WEDNESDAY, 28 MARCH 2012 22:00 ELENA VIOLA FOR THE ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER (AIC)
Settlements in East Jerusalem, such as Pisgat Zeev, and in ‘greater Jerusalem’ account for 80% of all Israeli settlers in the West Bank (Photo: Sam Bello, AIC)
While Israel Apartheid week is over, the racial discrimination institutionalised by the Israeli government continues unabated. The “Judaisation” of Jerusalem is a clear example.
One of the clearest definitions of the word Apartheid was coined in the United Nations International Convention against Apartheid in Sport (1985), which defined it as “a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over another racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them, such as pursued by South Africa”.
“Since then, the concept of the race has expanded,” says Sergio Yahni, AIC Directorship Desk member and the author of the latest AIC booklet entitled Jerusalem: Facts and Figures. “No example fits better within the Apartheid categorisation than the city of Jerusalem. If we look at the Palestinian context, we see how being Arab in Jerusalem means being racially harassed and discriminated”.
According to the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 29th November 1947, Jerusalem was to be an international city. In 1948 Israel claimed to have acquired sovereignty over the western part of the city and, during the 1967 war, it occupied and later annexed the eastern side of Jerusalem, the municipal borders of which were then expanded to include lands hitherto considered the West Bank.
“During the last day of war, Israel committed the first proper act of colonisation,” says Yahni. “Being well aware that it wouldn’t have been able to wipe out an entire neighbourhood upon conclusion of the war, Israel destroyed Harat Al-Magharbah (the Moroccan quarter) within Jerusalem’s Old City, expelling its over 1000 residents. Furthermore, an unknown number of residents were killed under the rubble, as Israeli soldier testimonies indicate that the army did not ascertain if homes were empty before demolishing them”.
Only a few months later, Israel was responsible for the second strategic act of colonisation inside Jerusalem. “In November 1967, Israel annexed administratively – which means without a formal law being passed, 7sq/km of the West Bank land,” Yahni explains, “and up to 6,5sq/km of them consisted of Palestinian villages.”
The reasons behind this move were both geographic and demographic. On the one hand, Israel meant to expropriate the high hilltops overlooking Jerusalem in order to extend its geographic control on the occupied land and, on the other hand, to annex as much land as possible with the lowest number of Palestinians inhabitants, thus pursuing a demographic strategy.
Regarding the systematic Israeli attempt to build a strong Jewish majority in Jerusalem, the first tool Israel enacted to achieve this purpose was settlement construction within the annexed area of East Jerusalem, construction which commenced soon after the 1967 war. In order to restrict the percentage of Palestinian residents in the city to 28%, as it was in a 1973 census, Israel began transferring Jewish civilians to the settlements. This move contradicts Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states ‘the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territories it occupies’.
Furthermore, symptomatic of the strategic importance of Jerusalem for the Israeli state is that, as Yahni says, “up to 80% of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank are residing in East Jerusalem and in the immediate surroundings”. This means they live in the Old City of Jerusalem, in the ‘Holy Basin’ around the Old City, in the settlements on the Jerusalem municipal borders and in so-called greater Jerusalem, which extends beyond the annexation border itself.
It is ironic that, although “Jerusalem is the heart of the Zionist ideology,” Yahni explains, “the city itself – as a micro-cosmos comprising several different religious and racial natures – rejected this unilateral soul. It is not a coincidence that the biggest Jewish city in Israel is Tel Aviv, which was established from scratch”.
To date, the Israeli political objective of reaching an unequal demographic balance in Jerusalem, consisting of 2/3 Jewish and 1/3 Palestinian populations, has failed. In fact, “In 2000 the number of Palestinians in Jerusalem rose to an estimated 40% of the total population,” Yahni states, “and if the rate of growth keeps rising accordingly, in 2020 Palestinians will be half of the overall number of Jerusalemites”.
Besides settlement construction, another tool employed by Israel to preserve Jerusalem’s Jewish majority is the revocation of residency rights of Palestinian Jerusalemites. Yahni explains that, “Palestinians in East Jerusalem are permanent residents as determined by the Entry to Israel law. If citizenship is a right, residency is a favour the state grants you. Therefore, Palestinians are treated like people who immigrated to Jerusalem, although it is exactly the opposite: Israel occupied East Jerusalem!”
These Palestinian ‘immigrants’ lose their right to reside in Jerusalem if they spend more than seven years in another country, are granted permanent residency elsewhere or become citizens of another state.
Despite these political tools, Israel still struggles to keep Jerusalem’s Palestinian population low in number. If from a geographic perspective the problem can be easily solved by expanding the number of Israeli settlements and demolishing, or steeply reducing, the Palestinian residential areas in East Jerusalem, the demographic issue is a far different problem.
To cope with this issue, Israel has developed a strategy comprising of two subtle tools. “First, no more population census in East Jerusalem. If you can’t reduce the number of Palestinians, the least you can do is to not count them,” Yahni says. “Second, Israel created expensive neighbourhoods for wealthy Jewish foreigners. These people spend only their holidays in Jerusalem but they count as city residents, thus increasing the number of the city’s ‘virtual’ Jewish population.”
Last but not least, the life conditions for Palestinians in Jerusalem are harsh. They often lack the most basic of infrastructure – such as pavements, sewage, street lamps and parks, and they are permitted to build on only 7% of East Jerusalem land, although even then Israel almost never provides building permits to Palestinians.
“Many people don’t know that 65% of Palestinians in East Jerusalem live below the poverty line,” Yahni states, “while in Gaza they are 25%.”
Sadly, this is just a taste of the Apartheid system Israel has enacted in Jerusalem, mainly through increasing geographic and demographic controls to the detriment of the city’s struggling Palestinian population.
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