Later this month Palestinians will be celebrating an important anniversary, namely the decision by the UN General Assembly a year ago to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state.
But not with much joy, I suspect.
Its upgraded status enables Palestine to now take part in UN debates and join bodies like the International Criminal Court (ICC). Predictably, Israel flew into a rage at the prospect and said the move pushed the peace process “backwards”, while the US said it was “unfortunate”.
So what has the Palestinian leadership done with this precious gift of empowerment from the international community?
In March this year the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, concluding four years of investigations, called for the ICC to investigate “crimes” committed by Israel in the occupied territories. The Tribunal said it would “support all initiatives from civil society and international organisations aimed at bringing Israel in front of the International Criminal Court”. Since Palestine was awarded observer status at the UN the previous November, it could file complaints on its own behalf against Israel with the Court. The tribunal also called on the ICC to recognise Palestinian jurisdiction and for an extraordinary session of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid, set up for South Africa, to examine the Israeli case.
Also in March the United Nations Human Rights Council said Israeli settlements in the West Bank were a “creeping form of annexation” and the international community should take steps to halt business ties with those communities. Their report claimed that Israel could be culpable for these acts before the International Criminal Court. The mission asked Israel to withdraw its settlers from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and urged the international community to comply with their obligation under international law to act.
In April senior Palestinian officials were saying that if Israel began construction in the area designated “E-1″ , a piece of land in the West Bank adjacent to Jerusalem seized by Israel in 1967, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would join the ICC and seek indictments on war crimes charges. It is believed that Israel’s administration had just given provisional permission to build some 3,300 Jewish homes on E-1.
Palestinians say that Israeli construction there would make an independent Palestinian state virtually impossible because it would cut off East Jerusalem (which is Palestinian) from the rest of the West Bank.
But why is Abbas waiting for the bulldozers to go into E-1 when there’s a long list of other examples of criminal settlement building and atrocities that Israel ought to be charged with?
In June Dr. Saeb Erekat, Palestine’s chief negotiator, was criticising the policies being pushed by Israeli PM Netanyahu “including aggressive settlement activity, home demolitions, evictions and ID revocations. This is part of Israel’s plan to destroy any possibility for a Palestinian State, by annexing and changing the status quo of Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and other vast areas of the Occupied State of Palestine”.
The Israeli government, with its destructive policies, was determined to make US Secretary Kerry’s efforts fail, he said. Israel’s actions made it clear they were declaring the end of the two-state solution. The international community should be pushing Israel to implement previous agreements and adhere to international law instead of calling for a resumption of negotiations. “There is a new urgency to face reality and finally hold Israel accountable for destroying the prospects of justice and peace.”
Israel was turning up its aggression against the Palestinian people while we were trying to reach a negotiated solution, grumbled Erekat. “After the announcement to intensify negotiations made by US Secretary John Kerry, Israel destroyed the village of Khirbet Makhoul for the fourth time and approved further settlement expansion aimed at sealing Occupied East Jerusalem from Ramallah.”
Palestinian leadership shows no sign of starting the justice ball rolling
“Our position is clear and in line with international law: all Israeli settlements in Palestine are illegal… and undermine the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution. If Israel is serious about peace, they must cease all settlement activities.” Erekat again demanded action by the rest of the world “to make Israel pay the price for its institutionalized defiance of international law and UN resolutions”.
But there was still no sign of his own people – the Palestinian Authority and the PLO – taking action on their own account, or at least starting the ball rolling, even though the international community had given them the wherewithall to do so.
Now I hear that Israel is drilling into 3.5 billion barrels of oil reserves straddling the armistice ‘green line’, most of it lying under the West Bank. According to official agreements, says Al-Jazeera, “Israel is obligated to coordinate any exploration for natural resources in shared territory with the Palestinian Authority, and reach agreements on how to divide the benefits.”
