The “judaization” of Jerusalem and the West Bank continues apace, despite the so-called “peace process.” This week the Israeli government demolished a large apartment block in Beit Hanina, bringing the total number of Palestinian structures demolished in East Jerusalem in 2013 to almost 100; about 400 people displaced from their homes (figures from ICAHD, OCHA, HRW and human rights groups).
At the same time that it announced the construction of yet another 1500 housing units in the illegal East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo – and another 3500 in the West Bank –the Israeli government issued demolition orders for 2000 housing units in the nearby area of Ras al-Kahmis and the Shuafat refugee camp.
The government also announced plans to establish a “national park” on the lands of Isawiyeh and a-Tur, further fragmenting East Jerusalem communities and preventing their development, and the construction of a large new visitor center in the “City of David,” the settlers’ new name for Silwan, where the municipality intends to demolish 88 Palestinian homes to make way for yet another “national park.”
If the demolition of 2000 housing units of Ras al-Kahmis/Shuafat are carried out, 15,000 Palestinian residents will lose their homes. No less significant in the view of the Israeli government, they will be forced out of Jerusalem and will lose their right to live, work, pray and even enter the city. Demolitions of Palestinian homes lay at the very heart of Israel’s attempt to “judaize” Jerusalem and the West Bank, just as it does inside Israel as well. The process graphically illustrates how dry, bureaucratic urban policies can be used as effective mechanisms of repression.
Since 1967 the Israeli government has pursued a declared policy of maintaining a 72% majority of Jews over Palestinians in the city. Towards that end, it has not allowed Palestinians to build new homes, creating an artificial shortage of some 25,000 housing units in the Palestinian sector. (Palestinians, to put it mildly, are not able to access most of the Jewish neighborhoods). That induced shortage raises the price of renting or buying, and since 70% of the Palestinians live under the poverty line, they are forced to move outside of the Jerusalem borders to acquire affordable housing.
Now urbanites moving out of cities into nearby suburbs is a common worldwide phenomenon, but not for the Palestinians of Jerusalem. Although inhabiting the city for centuries, and despite the fact that Palestinian East Jerusalem has been formally annexed to Israel – as its capital city, no less – Palestinians are classified merely as “permanent residents,” not citizens. That means that if Palestinians are forced to seek affordable housing just outside the municipal borders in the West Bank, which Israeli policy is designed to do, they shift their “center of their life” from Jerusalem, thus losing their residence and the ability to even enter the city again. House demolitions area meant to prevent Palestinians from building “illegally,” and thus contribute to the housing shortage and forced expulsion of Palestinians from Jerusalem.
But wait– over the past few years the Jerusalem Municipality has allowed massive housing complexes to arise within its borders yet outside the Wall and checkpoints, in such no-man’s land as Ras Khamis and by the Shuafat refugee camp, where the 2000 demolition orders have been issued, or in Kufr Akab, a part of Jerusalem on the other side of the Kalandia checkpoint. By doing so, it set a trap. The plan, publicly discussed by Mayor Nir Barkat, was this: thousands of desperate Palestinian families would be allowed to move into high-rise apartment blocks beyond the Wall but still in Jerusalem, attracted by the affordable prices but in no danger of losing their Jerusalem residency. Once settled in, the government would declare that the Wall will henceforth constitute the municipal border, thus in one fell swoop ridding itself of tens of thousands of Arab residents by depriving them of their residency rights since the “center of their lives” is no more Jerusalem. The 72% majority is more or less preserved.
So why, then, the demolition orders?
What happened in my view was that Barkat was told that his plan is not legal and cannot work. In response, he has changed course and decided to demolish all these high-rise apartment blocs instead. (This is a charitable interpretation, since the Israeli authorities often wait until houses are finished and occupied before demolishing them, just to punish the inhabitants that much more.) Whatever the case, the process of judaization is served just the same. Having nowhere affordable or accessible to go inside Jerusalem, the Palestinians displaced will be forced out of the city to such nearby Arab neighborhoods as Anata, e-Ram, Zaim and Abu Dis, where they can be stripped legally of their Jerusalem residency.
Such are the political machinations behind the seemingly justified policy of demolishing “illegal” homes, a key element of a broader policy of ethnic cleansing proceeding steadily throughout the country from 1947 until this day.
As the common Israeli slogan has it: We never finished 1948. Not yet, at least.
(Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.)