Israel is "intensifying" its settlement activity in and around Jerusalem's Old City, according to NGO Ir Amim.
Publishing a new map yesterday, Ir Amim described an "accelerated, intensifying chain of new facts on the ground in the most historically contested and politically sensitive part of Jerusalem: the Old City and adjacent ring of Palestinian neighbourhoods".
Ir Amim pointed to "a mounting number of state-sponsored settlement campaigns inside Palestinian neighbourhoods", as well as "settler-initiated evictions of Palestinians, takeovers of their homes, and the expansion of settler compounds", as well as the use of "touristic settlement sites" as "key points along a ring of tightening Israeli control".
According to the group, the Israeli authorities have struggled over the decades to advance plans for settlements due to "the population density in the built-up areas of the Old City". Some 100,000 Palestinians live in the Old City and its immediate environs, compared to 6,000 Israelis.
In these circumstances, Ir Amim stated, tourism and supposed archaeology projects "assume a central role in Israeli settlement policy".
Handing over management of such projects to settler organisations allows Israel "to exploit tourism as a tool for reinforcing settlement initiatives in the Old City and its environs, erasing the significant Palestinian presence there, promulgating the idea of the entire area as an Israeli environment, and imposing a nationalistic Israeli character that blurs the multi-religious and multi-cultural nature of the space, primarily to the detriment of the Muslim sites and presence", Ir Amim said.
Ultimately, the NGO added, "this use of national parks and tourist sites serves the goal of transforming the Palestinian neighbourhoods in and around the Old City – including Silwan, A-Tur, Ras al-Amud and Sheikh Jarrah – from a densely populated Palestinian area into one sprawling tourist site that bolsters Israeli control of the area and access to it".