Ashraf Khatib, an official at the Palestinian Authority’s negotiations support unit, described the oil field as part of Israel’s “general theft of Palestinian national resources… the occupation is not just about settlements and land confiscation. Israel is also massively profiting from exploiting our resources. There’s lots of money in it for Israel, which is why the occupation has become so prolonged.”
And, of course, the world knows how the Palestinians are prevented from benefiting from their offshore gas field and how, if Israel has its way, they’ll never get a sniff of their own gas either.
‘Life in Palestine is subject to the rule of the jungle’
Since the beginning of the Oslo process over 20 years ago, the rights of the Palestinian people have been sacrificed on the altar of so-called political progress, the glittering prize being ‘peace and security’. But that was never really on the cards. All we’ve seen is a continuous slide downhill for the Palestinians while the Israelis’ colonisation and expansion programme goes from strength to strength. “In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the expansion of settlements continues relentlessly, while the illegal Annexation Wall creates a situation that is completely at odds with both international law and the stated goals of the peace process,” says Shawan Jabarin in an excellent article Time for the ICC to act on Palestine.
“Life in Palestine is subject to the rule of the jungle: generals and politicians know that they can violate the law with impunity, fuelling a continuous cycle of violations and suffering. The result has been an increase in war crimes committed against innocent civilians. Throughout Palestine we are struggling for the right to live, and the right to live in dignity.”
Talking of the right to live in dignity, only today I was reading how some of the Palestinian villages are used by Israel for military training exercises in which soldiers enjoy virtual impunity with regard to their cruel behavior in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, the pretext being that the Israeli military is the sovereign authority over the whole territory. “This edict contradicts international law and numerous United Nations resolutions that question the Israeli claim to sovereignty over all Palestinian land,” reports IMEMC .
The Israeli military frequently invades Palestinian towns and villages, with soldiers running through streets and alleys with loaded automatic weapons, ransacking homes and terrorizing residents, for the purposes of ‘training’. Residents and the human rights groups representing them have provided numerous examples of the soldiers tearing through homes and yards, breaking into houses, running up and down stairs and taking over rooftops of family homes as part of these exercises.
It’s bad enough that villages experience actual Israeli military invasions on a regular basis. Now, since the military makes no attempt to differentiate between an invasion and a ‘training exercise’, the villagers are just as terrorized as they are during real raids.
Wasting that all-important empowerment on a dumb promise
International justice remains out of reach for millions of civilians because the corrupt US, UK and EU political establishments conspire to ‘persuade’ Palestine not to join the ICC or press war crimes charges and other complaints against racist Israel. The Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC, meanwhile, is waiting for Palestine to ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court and become a full member if it wishes to commence proceedings.
To pretend there is something wrong with pursuing a brutal oppressor for war crimes through the proper channels – that is, the ICC – while talking peace, is absurd. No peace is sustainable unless it’s underpinned by international law and justice.
So a week ago I sent a ‘press enquiry’ to the Palestinian Embassy in London, addressed to Ambassador Hassassian. It said:
“What is the PA/PLO doing, please, to regularise its position regarding the ICC statute and satisfy any remaining requirements for exercising its membership rights and bringing charges against Israel for its crimes?
“What still remains to be done and why the continuing delay after the international community cleared the way and unpgraded Palestine’s status?”
No reply, no acknowledgement, despite follow-up phone messages. Silence speaks volumes and is par for the course when dealing with Palestinian officials.
However, I’ve heard it said that Abbas promised Kerry not to seek justice through the ICC during the nine months or more the going-nowhere peace talks will be… well, going nowhere. That takes us by my reckoning to May next year, or beyond. And he gave the undertaking without wringing from the Israelis a corresponding promise to halt settlement planning, construction and enlargement.
Welcome to the Palestinian School of Appeasement.
Israeli forces Monday demolished a property in occupied East Jerusalem owned by the Roman Catholic Church, displacing 14 Palestinians. At a press conference held by the ruins of the home, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Tawwal condemned the demolition in the presence of senior church officials, foreign diplomats and journalists, saying “there is no justification for the demolition” and accusing the Jerusalem “municipality and the Israeli government” of “increase[ing] hatred” through its policies.
