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Jerusalem: A Policy of Discrimination:

Land Expropriation, Planning and Building

Jerusalem represents perhaps the most contentious issue in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Palestinians hope to establish their capital in East Jerusalem, while Israel claims that it will not relinquish control over any part of what it considers its eternal, indivisible capital. The process of resolving these conflicting claims will be central to the negotiations on the permanent status of the occupied territories. In the meantime, in the five year interim period between the Declaration of Principles and the permanent status arrangement, both Israel and the PLO agree not to "initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations" (Article XXXI of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip).

Despite this agreement, Israel continues to construct Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. In May, B'Tselem released A Policy of Discrimination: Land Expropriation, Planning and Building in East Jerusalem. This comprehensive report details the systematic and deliberate discrimination against the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem in all matters relating to land, development and housing construction.

Urban development of the city is based on political-national considerations, rather than addressing the needs of all residents of Jerusalem. Since 1967, one central goal has dictated municipal planning policy: strengthening Israeli control throughout the city. This has been accomplished through the construction of Jewish neighborhoods throughout East Jerusalem and the encouragement of Jews to settle in them.

Percent of Families living in high density of 3 or more persons per room
. 1972 1983 1987 1989 1991 1992 1993
Jews 8.4 1.2 1.5 2.1 2.2 3.1 2.4
Palestinians 49.0 26.5 33.5 47.9 27.2 30.9 32.3
Gap 483.3 2108.3 2133.3 2180.9 1136.3 896.7 1245.8

The means to attain this objective include the following:

  • Land expropriations: Most of the lands expropriated since 1967 were privately-owned by Arabs. Some 38,500 housing units were built on this land, all of them for the Jewish population. Not one housing unit was built for Palestinians.

  • Town Planning Schemes: The planning authorities prepared planning schemes which, rather than contributing to the development of Palestinian neighborhoods and easing the housing shortages there, restrict development and limit the area designated for building in Palestinian neighborhoods. At the same time, the Israeli authorities promote extensive building and enormous investment for Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
These policies have increased the housing density in the Arab sector. While the average housing density of the Jewish population in 1993 was 1.1 persons per room, for the Palestinian population the density was 2.2 persons per room. Furthermore, rather than decreasing since Israeli occupation, the gap in housing density is twice as large as that which existed in 1967.

Although the general contours of Israeli policy in East Jerusalem were well-known, B'Tselem used official documents from the Municipality and government offices, minutes from City Council meetings, court decisions and a review of Town Planning schemes to document the policy in detail.

The policies documented by B'Tselem constitute a violation of the internationally-recognized right to non-discrimination. Israel is a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which explicitly prohibits discrimination regarding the right to housing (Article 5 (e) (iii). In addition to the principle of non-discrimination, Israel is in violation of the human right to housing. Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes "the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions." Furthermore, as a signatory to this Covenant, Israel guarantees "that the rights enunciated ... will be exercised without discrimination of any kind" (Article 2(2)).

Furthermore, under international law, the status of East Jerusalem is identical to that of the West Bank: it is occupied territory to which the Fourth Geneva Convention applies. This Convention prohibits the occupying power from making permanent changes to the occupied territory or from settling part of its population there. Israel's land use and building policies in East Jerusalem violate both of these prohibitions.

B'Tselem had been conducting research for this comprehensive report for over a year. However, it expedited its publication upon the announcement of two decisions regarding land use in East Jerusalem: a decision to build a Jewish neighborhood upon land which was confiscated in 1991 (the so-called Har Homa neighborhood) and the confiscation of an additional 535 dunams of land in East Jerusalem.

The report was covered widely by both the Israeli and the international media. Ha'aretz, the leading intellectual Israeli daily newspaper devoted a full page to an analysis of the report. Yizhar Smilansky, the respected Israeli writer and winner of the coveted Israel Prize, wrote an article on the report entitled, "Israel Prize to B'Tselem" (see accompanying excerpt).

The report also generated a significant amount of attention among policy makers both in the government and the municipality. Jerusalem Deputy Mayor, Arnon Yekutieli, appealed to the Israeli High Court regarding land confiscations in Jerusalem. His appeal was based largely on B'Tselem's report which was quoted extensively in the appeal. The city council held a discussion about discrimination in planning and housing based on B'Tselem's report.

B'Tselem initiated a meeting between the Minister of the Environment, Yossi Sarid, and planning experts to discuss land use and planning in Jerusalem. Sarid is a member of the governmental committee formed to examine housing issues of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. At Sarid's suggestion, B'Tselem provided him with a briefing document along with concrete suggestions of how to rectify the situation.

The policies B'Tselem documented in this report continue. While the confiscation of the additional 535 dunams has been postponed, the Municipality continues its plan to construct a Jewish neighborhood at Har Homa. Issues of land use in East Jerusalem are likely to be a contentious issue in the permanent status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Yet these negotiations focus on contesting sovereignties over the territory. It is crucial that human rights advocates ensure that in this process the basic rights and needs of the population do not get ignored.

Israel Prize to B'Tselem

By Yizhar Smilansky

ecause they speak the truth. Because they fight for the human rights of everyone - even Palestinians. Because they are pure of mind, pure intentioned and pure in deed ...

How could lands marked "empty squares" not be empty, while areas intended for public construction are taken and constructed solely for Jews - nothing for the Arabs who had been living there for generations? How could they expropriate land from their owners by machinations that only one who occupies by force would employ? Or how were solutions found for the growing Jewish population while the growing Arab population met with bureaucratic neglect and scorn?

Imagine being an Arab trying to get a building permit - all the prohibitions, the harassment, the rejections and the arrogant pretexts; the usual treatment of an occupied population. Deceit, cunning, expropriations, various acts of malice, including non- intervention and lack of enforcement by the courts - and all of course for the glory of the State of Israel; to proclaim that we are here, always and above all else - to a tune which is somewhat familiar and somewhat disturbing.

Everyone who seeks justice, who cares about honesty, who really wants to know the truth about the expropriations in East Jerusalem, should study A Policy of Discrimination. ...

If someone deserves the Israel Prize, someone who salvages our pride as Jews in Israel, it is B'Tselem. ...

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