An executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation said recently that Jerusalem will be lost permanently if Israel continues its settlement projects while Arab-Muslim support for the city remains weak. “Jerusalemites should be valued,” urged Ahmed Qurei, “and they should be supported so that they can remain steadfast in their homes and on their land.”
Israel, insisted the senior Fatah official, has long been engaged in an “ethnic cleansing” project in the Holy City and it is enlarging its settlements daily. “The occupation authorities have spent the equivalent of the budgets of two Arab states for the Judaisation of Jerusalem in order to prevent the city from being divided with the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.” Until now, he added in a statement to Al-Ghad newspaper, US Secretary of State John Kerry has yet to provide any solution that would be accepted by Palestinians.
Qurei warned that Jerusalem is undergoing so many drastic changes that soon “nothing in the city will be Arab” if the current situation remains as it is. In fact, Al-Ghad published data and maps prepared by the Department of Jerusalem Affairs which revealed the gravity of Jerusalem’s ever-changing features due to the occupation. They disclosed the expansion of 15 settlements, housing approximately 200 settlers in the Arab towns and villages that constitute Jerusalem and its surrounding area. These settlements are being established on nearly one-third of Jerusalem’s traditional land, which has been annexed by Israel since 1967. Two neighbourhoods and eight outposts have been dismembered in order to house 2,000 Israeli settlers among Arab Jerusalemites and their homes.
In the Old City of Jerusalem, an area of less than one square kilometre, 4,000 Jewish settlers live within four settlement blocks and 56 settlement units in an attempt to crowd out the 33,000 Palestinian residents. The maps revealed plans to expand the apartheid wall around Jerusalem to a length of around 142 kilometres with 12 different checkpoints. This is being done in a blatant attempt to complicate Jerusalemites’ lives while also disrupting the Palestinian urban fabric. Meanwhile 90,000 Palestinians have been expelled beyond the wall, losing their residents’ permits.
“These maps reveal that the occupation is expanding by carrying out excavations in nearly 47 locations underneath and around Al-Aqsa Mosque and it is continuing its Judaisation of the Buraq (Western) Wall which is located West and South of the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa, added Qurei. “Just adjacent to the Western Wall is a new Jewish settlement which is known as the ‘Jewish Quarter in the Old Town near the Western Wall of the Temple Mount’.”
The occupation has also demolished 1,120 facilities, closed down nearly 88 Palestinian national institutions and confiscated 14,621 Palestinian identity cards since 1967,” said the PLO veteran. Furthermore, Israeli policy towards Palestinian Jerusalemites has resulted in a high poverty rate that has proved to be particularly harmful to the city’s children. “Eighty per cent of the children live below the poverty line; 40 per cent of them have to leave school because they can’t afford to stay there.”
In light of the emerging data on the reality of the Holy City, Qurei, in his role as the head of the PLO’s Department of Jerusalem Affairs, warned about the grave implications that these policies are having on the city.
“Despite rigorous efforts to reach a just solution that would allow Palestinians to achieve their national rights, the Israeli occupation continues to insist on denying these rights, especially those that have to do with Jerusalem and the Palestinian right of return,” he said. “Israel’s stance is a contradiction of international resolutions on legitimacy and even the Arab Peace Initiative, which was announced at the Beirut Summit in 2002. Israel wants to continue the occupation under the false pretext of national security and refuses the concept of two independent and autonomous neighbouring states.”
US efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement are still subject to many setbacks due to Kerry’s” inability” to propose a solution that both parties can accept and commit to, claimed Qurei. “A just resolution would implement UN resolutions on legitimacy, which consider Israel’s actions in the Palestinian territories and Jerusalem since 1967 as illegal and illegitimate. UN resolutions also call for the right of return for Palestinian refugees.”
He insisted that the pressure being exerted on the Palestinian leadership is “unacceptable” under any circumstances. “We will not accept anything less than the recognition of Palestinian national rights, the end of the Israeli occupation, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and a solution for Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN resolution 194.”
“We will not continue to bargain and we will not make any more compromises than what we have compromised already,” Qurei insisted. “This will secure even the bare minimum of Palestinian rights.” He warned against Secretary Kerry’s proposal that any potential agreement needs to have milestones by arguing that it would merely replicate the Oslo Accords in 1993 and Road Map to peace. He condemned those agreements as “a waste of time that did not achieve anything.”
