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Analysis: Which Jerusalem? Israel’s little-known master plans (Part II)

June 9, 2016 5:40 P.M. (Updated: June 28, 2016 12:28 P.M.)
Israeli soldiers inspect a Palestinian ambulance on its way to Jerusalem at the West Bank army checkpoint of Qalandiya on May 7, 2002. (AFP/Leila Gorchev, File)
By: Al-Shabaka
Al-Shabaka is an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination within the framework of international law.

This policy brief is authored by policy advisor Al-Shabaka Policy Fellow Nur Arafeh, in which she analyzes all three Israeli master plans for Jerusalem, explaining how they aim to shape the city into a tourism and high-tech center, and the ways in which they use urban planning to reshape the city’s demography. She spotlights the dangerous new laws Israel has reactivated or passed to advance its colonization of the city - the Absentee Property Law and the "third generation law". She also addresses the role of the PA and the international community as well as of civil society organizations, and identifies achievable measures that can be implemented by those concerned with Jerusalem’s fate. The first part of this brief was published on Ma’an on Wednesday, and the third and final part will be published on Friday.

Evicting Palestinians Using Urban Planning and the “Law”

While Israel works on creating Jerusalem as a business hub that attracts Jews and offers them employment opportunities, the problems faced in East Jerusalem are legion. They include a squeezed Palestinian business and trade sector, a weakened education sector, and a debilitated infrastructure. The result of the suffocation of East Jerusalem’s potential can be seen in the high poverty rates, with 75 percent of all Palestinians in East Jerusalem – and as many as 84 percent of children – living below the poverty line in 2015. In addition, there is a growing identity crisis in East Jerusalem, particularly amongst the youth, due to its isolation from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), the leadership and institutional vacuum, and the loss of hope in the possibility of positive change.

The Wall is one of the most important demographic measures Israel has put in place to ensure a Jewish majority in Jerusalem and enforce Israel’s de-facto political borders of Jerusalem, thus transforming it into the largest city in Israel. The Wall is built in such a way as to enable Israel to annex an additional 160 square kilometers of the OPT while physically separating more than 55,000 Jerusalemites from the city center. Planning and development in neighborhoods that are now beyond the Wall is extremely poor and governmental and municipal services are virtually absent, despite the fact that the Palestinians who live in these areas continue to pay the Arnona (property) tax.

Urban planning is another major geopolitical and strategic tool Israel has used since 1967 to tighten its grip over Jerusalem and constrain the urban expansion of Palestinians as part of its efforts to Judaize the city. Urban planning is at the heart of the 2020 Master Plan, which views Jerusalem as one urban unit, a metropolitan center, and the capital of Israel. One of the main goals of the plan is to “maintain a solid Jewish majority in the city” by encouraging Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and by reducing negative migration. Among other things, the plan aims to build affordable housing units in some existing Jewish neighborhoods as well as by building new neighborhoods. The plan also envisages connecting Israeli settlements in the West Bank, geographically, economically, and socially, to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The 2020 Master Plan recognizes the housing crisis suffered by Palestinians, the inadequate infrastructure in Palestinian neighborhoods, and the dearth of public services provided. It aims to enable the densification and thickening of rural villages and existing urban neighborhoods; restore the Shufat refugee camp, which lies within Jerusalem’s Israeli-defined municipal borders; and implement infrastructure projects.

However, while on the surface it appears that the Plan has an equal interest in Palestinian areas, it is actually discriminatory. It does not take into account the Palestinian growth rate in East Jerusalem and the accumulated scarcity of housing. It allocates only 2,300 dunams (2.3 square kilometers) for Palestinian construction, compared to 9,500 dunams for Israeli Jews. Moreover, most of the new housing units proposed for Palestinians are located in the northern or southern areas of East Jerusalem, rather than in the Old City, where the housing crisis is the most acute and where the settlement activity is also the most intense.

In addition, 62.4 percent of the increase in Israeli Jewish building will happen through expansion and building of new settlements, thus increasing Jewish territorial control. By contrast, more than half (55.7 percent) of the addition of housing for Palestinians will happen through densification, i.e. building within the existing urbanized areas, including through vertical expansion. Moreover, while Palestinians tend to have higher household densities and build at lower densities per dunam than the average, Israeli Jewish areas have lower household densities but build at larger densities than the average.