Tawwal claimed that it was the first time Israel had demolished property belonging to the church, and promised “legal action in appropriate courts” in response.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that hundreds of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem have recently received demolition orders, notices which give residents 30 days to appeal.
Palestinian-owned properties in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem are routinely demolished by the Jerusalem municipality on the grounds of lacking the right permit – permits that are notoriously difficult to get. For example, just 13 per cent of the Jerusalem housing units granted building permits in the period 2005-’09 were in Palestinian neighbourhoods.
Photo credit – alarabiya.net
Suspected Jewish extremists slashed the tires of five Palestinian-owned cars in Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem overnight, a police spokeswoman and local media said on Tuesday.
Separately in the occupied West Bank village of Burin, near Nablus, Israeli settlers set fire to a car, Ma’an news agency cited a Palestinian Authority official as saying.
“Five vehicles were vandalized close to the Old City at the entrance to the Silwan neighborhood, and the slogan ‘price tag’ written on a wall nearby,” spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
Initially carried out against Palestinians in “retaliation” for their filing lawsuits against Israel to reclaim stolen land occupied by settlers, price tag attacks have become a much broader phenomenon with racist and xenophobic overtones.
And in the northern West Bank, Ma’an reported that settlers from the illegal Yizhar outpost torched a car belonging to a Palestinian man at the entrance of the northern West Bank village of Burin, according to official Ghassan Daghlas who documents settler crimes.
Tuesday’s attacks come two days after police caught four Israelis red-handed as they destroyed Christian tombstones in a Palestinian cemetery in Jerusalem cemetery.
An international human rights organisation has revealed that one-third of the Palestinian-owned houses in Jerusalem face demolition under the pretext that applications for building permits were incomplete. This, claims Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights, is a way for the Israeli authorities to continue their demographic war against Palestinians in the Holy City. Israel gives Jerusalemite Palestinians the right to use just 13 per cent of the area of occupied East Jerusalem to meet the needs of their growing population.
A report from Euro-Mid shed some light on the widespread Israeli settlement programme in Jerusalem. It mentioned that the financial committee of the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality decided to support 1,500 new settlement units in the city at the end of August. The human rights group also pointed out that Israel’s bulldozers are still razing Palestinian homes in Al-Tour neighbourhood because the authorities plan to set up the “National Israeli Park”.
According to the UN, poverty is getting worse among Palestinians in Jerusalem. Euro-Mid noted that the unemployment rate rose to 78 per cent in 2012 compared with 64 per cent in 2006. More than 40 per cent of Palestinian Jerusalemites now live below the official poverty line; one of the reasons is the disparity in wage rates between Israeli and Palestinian labourers.
Euro-Mid has called upon Israel to stop its frenzy of settlement construction in the occupied territories and to protect Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem, as the potential capital of a Palestinian state.
- Israel levels 7 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem (worldbulletin.net)
- Jewish settlers occupy Palestinian land in Al-Quds (worldbulletin.net)
- Dozens Injured In Jerusalem, Two Kidnapped (imemc.org)
- Palestinians Attacked By Soldiers In Jerusalem’s Old City (imemc.org)
Israel urged the European Union on Friday to undo planned sanctions against it in the occupied West Bank and called for talks, a shift in tone from previous Israeli anger, retaliatory measures and threats.
Under guidelines adopted by the executive European Commission in June, Israeli “entities” operating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem will not be eligible for EU grants, prizes or loans from next year.
The move was deplored by Israel, which has constructed thousands of illegal settlement houses in the West Bank and claims all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital. Neither the settlements nor claims to Jerusalem are recognized internationally.
The right-wing Israeli government responded on July 26 by announcing curbs on EU aid projects for thousands of West Bank Palestinians. On Thursday it accused the Europeans of harming so-called Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and said it would not sign new deals with the 28-nation bloc given the planned sanctions.
But Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin backed down a little on Friday, offering to negotiate with the European Union over the guidelines of the sanctions.