The senior official emphasised that the greater danger lies in creating an agreement through the current negotiations and consider them as a new reference for what a peaceful solution will look like. “This completely ignores the possibility of a peace process that respects 1967 borders. As far as we are concerned, we are attentive to and adhere to our national principles.” He stressed that the Palestinian position “remains loyal” to those principles” and denied that any secret talks were being held. He did admit, though, that all of the meetings that have taken place so far have not provided any glimmer of hope.
For Qurei, Israel’s illegal settlements remain the biggest stumbling block to peace. “The occupation has inundated Jerusalem with settlements. Fifteen new settlement outposts have been built, placing neighbouring Arab cities and towns at their mercy,” he lamented. If the Israelis are allowed to continue with this building, Jerusalem will lose its Arab and Muslim identity completely. “Israel’s increased settlement expansion and Judaisation project demonstrate that it is unwilling to divide Jerusalem,” he said. “Ultimately, this makes it impossible to apply the two-state solution and renders all talk of establishing a Palestinian state useless.” He pointed out that the Palestinians have agreed to a number of border changes but refused to accept settlement expansion because it would completely destroy any prospects of achieving a two-state solution. “Jerusalem is the crown jewel of the Arab-Islamic world; without it, no solution will be achieved.”
The mere existence of 15 settlements in Jerusalem does not make them legitimate and will not succeed in putting pressure on the Palestinian people. “The reality is that settlements are illegal and should be removed because when it comes to Jerusalem, the only solution is to dismantle all settlements and end settlement activity.”
Qurei brushed aside the claim that Palestinians breached the peace process when they began to discuss Jerusalem and how it would be the future Palestinian capital in addition to refusing to give up the right of return and agree to maintain settlements. “However, Jerusalem is in need of Arab and Islamic support in order for Jerusalemites to remain in their homes and on their land and if we are to prevent the continued erosion of Jerusalem’s Arab identity and put an end to Israel’s Judaisation project.”
The amount of money being spent by Israel on Judaisation will not improve the quality of Jerusalemites’ lives, he insisted, because the money is not being spent in the proper sectors. “Jerusalem’s vitality requires the authorities to address needs in the social, economic, demographic and health sectors; that should be a priority.”
That fact notwithstanding, he warned that Jerusalem’s condition is worsening due to extreme neglect by the rest of the Arab and Islamic world, with many countries being preoccupied with their own issues. This situation is also affected negatively by US bias towards Israeli security at the expense of the Palestinian people. Qurei emphasised that this was not merely a series of maps or a set of data but a very real issue; he pointed out that he did not receive any of the $1 billion pledged at the Doha Summit to support Jerusalem. He conceded that his department had received $37 million of the $500 million promised to Jerusalem at the summit held in Sirte, Libya in 2010. This aid is intended for the protection and restoration of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Once again, Ahmed Qurei emphasised that a peaceful solution will not be met without declaring Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. His statement was made in the light of John Kerry’s efforts to find a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the end of April. The Secretary of State’s proposal either excludes the issue of Jerusalem or attempts to place it within the framework of a “Greater Jerusalem” proposal, which the Palestinians reject completely.
As noted by Qurei, according to data in a report released by the PLO’s Office for Jerusalem Affairs, Israel is expanding 15 settlements, housing approximately 200 settlers, in the Arab towns and villages in and around Jerusalem. The PLO report reveals Israel’s plans to confiscate Palestinian land with the fewest Palestinian inhabitants not only within the city of Jerusalem but in the surrounding areas as well. This is part of a larger plan to surround Jerusalem with a ring of settlements and divide Arab neighbourhoods. The report also warned against the implementation of the E1 settlement project, which was announced by Israel early last year and would affect thousands of acres in the villages of Abu-Dis, Azeriyah, Al-Tour and Anata.
Israel, says the PLO, is trying to close off Jerusalem from its natural hinterland in the rest of the occupied West Bank to the east of the city in order to prevent Palestinian expansion and development. This would, undoubtedly, prevent East Jerusalem from becoming a viable Palestinian capital. The report ends with a description of the apartheid wall, which runs for approximately 143 kilometres around the city and has nearly 12 checkpoints for Palestinians wishing to enter Jerusalem. The wall complicates the Palestinian landscape and divides Palestinian villages into small cantons. The PLO warns against the wall’s numerous disadvantages, which include the expulsion of more than 90,000 Jerusalemites from their homes.
