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Briefly Concerning Jerusalem

January 27, 2014 at 4:22 am

Dr Azmi Bishara

Jerusalem has changed drastically in recent decades. There is no doubt that anyone who was born there before 1967 and went to visit today would find a completely different city. This is the physical reality of a political fact that paved the way for the letter of guarantee from George W Bush to Ariel Sharon in April 2004, in which he confirmed that it is unrealistic to take Jerusalem back to what it was before 1967; it is also what made Europeans, under Israeli and American pressure, to amend a Swedish decision calling for Jerusalem to be divided into two capitals.

Ever since declaring – illegally – in 1967 that it had annexed Jerusalem, Israel has pursued the following administrative and procedural processes in the effort to “Judaize” the Holy City of Jerusalem:

1. Creating the concept that Jerusalem’s status is non-negotiable through converting the issue of holiness into one of politics.

2. Following the Biblical and historical narrative in each district, mountain and cave in Jerusalem and renaming them, targeting them for Jewish colonial-settlement, with the existing population treated as visitors as a prelude to their expulsion.

3. Expanding the city borders so that Israel’s “non-negotiable” monopoly of the holy sites covers the largest possible area.

4. Confiscating land from Palestinians and building colonial-settlements.

5. Reducing the number of Palestinian residents through expelling them (“ethnic cleansing”), considering them immigrants living in Israel and confiscating their “identity cards”, which are necessary for permanent residency in the city under the racist Israeli law of entry.

6. Separating the Holy City from the rest of the West Bank administratively by changing its legal status, and distancing the residents from the rest of the population of the West Bank; building a ring of colonial-settlements around the city and, more recently, building the separation wall, which is known in Hebrew as “the Jerusalem wrap”.

From 1917, West Jerusalem was regarded as an area of growth and development, while the areas to the east and outside the city walls were areas of limited construction; in the old city inside the walls, construction was entirely banned. The British mandate initiated the annexation of Jewish colonial-settlements to Jerusalem; in other words, the concept of expanding the city to enlarge the Jewish population, and decrease the number of Palestinian residents, has been going on for more than 90 years.

In 1947, the British annexed the Jewish settlements of Beit Hkerem and Ramat Rachel to Jerusalem, even though they were 4 kilometres from the Old City. In contrast, the Palestinian villages and towns adjacent to the Old City walls, such as Sloan, Tur, and Sur Baher, were excluded from the city structural map and were not considered part of the city.

Later, of course, Israel expanded the city to reach Bethlehem in the south and Ramallah in the north. All of this has been mixed with the Biblical site of Jerusalem, where Jews end their prayer with “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, forget me right.” So was the proposed city a heavenly Jerusalem to meet with the earthly version on doomsday, or is it an earthly Jerusalem that has no specific location, and cannot be located, if indeed it actually existed? We don’t know, but can be certain that the Jerusalem municipality’s area of influence as determined by different Israeli governments since the occupation is not the one proposed.

Immediately after the end of the June 1967 war, prime minister Levi Eshkol announced the unification of Jerusalem, but this announcement was not made as clear and candid as it is done today. Back then, Israel was still wary about the impact this annexation would have in the international arena; often forgotten is that four ministers from the Labour coalition opposed the annexation as they believed it would be an obstacle to peace. Foresight indeed!

Ex-prime minister (and wanted terrorist) Menachim Begin, who was a minister in that 1967 national unity government, insisted on talking loudly about unifying Jerusalem, but there was a fear of provoking Arab, Islamic and Christian feelings too much. Looked at from this perspective, the Israeli skill of drafting documents to look dry, neutral and harmless, becomes obvious. So what did the annexation document look like? This is how the Israeli government decided to annex East Jerusalem to Israel in a clear violation, backed only by force, of international law, which prohibits the annexation of territories obtained by force: “That area of Israeli land, which will be defined in the appendix, will be considered an area that follows the provisions and applicable judiciary laws and administration of the state.”

The word Jerusalem is not even mentioned in the resolution, and all that could be seen on the accompanying maps were small coloured segments, that indicate the areas that will “follow Israeli law”. The word Jerusalem was not even in Minister Yaakov Shapira’s explanatory speech to the Knesset, which duly passed the government decree for the annexation and amended various legal documents accordingly. At that time, Israel did not talk much, preferring instead to plan and act, confiscating land and building colonial-settlements. Palestinians who queried what was happening were directed to the maze of the Israeli legal system, where the outcome was always in favour of those confiscating the land.