Furthermore, the plan’s proposals to address the housing crisis in East Jerusalem will most likely remain ink on paper due to serious barriers to their implementation. In fact, several preconditions must be met before the Israeli authorities issue building permits, including an adequate road system (building permits for six-story buildings is conditional on access to roads that are at least 12 meters wide); parking spaces; sanitation and sewage networks; and public buildings and institutions. Palestinians have no control over these requirements, which are the responsibility of the municipality; needless to say, this makes it extremely hard for Palestinians to build new houses. The plan also neglects the shortage in classrooms, health facilities, commercial areas, and other public institutions necessary to meet the demand of the growing Palestinian population.

The Palestinian presence in Jerusalem and the development of Palestinian neighborhoods is also severely constrained by the plan’s commitment to “a strict enforcement of the laws of planning and building…to impede the phenomenon of illegal building.” However, only 7 percent of building permits in Jerusalem were issued to Palestinians in the past few years. Israel’s discrimination in issuing building permits to Palestinians, combined with the high cost of these permits (around $30,000, according to information shared with the author), has forced many Palestinians to build illegally.

Palestinians also face discrimination when it comes to enforcement of regulations. According to a report by the International Peace and Cooperation Center, 78.4 percent of building violations took place in West Jerusalem between 2004 and 2008, compared with 21.5 percent in East Jerusalem. Yet, only 27 percent of all violations in West Jerusalem were subject to judicial demolition orders, compared with 84 percent of violations in East Jerusalem.

Furthermore, in addition to the emotional impact and instability caused by the demolition of their home, as well as the lost investment and belongings, Palestinians must also pay “illegal construction” fees to the Israeli municipality to cover the costs of house demolitions, generating a large income for the Israeli municipality. OCHA estimates that between 2001 and 2006, the municipality collected an annual amount of 25.5 million shekels (around $6.6 million) for ‘illegal construction.’

The 2020 Master Plan is thus a political plan that uses urban planning as a tool to ensure Jewish demographic and territorial control in the city. The plan also supports “spatial segregation of the various population groups in the city” and considers it a “real advantage.” It aims to divide Jerusalem into various planning districts based on ethnic affiliation in which no area would combine both Palestinians and Israeli Jews.

It is worth noting that state institutions are not the only ones involved in the Judaization of Jerusalem. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and religious organizations also take part in remaking urban space. The right-wing organization Elad, for example, has as its main goal settling Jews in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan and running tourist and archeological sites, especially in the Silwan neighborhood -- which they call the “City of David” -- Elad is seeking to recreate Jerusalem as a Jewish city with a predominantly Jewish history and heritage by erasing the Palestinians’ physical presence as well as their history. Elad employed 97 full-time workers in 2014 and, according to Haaretz, received donations of more than $115 million between 2006 and 2013, making it one of the wealthiest NGOs in Israel. Other organizations involved in changing the demographic composition of Jerusalem include Ateret Cohanim, which seeks to create a Jewish majority in the Old City and in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

Israel has also been using law as a tactic to evict Palestinians and appropriate their land, so as to ensure its sovereignty and control over Jerusalem. As recently as 15 March 2015, the Israeli Supreme Court activated the Absentee Property law. This law was issued in 1950 with the aim of confiscating the property of Palestinians who were expelled during the 1948 Nakba. It was used as the “legal basis” to transfer the property of displaced Palestinians to the newly established State of Israel. After 1967, Israel applied the law to East Jerusalem, which allowed it to appropriate the property of Jerusalemites whose residence was found to be outside Palestine. The law newly activated in 2015 enables Israel to confiscate the property of East Jerusalem Palestinians currently living in the West Bank, and to consider their property in East Jerusalem as “absentee property.”

Furthermore, while Palestinians cannot claim the properties they lost in 1948 or in 1967 in what is now West Jerusalem, Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Israeli settlers’ claims to win “back” homes that UNRWA had given to Palestinians who had fled West Jerusalem and Israel in 1948. In other words, the Supreme Court is being discriminatory since this law applies to Jews looking to return to property they had before 1948 but does not apply to Palestinians.

Another controversial and dangerous law is the Third Generation law, which targets properties that were rented before 1968 and that are supposed to be protected by law. According to the new law, the protection period ends with the death of the third generation of Palestinian tenants after which the property goes back to its original owner, who are mainly Jews who owned the property before 1948. According to Khalil Tufakji, more than 300 Palestinians now face the threat of eviction from their home. In Silwan alone, 80 court orders threaten hundreds of Palestinians with eviction.

Originally published on Al-Shabaka's website on May 31, 2016.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect Ma'an News Agency's editorial policy.
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