“We are ready to hold a creative dialogue with the Europeans. We understand their position. We reject it, we don’t like it, but it’s their right when it comes to using their money,” Elkin told Israel Radio.
A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Aston, Michael Mann, said Brussels was willing to clarify the new guidelines in talks with Israel.
Some 500,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem among 2.5 million Palestinians who own the land. Israel snatched those territories, along with the Palestinian Gaza Strip and Syrian Golan Heights, in the 1967 war.
Occupation forces left Gaza in 2005 but has annexed the Golan – another territory affected by the EU move.
Internationally, the settlements are considered illegal.
The BBC’s insistence on describing Jerusalem as an Israeli city, despite such a status not being recognised under international law, has been condemned by Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).
In a ruling delivered this week, the BBC Trust appears to have accepted Israel’s facts on the grounds, namely that Jerusalem is a united Israeli city.
Writing to PSC, the Trust quotes the BBC’s Senior Editorial Strategy Advisor, Leanne Buckle, in her assessment of the BBC’s decision to describe Jerusalem as an Israeli city.
The Trust writes: “The advisor [Buckle] acknowledged that Israel’s sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem was not recognized under international law. However, she considered that Israel had de facto control over the entire city in a political, administrative and military sense. She also noted that Jerusalem was administered as a single entity by the Jerusalem municipal authority which made no distinction between East and West.”
Based on this, the Trust has said it will not consider a complaint by PSC that BBC journalists are breaching the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on Accuracy when they refer to Jerusalem as an Israeli city.
Under international law, only West Jerusalem is considered to be under Israeli de facto control, not the whole of Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is described by the UN as Occupied Palestinian Territory that has been illegally occupied and annexed by Israel.
In recent months, items on the BBC’s Today and The World Tonight programmes have described the whole of Jerusalem as being an Israeli city. The country profile page for Israel on the BBC website states that Israel’s seat of government is ‘Jerusalem’.
To date, the BBC continues to insist that it will not change this entry to ‘West Jerusalem’.
Sarah Colborne, Director of PSC, said: “The BBC’s refusal to distinguish between East and West Jerusalem flies in the face of international law and international opinion.
“Instead, Leanne Buckle’s comments reveal that Israel’s illegal creation of facts on the ground appear to have been accepted in BBC newsrooms and by BBC senior management. What’s more, the BBC seems willing to elevate this illegality above international law in its reporting. This is extremely disturbing.”
Colborne added: “The status of Jerusalem is a sensitive issue, and all reporting relating to it should be subject to the highest standards of accuracy by responsible news organisations. The BBC appears to have thrown accuracy out of the window, along with international law. Moreover, it seems to have airbrushed Palestinians and East Jerusalem out of the picture.”
“All we’re asking is that the BBC inserts the word ‘West’ before ‘Jerusalem’ when referring to the part of the divided city that is recognised under international law as being under de facto Israeli control. It’s a question of accuracy. Why is the BBC fighting so hard against it?”
- Siam family from Sheikh Jarrah, struggling against eviction order and not giving up (palsolidarity.org)
- New Israeli Ethnic Cleansing Policy in Jerusalem (ramyabdeljabbar.wordpress.com)
JERUSALEM – An Israeli court on Thursday sentenced two Palestinian MPs to 30 months, a committee official said.
PLC deputy Mohammad Tawtah and former Jerusalem affairs’ minister Khalid Abu Arafa were sentenced to 30 months plus a one-year suspended sentence for conducting “Hamas activities,” said Amjad Abu Asab, the director of the Jerusalem prisoners’ families committee.
The judge ruled that the MPs must serve an additional six months if they enter Jerusalem, their hometown, Abu Asab told Ma’an.
The MPs have been in Israeli custody since Israeli police detained them in a raid on the Jerusalem headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross in January 2012.
The elected officials took refuge at the Red Cross building in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah in July 2010 along with lawmaker Ahmad Attoun after Israel revoked their residency permits.
