x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Separation wall in Jerusalem becomes an excuse to evict

Israel seems to be finding a way to exile whole neighbourhoods of Palestinians, without actually making them move.

Earlier this month, in a story that received little international attention, Israel's daily Haaretz revealed that the municipality of Jerusalem has formally asked the Israeli military to begin providing services to Palestinian neighbourhoods of the city located on the other side of the separation wall.

The Israeli daily said municipality director-general Yossi Heiman asked Israel's army to take control of all civilian-related services pertaining to Jerusalem residents east of the wall, and to "form a committee that will present a plan to the government".

At first sight, this may not seem noteworthy; the municipality has historically been abysmal about providing services to some of its Palestinian residents. Areas of East Jerusalem such as Kufr Aqab - neighbourhoods that are still within Jerusalem's municipal boundary but on the West Bank side of Israel's wall - have for years suffered from a lack of consistent access to services, including rubbish disposal, law enforcement and specialised health care.

But this recent decision immediately raised fears among Palestinian groups, such as the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre, that it amounted to another Israeli attempt to change the legal status of Palestinians in the city and further change the facts on the ground.

Their fears are well founded. Israeli politicians have been talking about severing these areas from Jerusalem for years. In December 2011, the city's mayor Nir Barakat said "The municipal boundary of Jerusalem and the route of the separation fence must be identical to allow for proper administration of the city." Effectively, Mr Barakat reiterated plans to redraw the city's municipal boundaries in a way that would include nearby Israeli settlements and cut off Palestinian neighbourhoods, including Kufr Aqab and Shuafat Camp.

Such steps can be interpreted only as part of a plan to transfer communities like Kufr Aqab to the closest Palestinian Authority-controlled area, namely the city of Ramallah. If this does happen, it would effectively mean the transfer of Palestinians from a Jerusalem neighbourhood to a suburb of Ramallah without any physical relocation.

It's worth noting that Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are not citizens of Israel, but taxpaying permanent residents entitled to the same civil services as all citizens. However, this residency is conditional, and a variety of bureaucratic requirements known as the "centre of life" policy, must be fulfilled in order to live in the city.

After the Oslo Accords were signed between the Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, the West Bank was broken into three distinct areas under different military and civilian control. Roughly a third of Kufr Aqab fell into "Area C" of this designation, while the majority of the community remained within Jerusalem's municipality boundary, drawn unilaterally in the weeks after the 1967 war.

This classification means that the area is under full Israeli military and civilian control. The PA is not allowed to operate in these areas and the Israelis, citing "security concerns", have also been largely absent, thus creating a Petri dish for lawlessness, poverty and crime to thrive.

The results of these demarcations are staggering. The landscape in Kufr Aqab, for example, is defined by endless rows of unlicensed half-built mid-rise buildings, huge piles of burning rubbish and unpaved roads dotted with potholes. A short distance away, streets of West Jerusalem are well-paved and the best specialised health care in the region can be found.

US presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke about the disparity between Palestinians and Israelis recently while in Jerusalem, blaming it on cultural differences. However, this phenomenon occurs in the context of a demographic struggle in which Israeli authorities utilise formal channels of the state to maintain a Jewish majority in the Holy City. This is done through a well-documented system of gerrymandering, unequal distribution of civil services, unequal development policies and more.

Israel's separation wall is one more mechanism through which the Israeli authorities hope to enforce their demographic aims by using it to amend the formal municipal boundary, ceding large portions of Jerusalem's Palestinian population to the West Bank.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Israeli authorities' practice of home demolitions has created an artificial housing shortage in Palestinian neighbourhoods on the west side of the wall, such as Beit Hanina, where monthly rent can cost twice as much as it would on the east side of the wall. Therefore residents often seek more economic housing options in places like Kufr Aqab.

These actions are "rooted in a policy decision establishing that a demographic balance must be maintained in the city at a ratio of 70 per cent Jews to 30 per cent Palestinians", according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Today, according to the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, the city has had to amend its target ratio to 60 per cent Jewish, 40 per cent Arab, as Arab birth rates have proven too high for them to maintain their earlier figures.

Neighbourhoods like Kufr Aqab that lie within the municipal boundary, yet are on the West Bank side of the wall, serve this project well. Through the methods outlined above, Israel plans to further coerce the Palestinians of East Jerusalem into enclaves east of the wall, only to sever these later from the rest of the city, and from Israel proper. Jerusalem's mayor and other Israeli leaders have made it clear that Palestinian communities in Jerusalem which lie beyond the wall will eventually be cut off, effectively transferring their inhabitants to the West Bank and the rule of the Palestinian Authority.


Dalia Hatuqa is a writer and TV producer based in the West Bank

On Twitter: @DaliaHatuqa