Dispelling the myths about building in Jerusalem

In Jerusalem, construction of Jewish neighborhoods continues unabated, while Palestinians are still struggling for basic infrastructure.

By Aviv Tatarsky

The father of the Sabach family stands in the ruins of his son’s family home a few hours after it was demolished by Israeli authorities, East Jerusalem, May 20, 2013. He holds a portrait from 1983 in which he and his own father are seen standing near their demolished home in the Anata neighborhood. Seven family members, including five children were displaced due to the demolition. (photo: Activestills.org)
The father of the Sabach family stands in the ruins of his son’s family home a few hours after it was demolished by Israeli authorities, East Jerusalem, May 20, 2013. He holds a portrait from 1983 in which he and his own father are seen standing near their demolished home in the Anata neighborhood. Seven family members, including five children were displaced due to the demolition. (photo: Activestills.org)

There is no construction freeze. As opposed to declarations by right-wing politicians such as Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat or Education Minister Naftali Bennett, construction in Jerusalem was never frozen, while the cranes and bulldozers keep working tirelessly in the city’s Jewish neighborhoods located beyond the Green Line. Thousands of housing units in Gilo, Har Homa, Ramot, Pisgat Ze’ev, and Ramat Shlomo. These not only provide housing for Israelis — they establish facts on the ground in order to make partitioning the city, and as well as reaching a two-state solution, all the more difficult. This, of course, does not stop Israel’s ministers from complaining about a “construction freeze.”

There is a freeze on construction plans and tenders in Jerusalem. In 2012 the government approved a plan for over 6,000 housing units beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem. In 2013 and in the first three months of 2014 Israel published tenders for nearly 2,500 units in Ramat Shlomo, Gilo, etc. But since the breakdown in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, lead by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in April 2014, Israel has hardly published tenders or promoted construction plans. This fact should be taken to heart by all those — on both the Right and the Left — who have eulogized the two-state solution. The solution has yet to reach its expiration date, and if anything is keeping it alive it is sheer political will — not the reality on the ground.

There is a construction freeze for Palestinians. Despite the severe construction shortage the municipality and government repeatedly thwart development plans for Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods. If you ask city council members, the shortage of classrooms and family health centers is a result of a “lack of suitable land.” Ask the residents of the Old City. Ask the residents of Sur Baher. Ask the residents of Issawiya or their neighbors in A-Tur — neighborhoods where after years of hard work and investing hundreds of thousands of shekels from their own pockets, the municipality decided to go back on its promises: although the master plan was coordinated with the municipality, the city decided to spend the money on a national park in the exact same spot. Meanwhile all the hard work for the betterment of the Palestinians went down the drain.

Palestinian residents of Beit Safafa protest outside the Jerusalem Municipality against the construction of a highway that would intersect their village, January 16, 2013. Politicians did not consider the residents’ demands and police suppressed their non-violent protests. (Activestills.org)
Palestinian residents of Beit Safafa protest outside the Jerusalem Municipality against the construction of a highway that would intersect their village, January 16, 2013. Politicians did not consider the residents’ demands and police suppressed their non-violent protests. (Activestills.org)

And what about the 600 housing units in Beit Safafa, announced by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Liberman last week, and which according to Bennett would create “territorial contiguity between Bethlehem and Malha?” The truth is that most of this territory has already been built up. The permit Bennett spoke about only increases the building rate such that landowners can add a story or two. And even that didn’t gain approval until the residents lodged an appeal in court. Whatever open land was left near Beit Safafa has already been expropriated by the state for the sake of building an Israeli neighborhood. In fact 38 percent of land in East Jerusalem have been expropriated from their Palestinian owners in order to build apartments for Israelis. When it comes to our education minister, the combination of lying and scaremongering does not add up to incitement.

In the past few years the state has not approved a single, detailed master plan for the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods, while it approves plans for 10,000 housing units in Israeli neighborhoods. Alongside the infringement on the right to housing, and with a complete lack of planning, there is a shortage of investment in schools, infrastructure, and social services. The cumulative effect brings about enormous economic and social damage.

There is no freeze on home demolitions. Since the beginning of the year, the pressure by the authorities and the state to demolish “illegal structures” has increased dramatically. In April the city demolished Palestinian homes in al-Walaja, a village the was cut off from the separation wall, for first time. In Ayn al-Luza, located in the neighborhood of Silwan, an apartment complex of 100 units is under immediate threat of demolition. And more and more.

There is no freeze on evictions. In the Old City, in Sheikh Jarrah, in Batan al-Hawa (in Silwan) — state-backed settler organizations are working to expel 150 families from their homes. More families will be thrown into the streets, more children will lose their homes.

There is no way to pulverize the Palestinian part of Jerusalem without Israeli suffering. Israeli construction will not prevent the need for a political solution — it will only make reaching one more complicated. On the other hand, the systematic discrimination against Palestinians in Jerusalem creates poverty and hostility, destroying the community fabric in East Jerusalem. This is the soil from which the violence that kills Israelis grows. If we do not sow other seeds, this is what we will reap.

Aviv Tatarsky is a researcher with Ir Amim. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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