In terms of the peace negotiations, Jerusalem is usually presented as a holy and symbolic city whose main issues are control of the holy places and the ability of the Palestinians to establish their capital in the city’s eastern part. These, indeed, are important and difficult issues. They mask, however, an equally important aspect of Jerusalem’s development: how it is being rapidly transformed from an Israeli-controlled city to a region occupying more than 10% of the West Bank, a central element in perpetuating the Occupation and preventing any possibility that a viable Palestinian state might emerge.
There are, of course, as many Jerusalems as there are national, ethnic, religious, political, socio-economic, gendered and age-based groups in the city – and “Jerusalems” that belong in a more symbolic way to many communities that have never visited the city at all (such as evangelicals in Guatemala). In order to understand Jerusalem’s role in perpetuating the Occupation, and not merely its local issues and conflicts, however, we must look at three Jerusalems, each playing its special role as a tool of Israel’s domination and control. There is the city itself as defined by its Israeli-imposed municipal boundaries, and then there are “Greater Jerusalem” and “Metropolitan Jerusalem,” the latter two defined by recent Israeli government Master Plans. A fourth Jerusalem, the one that might emerge if a just peace is finally achieved, lies in waiting.
We might have added to our list a fifth and sixth Jerusalem: “East” and “West” Jerusalem as they developed between 1948-1967. And of course, a seventh Jerusalem – the city as it grew more or less organically until 1948. But all those Jerusalems have been subsumed forever by the military occupation of 1967 and the subsequent annexation by force of thousands of dunums of West Bank land and villages. The massive imposition of tens of thousands of housing units on land belonging to Palestinians are subject to demolition if they try to build a modest home has changed forever the urban landscape. What we are left with is a “municipal” Jerusalem, an unholy mix of military occupation with planning, building and services intended to ensure the domination of one population over another. This “municipal Jerusalem” has completely overwhelmed the pre-1967 cities. Whether it can become the capital of two states, a city somehow shared but with parity among all its inhabitants, remains to be seen.
So what is this “municipal” Jerusalem? On one level it is easy to define: it is a city of some 630,000 people (430,000 Jews and 200,000 Palestinians) living within municipal boundaries determined by Israel in 1967. But the reality is far more complicated.
* Israel tries to present Jerusalem as a normal “unified” city whose indivisibility derives from its role as the Jews’ sacred and historical capital. It is true that the Jews and Israel (not the same thing) have a claim to the holy places in and around the Old City – claims which are the subject of negotiations – but that historical core represents only 3% of the urban area of Municipal Jerusalem. The other 97% was by no means exclusively Jewish or even of any historical importance. “West” Jerusalem, the 38 km2 ruled by Israel as its capital from 1948-67, developed only in the second half of the 19th Century, and by 1948 Palestinians owned 40% of it in their neighborhoods, villages, properties and commercial buildings. West Jerusalem’s character as an exclusively Jewish part of the city (with the exception of part of Beit Safafa) is artificial and the product of military conquest, not a “natural” expression of its centrality to the Jewish people. “East” Jerusalem, as it existed under Jordanian rule, comprised only 6.5 km2 (including the Old City and its historic surroundings). The other 63.5 km2 – 90% of the land annexed by Israel as “East Jerusalem” in 1967 – was in fact lands of 28 Palestinian West bank villages who all of a sudden found themselves part of an “indivisible,” “historic” and “sacred” Jewish city. In this way Wallejeh, Sawakhreh and Kufr Amr acquired the same historical significance for the Jewish people as the Western Wall – making Israeli claims to the
entire area of “Municipal” Jerusalem seemingly unassailable.
* Even though Israeli “East” Jerusalem is ten times larger than the Jordanian city, it still does not contain significant Palestinian populations that are in fact part of Jerusalem’s urban fabric. In 1967, when Defense Minister Moshe Dayan asked Rehavam Ze’evi, the present leader of the extreme right-wing Moledet party that advocates the “transfer” of Palestinians to other countries, to draw the new municipal boundaries, the principle that guided them was “maximum land/minimum Palestinians.” Thus “empty,” unbuilt-upon land belonging to the villages around Jerusalem became the site of massive Israeli construction exclusively for Jews, while large Jerusalem populations of Palestinians – in Abu Dis and the e-Ram areas in particular – were cut out of the new municipal borders. Thousands of other Palestinian residents who were either absent from their homes during the 1967 war or who have subsequently lost their Jerusalem residency under Israel’s policy of “Quiet Transfer,” were also eliminated from the municipal population. The resulting artificial ratio of Jews and Arabs in 1967, roughly 3-1, has been formalized as the basis of all planning in the city, including housing construction, budget, infrastructure, services and the way Jerusalem will develop in the future (although the Palestinian population of Municipal Jerusalem is now over 30%). The very idea of planning and administering a city with the idea of one urban population dominating another, and of formally adopting discriminatory policies is bad enough. But to then call that city “united” is simply disingenuous.