JERUSALEM – Israeli forces demolished two homes in the Jabal al-Mukabbir neighborhood of East Jerusalem on Tuesday, having earlier destroyed two Palestinian homes in al-Tur.
Witnesses said that a large Israeli police force surrounded the buildings in Jabal al-Mukabbir and closed off the area before demolishing the buildings.
One building belonged to the Abu al-Dabaat family and consisted of three floors housing four families. The second building was home to the al-Qaq family and housed three people.
The al-Qaq family built the property 13 years ago and received a demolition order in 2002 for lacking a building permit. The demolition order was halted and an Israeli court ordered the family to pay 80,000 shekels ($21,800) as a penalty.
The family then tried to obtain a building permit, but were unable to do so.
Earlier, Israeli forces demolished two houses in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of al-Tur, leaving seven people homeless.
According to the UN, 33 percent of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack Israeli-issued building permits, potentially placing at least 93,100 residents at risk of displacement.
Figures from Israeli NGO Bimkom show that 95 percent of Palestinian applications for a building permit are rejected.
Since 1967, the Israeli authorities have demolished some 2,000 houses in East Jerusalem. Over 1,630 Palestinians were made homeless in house demolitions carried out by Israel between 2004-2012, B’Tselem says.
- Israel demolishes West Bank homes, water wells (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Soldiers Kidnap Two Children In Jerusalem (imemc.org)
- Israeli court rules to allow mosque demolition in Jerusalem (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
Israeli soldiers kidnapped the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, after surrounding his home and breaking into it Wednesday.
Local sources reported that the army invaded As-Suwwana neighborhood, in Jabal Al-Mokabbir in occupied East Jerusalem, and broke into the home of the Mufti before kidnapping him.
Sheikh Hussein asked to follow the soldiers by car to the Al-Maskobiyya Police Station and interrogation facility in the city, but they refused and placed him in one of their vehicles.
In related news, the army kidnapped Engineer Mustafa Abu Zahra, head of a committee in charge of maintaining Islamic graveyards in Jerusalem.
Furthermore, Israeli police officers were heavily deployed at the gates of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, interrogated dozens of worshipers while inspecting their ID Cards, withheld their ID cards and informed them that they will get their ID’s back once they leave the mosque area.
In addition, a number of settlers invaded the Al-Aqsa Mosque yard through the Al-Magharba Gate accompanied by dozens of soldiers and police officers.
On Tuesday evening, the Israeli Police handed orders to Palestinian shop owners in the Old City ordering them not to display their products in front of their shops on Wednesday evening in order to allow the settlers to march through the city and its markets while marking the so-called “Jerusalem Day”.
The “Jerusalem Day” is a an Israeli “national holiday” that started in June 1967 after the Israeli forces occupied East Jerusalem, and the rest of Palestine following the six-day war. In 1982, the Israeli Knesset passed a “legislation” considering Jerusalem “complete and united” as the eternal capital of Israel.
- Grand Mufti of Jerusalem detained (gulfnews.com)
Israeli forces on Monday demolished Palestinian homes and water wells in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as settlers confiscated land near Hebron to build a new outpost, local media reported.
In occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli forces razed two apartments in the Tur neighborhood after several attempts by the owners to reverse the demolition order failed.
The authorities evicted 24 members of the Ghaith family, including five children and an elderly woman, from the two apartments ahead of the demolition, Rushi Ghaith, one of the owners, told Palestinian news agency Ma’an.
The apartments were scheduled for demolition in December but the family secured a court-ordered injunction to stop it from going ahead, Ghaith said.
The Ghaith family lawyer said they had successfully stalled attempts to raze the apartments since September 2004, when Israeli authorities handed down the demolition notice because the home was built without a licensing permit. The family’s case to reverse the demolition order is ongoing.
Ghaith said the family has been fined 80,000 Israeli shekels (about $22,000) since the case began.
