x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Extra support needed for Jerusalem

More support is needed to help protect Jerusalem's Palestinian identity, participants at a symposium in the capital are told.

ABU DHABI // More support is needed to help protect Jerusalem's Palestinian identity, in the face of factors including Israel's continued settlement policy, participants at a symposium in the capital said earlier today. The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), hosted the forum focussing on the future of East Jerusalem, which along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has been occupied by Israel since 1967. The city's complex history, religious significance for all three monotheistic religions, current problems and its future, were addressed by speakers including Dr Mohammed Ghosheh, a historian specialising in Jerusalem and its Islamic architecture, and Dr Ahmed Jameel Azem, an ECSSR researcher. Khalil Tafakji, the director of the Mapping and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Department of the Arab Studies Society in Jerusalem, spoke of the city's complex geographic and demographic make-up.

According to the speakers, successive Israeli governments have pursued policies geared towards increasing the number of Israelis in occupied East Jerusalem. "In terms of diplomacy, there needs to be more efforts to highlight the circumstances of Jerusalem," said Dr Azem. Today, almost half the 400,000 Israeli settlers, reside in settlements in East Jerusalem. Over one third of East Jerusalem has also been expropriated for Israeli settlement activity, according to the UN, despite it being illegal under international law. While the settlements have grown and new ones created, Israeli authorities have also restricted Palestinian development in the city. A complex, expensive, restrictive and often lengthy permit process is required for Palestinians to build in East Jerusalem. Mr Tafakji said this has lead to construction in East Jerusalem in violation of Israeli zoning requirements. The UN estimates that 28 per cent of all Palestinian homes are 'illegal' buildings, with more than 60,000, people living in houses that could be demolished by Israeli authorities.

The speakers also raised the issue of the separation wall, which physically and functionally separates East Jerusalem from the West Bank. "We also need more support for our institutions in Jerusalem, including medical, educational and economic," said Mr Tafakji. "Given that this is the year that Jerusalem is the Arab Capital of Culture, it is the best time to focus on this and to help." zconstantine@thenational.ae