SWM 2015: Israel/Palestine - Life in a divided city – one Palestinian community under threat in East Jerusalem

Embargo: 2 July 2015 00.01 (GMT+1)

Case study by Tom Palmer

While 35 per cent of land in East Jerusalem has been expropriated for the establishment of a dozen Jewish settlements, housing around 200,000 Israeli citizens, under the current Israeli master plan only 13 per cent of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian construction, even though 300,000 Palestinians reside in the area. Decisions regarding planning policy are unofficially based on the Jerusalem 2000 Outline Plan, despite the fact that it has not been submitted for public review. While it does allocate areas for expansion, these tend to be places that are already built up due to unpermitted construction. In combination with the deliberately labyrinthine application procedures, this has led to a third of Palestinian homes being built without the mandatory Israeliissued building permit, placing over 90,000 residents at risk of eviction. As well as causing practical problems, this has a considerable psychological impact.

The practical effects of these policies can perhaps be best appreciated at a local level. A typical example of a once thriving village, dating back centuries, is the Palestinian village of Al-Isawiyyah. A large part of the district, including the built-up area, fell under Israeli control from 1967 and much of this area has since been expropriated from residents. Today, cut off from other areas of East Jerusalem by a web of Israeli-built development that includes military camps, the Hebrew University campus and the Eastern Ring Road, it is a crowded enclave with a population density 2.5 times higher than neighbouring Israeli settlements. Blocked off on three sides and with little land zoned for construction, there is a severe housing shortage and residents have no choice but to build without permits. Many have been issued with demolition orders and some have lost their homes already.

In this regard, conditions in Al-Isawiyyah are typical of many Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem and their struggle with Israel’s draconian planning restrictions. However, the village also faces the threat of another form of Israeli planning that has been used repeatedly to limit the development of Palestinian neighbourhoods and even expelling Palestinians from their land – the zoning of supposedly ‘vacant’ areas in East Jerusalem as parks and protected green spaces.

In September 2014, the Israeli National Planning Committee announced controversial plans to build a new ‘national park’ on the slopes of Mount Scopus, where Al-Isawiyyah is based. The plans as they currently stand would lead to the confiscation of 700,000 square metres of land belonging to Al-Isawiyyah and another Palestinian neighbourhood, At-Tur. News of the proposal provoked widespread condemnation from rights groups and community residents. Though the committee has so far refused to cancel the park, it has conceded that its boundaries should be re-examined due to insufficient consideration of the needs of the two adjacent Palestinian neighbourhoods.

The decision regarding these boundaries has been referred back to a lower-level planning committee. The Israeli nonprofit organization, BIMKOM – Planners for Planning Rights, which provides legal representation for an association of Al-Isawiyyah residents, is now hopeful that the plans for the park will be curtailed. If this is the case, it will be a rare positive development in a history of long-running disputes with Israeli authorities, whose planning policies have been a recurring source of tension for the community. In 2008 the Jerusalem Municipality began to advance plans for a solid waste dump to the north which would leave the community completely surrounded. And should the E1 Plan be implemented, the result will be even more exclusionary development – leaving it more isolated and overcrowded than ever.

Though the story of Al-Isawiyyah would be tragic even if it was unique, the problems facing the community are shared by many other Palestinian neighbourhoods – problems that, without a significant shift in Israel’s urban policy, will only become worse in the future.

This article appears in MRG’s annual flagship report State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2015. View the full report.

Photo: BIMKOM staff with residents of East Jerusalem

Credit: BIMKOM


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Date: 11/06/2015




State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2015
Land Rights

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