Meanwhile Israeli soldiers demolished water wells south of Hebron in al-Fawar refugee camp, as settlers from the nearby Ma’oun settlement seized land west of Yatta in preparation for the establishment of new outposts.
Abdul Hadi Hantash, an expert on settlement policies in the southern West Bank, said that the Ma’oun settlers seized land of one of the hills southwest of their original outpost.
Hantash told reporters that the wells the soldiers destroyed were used for agricultural purposes and irrigation.
He added that the continued confiscation of land and demolition of Palestinian structures, including the bulldozing of homes and uprooting of trees, are part of the Israeli government’s illegal settlement expansion program.
Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes and other structures in the occupied West Bank occur almost daily under the pretext of building without a permit.
According to the United Nations, 33 percent of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack Israeli-issued building permits, which are difficult to obtain, potentially placing at least 93,100 residents at risk of displacement.
Roughly 94 percent of Palestinian applications for building permits are rejected, according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
The group estimates that Israeli authorities have demolished about 27,000 Palestinian structures in the West Bank since 1967.
(Ma’an, Wafa, Al-Akhbar)
- Palestinian monastery loses court battle over apartheid wall (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- We want to live in dignity (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israeli settlers use six times more water than Palestinians – new report (realisticbird.wordpress.com)
JERUSALEM – Last month, an international fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council found that settlements constituted a violation of international human rights and humanitarian law and called on Israel to stop all expansions immediately and withdraw from settlements.
A controversial Israeli plan, known as E-1, to build thousands of housing units and hotel rooms near the Ma’ale Adummim settlement, has garnered much attention in the media because it would sever Palestinian East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. (See IRIN’s briefing on E-1 here.)
But at the same time, Israel has been moving forward with equally controversial settlement plans under less scrutiny and with unusual speed.
As US President Barack Obama prepares to visit the region this week, IRIN takes a look at some of the details that have been overlooked in the discussion.
What’s the Giv’at HaMatos plan?
According to Israeli NGO Ir Amim (“City of Nations”), which works to preserve Jerusalem as a home for both Jews and Palestinians, one settlement plan of “critical importance” is Giv’at HaMatos.
In a sense, Giv’at HaMatos does in the south what E-1 does in the east. The planned large housing and hotel complex at the southern perimeter of Jerusalem would further disrupt the contiguity of land between East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank required for a future Palestinian state, seriously impeding a two-state solution, research and rights groups say. It would also mark the first new settlement construction in Jerusalem since 1997.
“All construction is problematic but there are several plans that are, in our view, more dangerous if implemented,” Hagit Ofran, director of the Settlement Watch project at the Israeli NGO Peace Now, told IRIN. “Giv’at HaMatos is the most dangerous plan that is now approved.”
Part of the plan – to build 2,612 units – was approved by the Jerusalem Regional Planning Committee on 19 December.
Most of Giv’at HaMatos is currently uninhabited, but according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), which recently released a two-part report on the future of East Jerusalem, its build-up would cut off Arab neighbourhoods in southern Jerusalem, like Beit Safafa and Sharafat, rendering them “Palestinian enclaves”.
Giv’at HaMatos would connect the dots of several other planned or expanding settlements along southern Jerusalem – including Giv’at Yael in the southwest; and Har Homa and East Talpiyot in the southeast – forming “a long Jewish continuum severing Bethlehem’s urban continuum from Palestinian Jerusalem”, ICG said. Last year, the Israeli government also approved more than 2,000 new units in neighbouring Gilo.
This kind of attachment to Jewish expansions could make peace negotiations even harder.
“From an Israeli public opinion perspective, Giv’at HaMatos is in the municipal border of Jerusalem,” Ofran said. “It’s considered a legitimate part of Israel.”
Barak Cohen, the Jerusalem Municipality’s adviser for foreign affairs and media, told IRIN Giv’at HaMatos is part of Jerusalem’s “natural and much-needed growth”, allowing both Arab and Jewish landowners to develop their properties.