“The Judaisation project is central to Zionist strategies for Jerusalem because it seeks to erase all of Jerusalem’s Arabic and Islamic features and demonstrate a unified Jewish image of the Holy City,” says the PLO report. It also emphasises that the Israelis’ ultimate goal is to change Jerusalem’s Palestinian demographic and social structure by dissolving the city’s Arab image and replacing it with a Jewish alternative achieved by land theft. It warned that Israel would seize many monuments and historical buildings under the deceptive pretext that it is carrying out archaeological excavations when in reality it is part of a larger scheme for a Zionist political campaign. Israel is alleged to be working towards reducing Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants to a mere twelve per cent of the population to change the city’s demographics completely. To further this aim, Israel will impose higher taxes on the Arab residents and continue to harass them. It is no coincidence that between 1967 and 2011 Israel confiscated 14,621 Palestinian identity cards which confer a right of residence in the city.
The occupation authorities, meanwhile, are intent on increasing the number of illegal settlers. They are expected to be a majority in Jerusalem by 2020.
Israeli policies in Jerusalem, amounting to a form of apartheid, have led to an increase in poverty levels. The development of Palestinian education in Jerusalem is currently at its worst ever level, with an ongoing shortage of classrooms. Drop-out rates in secondary and high schools now stand at 40 per cent and it is extremely difficult for Arab students to get into Israeli universities even though Israel refuses to recognise degrees from Al-Quds University because it bears the Arabic name for Jerusalem.
“The education sector suffers from Israel’s deliberate marginalisation and neglect despite the fact that it is bound by international law to provide educational services to citizens living under its occupation,” says the PLO report. “However, Israeli policy aims to ignore completely the needs of Jerusalem’s Palestinian community and erase their national collective memory.”
Israel has succeeded in Judaising the educational curriculum in Jerusalem’s schools. It has imposed the Israeli national curriculum in schools since 1968 in an effort to distort the reality of the occupation and historical facts, including geography and culture among other subjects.
In the health sector, it remains a challenge for Palestinians to have access to proper care in Jerusalem. “This includes those who live outside what the Israelis like to call their own municipality,” claims the PLO. “Official policies prevent doctors, nurses and all health workers from moving easily between their homes and places of work. In fact, most patients and health sector workers are required to obtain special permits to enter the city and work in Jerusalem’s hospital. More often than not, permit requests are rejected.”
The Israeli occupation authorities provide Jerusalemites with the bare minimum of health services; this includes public health and environmental services in addition to medical and psychiatric services, notes the PLO report. “The provision of medical services in Jerusalem’s hospital’s has been reduced from a rate of 69 per cent to less than 20 per cent, which has undoubtedly led to a severe crisis in the medical sector.”
Furthermore, Israel prohibits Palestinians from building in Jerusalem and has limited the places where they are allowed to build or expand their homes and businesses to less than 13 per cent of what constitutes the “Israeli municipality” in the city. “The rest of the city,” says the report, “equating to roughly 87 per cent, has been reserved for the settlement project’s expansion or divided into what are known as ‘Green Zones’. The city’s municipality reserves merely five per cent of its allocated budget for East Jerusalem thereby depriving 50 to 60 per cent the of city’s Palestinian residents from accessing public health and sanitation services. Palestinians also face difficulty accessing 50 per cent of the city’s water resources due to weak public services.”
The cost of housing has a major impact on Palestinian residents, who are not allowed to renovate or enlarge their homes and face the very real threat that they will be demolished by the Israeli security forces. Israel’s theft and seizure of Palestinian land has forced Palestinians to build houses without permits, subjecting them to house demolitions and heavy fines. The city is in dire need of at least 20,000 new housing units in order to be able to address the grave housing crisis that has developed over recent years.
“Houses continue to be built despite Israel granting merely 200 residential housing permits a year; however, when considering the rate of population growth, Jerusalemites are in need of about 1,500 building permits every year.”
The Palestinian economy has been shattered due to the Israeli occupation and its full control of the occupied territories, which includes control over land, the economy and all natural resources. According to the PLO, Israel seeks to disengage Jerusalem’s economy completely from the rest of the West Bank and remove the Palestinian Authority’s influence over the city. Instead, Israel aims to link Jerusalem’s economic fate to the Israeli economy and it is doing this by imposing restrictions on movement.
