center (H2) around the market.

The settlers throw garbage, stones, glass, sewage water and other things on the Palestinian stores, homes, and people below. They have forced many stores to shut down. The Israeli army, who is required to be there to protect the settlers from themselves, has set up checkpoints within the market, so walking from one store to another you have to go through a checkpoint where the soldiers almost always mess with the Palestinians–many times making them wait 30 minutes while they “check” the IDs.

Meanwhile, you walk through alleyways with chainlink fence hung above to protect the shoppers and Palestinian shopowners from getting hit with debris thrown down by the settlers.

Now, they have taken the judaization of the area around the mosque to a new level. The Israeli government has declared that site, along with Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem to be National Israeli Heritage Sites. Both sites are ouside of “Israel”, they are in the West Bank in the middle of Palestinian towns. Israel seems to be claiming the sites. It will probably make it more difficult that ever for Palestinians to gain access to these sites now, which are holy to them too. The Israeli government will say they want to do “renovations” on the sites, then deny access to everyone while they’re repairing things, everyone except the settlers.

And the government’s timing on this was impeccable as usual. It is simultaneously the annviersary of the Intifada, the Prophet’s birthday, and the anniversary of the Goldstein massacre of Palestinians while they were praying in the Ibrihimi mosque. About 50 people were killed and 100 wounded in this joint operation between Israeli settlers and the IDF. In the following days about 20 more Palestinians were killed when clashes erupted around the West Bank.

After the declaration of the mosque as an Israeli Heritage Site, the Israeli government was just waiting for the Palestininas to react. There were some clashes between the Palestinian youth and the Israeli police/settlers. Teargas, soundbombs, rubber bullets…A couple dozen injured.

My roommate Lazar went down there for a couple days to take photos and he told me that the Palestinian Authority was working with the Israeli police/IDF to control the Palestinian youth. The PA and the IDF…working together against Palestinians protesting a new aspect of the occupation. Its completely ridiculous–and its the guys who the US have been helping to train in Jericho and Jordan.

The clashes ended up slowing down despite Haniyeh (Hamas) calling for a new Inifada. I think thats what Israel wanted anyways, a lot of my friends agree with that too. Israel is getting so much pressure from the international community to restart the peace process that they are looking for any excuse to say “We dont have a partner for peace”–even while the PA is working with them to punish their own people.

Luckily, the Palestinians are either too tired from the still fresh memory of the last intifada or just being patient until they can actually stand a chance in an Intifada.

Just another proof that the Israeli government is trying to provoke the Palestinians into reacting in an Intifada, as soon as the Hebron mess calmed down, the Israeli settlers and police in Jerusalem stormed Al Aqsa mosque (the third holiest site in Islam). They clashed with Palestinians inside and more of the youth that came to throw stones after they invaded the mosque.

Anyways, the situation is getting tense because of all the Israeli provocations but so far the Palestinian people seem to be staying as calm as possible. An Intifada would be the worst thing for them right now, and Israel knows that. Soon, hopefully, the world will put enough pressure on Israel to continue negotiations, final status negotiations.

The EU is working on an initiative to support Palestine in declaring statehood. Israel came back at them saying if the Palestinians declare a state then they won’t have to negotiate anymore so that couldn’t work for anyone. But obviously, declaring a state doesn’t make the Israeli soldiers, checkpoints, and settlements disappear. It doesnt bring back the refugees either. So there will have to be negotiations, it will just prevent Israel from occupying more of Palestine as they pretend to negotiate.

Hopefully this initiative will work…

The protests this week were pretty much washed out by the weather, I didn’t go because of the hail and rain. But there were still small groups of demonstrators at Bil’in, Ni’lin, Nabe Saleh, Al Masara, and Sheikh Jarrah.

The protests were focused on the Israeli takeover of the holy sites in Hebron and Bethlehem. The injuries were mostly gas inhalation, except in Nabe Saleh where a boy was hit in the head with a rubber bullet. I dont know exactly what his condition is, but if it was the rubber coated steel bullets–which is what the IDF almost exclusively uses now as “rubber bullets” then he should be in pretty bad shape.

In Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem protestors dressed up in Purim costumes to demonstrate against the house demolitions.

My roommates and friends and I also went out to celebrate Purim. We went to Jerusalem on Saturday night with wigs and checked out a few parties. The weather was pretty bad so there werent hundreds of people out in the street like last year but it was still fun.