Indeed, part of the Giv’at HaMatos plan, approved on 18 December, allows for the building of 549 units for Palestinians – though Betty Herschman, director of international relations and advocacy at Ir Amim, points out much of it retroactively legalizes building that has already been completed. The figures, she added, amount to just over one-fifth of the Jewish expansion.
“For many Arab East Jerusalemites, the battle for their city is all but lost.”
Still, Cohen insisted, the development would benefit Jerusalem as a whole: “Not planning and developing Jerusalem neighbourhoods ultimately harms all residents and landowners – Arabs and Jews alike.”
Last year, Israel also issued tenders for the construction of 606 new housing units north of East Jerusalem, in the Ramot settlement, just north of the Green Line marking the border between Israel and the West Bank, and approved another 1,500 units in the neighbouring settlement of Ramot Shlomo, according to Ir Amim.
What other settlements are planned?
Beyond Jerusalem, there was movement on a number of other settlements projects in disputed areas, according to Settlement Watch.
In June 2012, the Israeli government announced it would build 851 new units in the West Bank, including more than 230 in the controversial settlements of Ariel and Efrat. Like Giv’at HaMatos, these two settlements make a contiguous Palestinian territory impossible, Settlement Watch says.
Overall, settlements expanded much faster than usual last year.
In 2012 the Israeli government approved the construction of 6,676 settler housing units in the West Bank, compared with 1,607 in 2011 and several hundred in 2010, according to Peace Now.
For plans that were already approved, it issued more than 3,000 tenders to construction contractors – more than any other year in the last decade, Peace Now said. Construction has actually begun on 1,747 homes.
Regardless of the settlements, Palestinians, especially in Area C, are under immense pressure. Recent weeks have seen a considerable upswing in demolitions of Palestinian structures. According to the Displacement Working Group, a grouping of aid agencies helping displaced families, Israeli forces destroyed 139 Palestinian structures, including 59 homes, in January – almost triple 2012’s monthly average. The demolitions occurred in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – with a majority taking place in Area C – and left 251 Palestinians, including over 150 children, displaced.
The office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the (Palestinian) Territories (COGAT) told IRIN there was no connection between the removal of unauthorized buildings and the construction of Israeli settlements. “All construction in the West Bank is subject to building codes and planning laws and unauthorized constructions are dealt with accordingly,” the office said in an email.
What are the knock-on effects?
Settlements are often discussed through the lens of their illegality under international law or as obstacles to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But everything associated with the settlements – including Israeli-only infrastructure, the separation barrier, military checkpoints, restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, suppression of freedom of expression and political life, and control of Palestinian natural resources – causes a ripple effect through Palestinian society, adversely impacting the people.
The UN estimates there are now 520,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with 43 percent of the land there allocated to local and regional settlement councils. According to the UN Secretary-General, Israel has transferred roughly 8 percent of its citizens into OPT since the 1970s, altering the demographic composition of the territory and furthering the Palestinian people from their right to self-determination.
Baker, of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, said a future Palestinian state should include a Jewish minority. “The assumption behind this… is that Jews have no right to live in the West Bank, an assumption that we reject. In fact we see ourselves as the true indigenous people of this land.”
But Israeli settlements have violated Palestinian rights to equality under the law, to religious freedom and to freedom of movement, according to the UN fact-finding mission. They have also eroded Palestinian access to water and to agricultural assets, and the ability to develop economically, it said.
Photo: OCHA – View larger version of map here
For example, Bedouins from the Palestinian village of Khan Al Ahmar, northeast of E-1, cannot sell their dairy products at their traditional Souq Al Ahmar market any more. Because of movement restrictions (they hold West Bank IDs and lack the proper permits to enter East Jerusalem), they cannot get there.
The UN secretary-general has said that Palestinians “have virtually no control” over the water resources in the West Bank, with 86 percent of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea under the de facto jurisdiction of the settlement regional councils.
There is a statistical correlation between Palestinians’ proximity to settlements and their rates of food insecurity, according to a UN and government survey, which found that one quarter of Palestinians who live in Area C, home to the largest number of settlements in the West Bank, are food insecure. In Areas A and B, the average rate of food insecurity is 17 percent.