The restrictions that Israel continues to impose on Jerusalem have hit Palestinians badly. The people are experiencing a severe recession that has forced many businesses into bankruptcy. As a result, many of the city’s residents have been forced to move to Ramallah and other areas in the West Bank in pursuit of better economic opportunities. In addition, poverty and unemployment rates have increased as Jerusalem becomes more and more isolated from its surroundings. The report pointed out that more than 250 shops were forced to close down due to high taxes and fees, which place a heavy burden on the city’s Palestinians merchants. General taxes and municipal taxes completely exhaust already scant resources; nine different taxes must be paid by Palestinian merchants in Jerusalem, including: income taxes, operational taxes, national insurance, health insurance, pensions, compensation, welfare, property and commercial taxes. All of these taxes and fees use up between 40 to 50 per cent of a merchant’s income.
Palestinians officials are not doing nearly enough to confront the challenges facing Jerusalem, the PLO alleges. It urges high-ranking officials to take action against Israel’s policies and demand that a higher budget be allocated to ensure the city’s survival. The report highlights the importance of supporting Palestinian Jerusalemites and providing them with sufficient resources to ensure their steadfastness in the face of the occupation because their presence in the city is ultimately what will preserve Jerusalem’s status as the future capital of an independent Palestinian state, not to mention the city’s Arab and Muslim religious heritage. Due to Jerusalem’s worsening conditions, many investors in the private sector have avoided making significant investments in the city, with the exception of a few independent initiatives.
Despite the fact that tourism constitutes nearly 40 per cent of Jerusalem’s economy, the city’s contribution to the Palestinian GDP is less than four per cent. This is due mainly to the strict measures that Israel carries out against Jerusalem’s tourism sector, which is due partly to its refusal to provide permits that are necessary for the expansion or establishment of hotels and shops, thereby preventing Palestinians from controlling important aspects of the tourism sector at large.
The report explains that tourism is one of the largest sectors undergoing Judaisation and that the restrictions being imposed continue to isolate the city from its surroundings, thereby leading to economic losses of nearly 50 per cent of its purchasing power. Tourism has declined in general, which has forced many Palestinian merchants to close their hotels shops, and travel agencies (which conducted business in Arabic). This is part of a larger Israeli scheme to present tourists with a Zionist image of Jerusalem and completely distort the reality of the city’s Arab and Islamic history.
Arab-owned hotels in Jerusalem are facing many challenges in light of the numerous restrictions imposed on Palestinian residents. In fact, the report highlights that the number of Arab-owned hotels in Jerusalem has decreased from 40 to 29. Israel’s policy aims to direct tourists to Israeli-run hotels inside Israel, especially those in Sheikh Jarrah or near the Jaffa Gate. Israel has also imposed high taxes and fees on owners of Arab-run hotels and it has denied numerous permits requesting permission for Palestinians to build new hotels.
When it comes to Israel’s efforts to erase occupied Jerusalem’s Palestinian national identity, it is important to note that the occupation forces have shut down more than 88 Palestinian institutions, 32 of which have been completely closed since 2011. Fifty-six institutions have been partially closed and 33 others have been forced to move their offices and activities to the occupied West Bank. Israel’s goal behind closing down Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem is to deprive Palestinian Jerusalemites of their right to access a number of services, including economic, cultural, educational and medical services, which will force them to leave the city.
Israel’s Judaisation project aims ultimately to remove Jerusalem from the conflict by deeming it “off-limits” for negotiations. Judaisation threatens virtually every aspect of Palestinian life and seeks to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem’s indigenous Arab population through land confiscations and subjecting the city’s children to arrest and imprisonment, which ultimately alienates them from their peers.
The PLO report notes that Israeli security forces have arrested more than 350 Palestinian minors from Jerusalem since mid-2012. This was done in an attempt to alienate Jerusalemites from the rest of the Palestinian population and dissuade them from expressing their opposition to the Israeli occupation. More importantly, the financial penalties being imposed on Jerusalem’s families have a negative psychological impact on the city’s Palestinian children.
The author is a Jordanian writer. This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Ghad newspaer on 23 Janaury, 2014