The land-grab and colonisation process exposes the double-standards in Israeli law, a blight on the country’s supposed democracy. The occupying power confiscates land based on laws enacted by itself, and under those same laws it demolishes homes, changing the topography and population of the place. In the absence of any concerted Arab action or long term strategy to confront Israel’s strategic planning, the victims of colonisation become obliged to be governed by laws drafted, passed and imposed by the offending party.

On July 30th 1980, Begin’s government passed a “basic law” declaring that “Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel forever”. Observers of Israel rhetoric and terminology will note that the words “forever” and “history” are slaves to the Israeli narrative. Following this decision, the area of the Jerusalem municipality was expanded from 6.5 square km to 71 square km.

In 1993, the city was expanded yet again to 130 square km, and in 2005 the Israeli government approved a city plan up to 2020, which includes new colonial neighbourhoods, railways, streets, green areas and associated facilities, adding an extra 40% to the area under the municipality’s control. Between 1948 and 1967, Israel confiscated land owned by Palestinians in West Jerusalem which added up to 40% of its area, under the Law of Absentee Property. After 1967, Israel turned its attention to East Jerusalem – it still does – in order to build colonial-settlements. It separated city neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem with settlements such as “Ramat Eshkol”, “Jfap Tsrvatit”, “Mount Scopus”, “Neve Yaakov”, “Jello” and others; and built colonial-settlements that surround Jerusalem on all sides, including “Pisgat Ze’ev”, “Mtsudat Ze’ev”, “Har Homa”, “Maale Adumim” and “Atarot”. These have the effect of separating the Holy City from the rest of the West Bank and, in doing so, dividing the occupied territory into north and south segments between which travel is now very difficult. All land confiscations took place under the “confiscation for public benefit law” of 1953. This expansion and appropriation of Palestinian land has been accomplished with support from international Jewish organizations that have bought land and homes which were difficult to confiscate legally (even under Israeli law), and other groups that contacted the heirs of owners who had died overseas, forging documents and tempting existing owners with what amount to bribes to sell their properties. Zionist ideology, which underpins the state of Israel, deems colonial-settlement building to represent a public interest that justifies the confiscation of land.

Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents, without any real organization, had to face a network of strong, rich and patient Jewish groups, while the Jerusalem committee established by the Organization of the Islamic Conference after the burning of Al-Aqsa Mosque, was no more than a platform for speeches and statements.

Interpreting laws enacted for political reasons can never be “objective and neutral”, as is often claimed by Israel and its apologists. When the Israeli Supreme Court recognizes such laws and passes judgements based on them, it acts as a tool of the occupation implementing the process of “Judaization” of the land.

This is very apparent for all who care to see, with the judiciary’s role in one of the biggest legal scams in history, whereby the Israeli Supreme Court agreed after annexation to treat the Palestinian population of Jerusalem, which owned the land and had lived there for centuries, as if they had just entered Israel as immigrants; the official date of their “migration” to Israel is the same as the date of Jerusalem’s annexation. As soon as pen was put to paper, by an obscenity of legal deceit Palestinians re-entered their homes classed officially as “immigrants”.

Similarly, the Israeli Supreme Court has decreed that being born in the city does not give one rights of residence, nor does it prevent a Palestinian being deported from the city of his birth. And in stark contrast to the Israeli “Law of Return” which guarantees immediate residency and citizenship to any Jew from anywhere in the world and allows them to have dual nationality, if Palestinians somehow manage to get citizenship of another country, or live outside their homeland for more than seven years, they are stripped of their residence rights. This is how the process of ethnic cleansing of the population of Jerusalem began, and is continuing, with more than 4,500 Jerusalemites denied residence in their own country in the year 2008 alone.

As recently as May 2006, the Israeli Supreme Court agreed to a law which denies anyone marrying a Palestinian citizen of Jerusalem the right to live with their spouse in the city. This is, of course, blatant discrimination based on ethnicity and is part of the ethnic cleansing process.

The separation wall built around Jerusalem since 2002 has led to the division of whole streets, the destruction of historic streets such as Jerusalem Ramallah Street and the rebirth of entire neighbourhoods and villages as ghettos. In addition, 80-90,000 Palestinians, who hold Jerusalem or Israeli identity cards, have been forced to leave Jerusalem.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.