In addition, “all spheres of Palestinian life are being significantly affected by a minority of settlers who are engaged in violence and intimidation with the aim of forcing Palestinians off their land,” the mission said.
Operation Dove, an international organization working in the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani and the South Hebron Hills, reported that Palestinian children have a very hard time going to school due to settler attacks.
The UN and rights groups say radical settlers use violence against Palestinians with impunity and their illegal outposts are often recognized and retroactively legalized by the government.
Since the occupation began, Israel has detained hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, some of them without charge, and some of them children. Most of the minors are arrested “at friction points, such as a village near a settlement or a road used by the army or settlers”, the fact-finding mission said.
Israel uses what they term “administrative detention” when it considers the detainee a threat to the security of the state.
Ir Amim’s Herschman says Israel is also attempting to create a “greater Jerusalem” through additional means, for example: the Israeli separation barrier, planned national parks, and the construction of highways dividing villages, dispossessing Palestinians of their land and making it harder for them to access services like schools and mosques.
In recent weeks, residents of the Palestinian village of Beit Safafa have been protesting against the planned extension of the Begin Highway that would divide their village in order to connect major Israeli settlement blocks outside the city to Jerusalem.
The planned root of the separation barrier, in addition to a potential national park around the perimeter of the barrier would also close off nearby Palestinian village al-Wallajeh.
The planned route of the barrier extends all the way around and far beyond Muale Adummim and in other areas south and north of Jerusalem. “These lines are a unilateral declaration of a much greater Jerusalem, a unilateral expanding of the boundaries, an exponential increase,” she told IRIN.
Or as the ICG put it, “for many Arab East Jerusalemites, the battle for their city is all but lost.”
An internal report by the European Union has come down hard on Israel’s decision to continue settlement construction in occupied East Jerusalem, threatening to end economic projects that involve the Jewish settlements.
The harshly worded 15-page report provides recommendations to the 27 member-states for responding to Israel’s activities in the occupied territories – which the document described as “systematic, deliberate and provocative” – and endorses a strategy that aims at “making it impossible for Jerusalem to become the capital of two states.”
Seven of the report’s 10 recommendations propose slapping tough economic sanctions on organizations directly involved in construction projects in the Jewish settlements, Israeli daily Haaretz reported. The report also called on the EU’s 27 member-states to “prevent, discourage and raise awareness” about doing business with companies that work in the disputed settlement zones.
It advised EU states to work to ensure that products exported from the settlements not receive an unfair advantage through “preferential tariffs,” and to give consumers an opportunity to make an “informed choice” through clear labeling of products’ origins.
The report advocated “closer supervision” of technological research and development programs between the EU and Israel. The measures would work to ensure that “no research grants, scholarships or other technological investments assist settlements, either directly or indirectly,” or be provided to agencies working in the settlements.
Haaretz, which obtained a copy of the report, called the sanctions “particularly severe” compared to earlier EU reports.
The annual report, compiled by EU consuls in Jerusalem and Ramallah, does not require member-states to implement the measures – the document’s recommendations serve as a guidepost for individual EU states in dealing with the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In December, several EU countries, including the UK, France and Sweden, summoned their Israeli ambassadors to voice disapproval of the ongoing construction projects.
The report expressed frustration with Israel for its late-November announcement of new settlement construction projects, shortly after the UN General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state – a move strongly condemned by Israel and the US.
The implementation of the Israeli government’s so-called E-1 project “would effectively divide the West Bank into separate northern and southern parts,” the report explained, adding that it would also “prevent Palestinians in East Jerusalem from further urban development and cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.”
Israel is “systematically undermining the Palestinian presence” in East Jerusalem through controversial strategies, including “restrictive zoning and planning, demolitions and evacuations, discriminatory access to religious sites, an inequitable education policy, difficult access to health care, the inadequate provision of resources,” the report said. … Full article