* Restrictions of Palestinian use of their own land and policies of restricting Palestinian housing through zoning, permits and demolition of “illegal” houses are the mechanisms by which Israel maintains its artificial domination over the city. In 1967, the 70 km2 (70,000 dunums) labeled “East Jerusalem” were added to the 38 km2 of “West” Jerusalem, tripling the size of the city. Almost immediately Israel expropriated 35% of Palestinian land in order to build massive housing complexes (Ramat Eshkol, French Hill, Ramot, Rekhes Shu’afat, Pisgat Ze’ev, Neveh Yaakov, East Talpiot, Har Homa and Gilo, not to mention large areas in the Old City), exclusively for Jews. Indeed, while about 85,000 housing units have been built for Jews since 1967 in East Jerusalem, only 9,000 housing units have been approved for Palestinians, and all of those built with private funds rather than by government companies or with government subsidies. What’s more, another 54% of Palestinian land has been declared “open green space,” making it illegal for Palestinians to build on it. This means that only 11% of East Jerusalem land (just 7% of the total municipal area) is available to the third of the population that is Palestinian. Palestinian housing today is inadequate, over-crowded and confined to small parts of the city; the Municipality itself admits that 25,000 units of housing are lacking in the Arab sector; yet 2000 demolition orders are outstanding, affecting some 6000 families. Israel’s policy in the eastern part of the “united” city is clear: to confine Palestinians to constricted ghettos (encouraging those who desire a better life to leave the country altogether); to ensure Israeli domination through the massive construction of an “inner ring” of settlements in the eastern part of the city; and to prevent a meaningful Palestinian political presence in the city. Today Israelis outnumber Palestinians in “East” Jerusalem. The marginalization of the Palestinian population, including eliminating any territorial contiguity with Palestinians of the West Bank, continues apace.
If the municipal boundaries were intended to secure Israeli domination over the “united” city in the first decades of the Occupation, the need to extend its control over larger areas of the West Bank became apparent after Oslo. Since 1967 Israel has pursued a policy of “creating facts” on the ground that will eliminate any possibility of a viable Palestinian state from emerging. Israel wants a Palestinian state, because otherwise it will have to grant citizenship to 3 million Palestinians or become an outright apartheid state, but it wants the Palestinian state to be truncated, weak and dependent. Jerusalem plays a key role in this design, since it lies at a central nexus of the West Bank and can control developments in any direction.
In 1995 the government adopted a master plan for “Greater Jerusalem.” This includes an “outer ring” of Israeli settlements that will reach a population of 250,000 in the next decade: Har Adar, Givat Ze’ev, New Givon, Kiryat Sefer, Tel Zion and the settlements to the east of Ramallah, Ma’aleh Adumim, Israeli building in Ras el-Amud, Efrat, the Etzion Bloc and Beitar Illit. Two major east-west arteries will effectively sever the West Bank in two: Road # 45 stretching from Modi’in through northern Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim and on to the Jordan River (and Amman); and Road #7 (officially called the Ashdod-Amman Highway), crossing the West Bank south of Jerusalem through Beitar Illit and Efrat until joining Road #45 at Ma’aleh Adumim. These are not only roads, however. They constitute highways across the West Bank along which industrial parks, tourist centers, facilities serving the Greater Jerusalem area and thousands of Israeli homes will block any Palestinian attempts to move freely between the north and south. Indeed, the E-1 area, 13,000 dunums of land between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim that were expropriated after the last elections and joined to Ma’aleh Adumim, closes the last north-south corridor available to Palestinians. It also made Ma’aleh Adumim, in terms of area, a city larger than Tel Aviv. In another direction, E-1 virtually encircles Abu Dis, leaving the Palestinians with only a narrow corridor along the Wadi el-Naar road to Bethlehem. If Abu Dis becomes the Palestinian capital, it will have no free and rational access to Ramallah and points north. (And a new highway about to be built, the eastern part of the Jerusalem Ring Road, will block any attempt to join Abu Dis to East Jerusalem.)
The ring roads and major highways being built through and around Jerusalem are intended to create a regional infrastructure of control, turning Jerusalem from a city into a metropolitan region. “Metropolitan” Jerusalem covers a huge area. Its boundaries, incorporating a full 40% of the West Bank (440 km2), stretch from Beit Shemesh in the west up through Kiryat Sefer until and including Ramallah, then southeast through Ma’aleh Adumim almost to the Jordan River, then turning southwest to encompass Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, Efrat and the Etzion Bloc, then west again through Beitar Illit and Tsur Hadassah to Beit Shemesh. It also provides a crucial link to the Kiryat Arba and the settlements in and around Hebron. In many ways “Metropolitan” Jerusalem is the Occupation. Within its limits are found 75% of the West Bank settlers and the major centers of Israeli construction.
How can such a conception be reconciled with peace between two states? It can be reconciled if one of the states – Israel – continues to dominate the other – Palestine. By employing a regional approach to the planning of highways, industrial parks and urban settlements, an Israeli-controlled metropolis can emerge whose very power as a center of urban activity, employment and transportation will render political boundaries, such as those between Jerusalem and Ramallah or Jerusalem and Bethlehem, absolutely irrelevant. A good example of how this is already happening is the new industrial park, Sha’ar Binyamin, now being built at the “Eastern Gate” to metropolitan Jerusalem, southeast of Ramallah. In terms of Israeli control this industrial park provides an economic anchor to settlements – Kokhav Ya’akov, Tel Zion, Ma’aleh Mikhmas, Almon, Psagot, Adam, all the way to Beit El and Ofra – that otherwise would be isolated from the Israeli and Jerusalem economy. More to the point, it robs Ramallah of its economic dynamism, providing jobs and perhaps even sites for Palestinian industry that would otherwise be located in or around Ramallah. The issue is one of control, not simply territory. “Metropolitan Jerusalem” in which Palestinian “East” Jerusalem is isolated from the wider Palestinian society empties a Palestinian state of much of its meaning in terms of sovereignty.
What Can Be Done?
There are sev
eral cardinal principles for dealing with the Jerusalem issue that should guide negotiations:
- Jerusalem should be removed as a “final status issue” – where it may never be addressed – and placed at the forefront of the negotiations. Israel considers Jerusalem too “difficult” an issue to resolve, and will suggest interim agreements that give the Palestinians a certain symbolic presence in the city but nothing that threatens its rule, including its hegemony over the central West Bank. The great danger of interim agreements is that they are liable to foreclose a just resolution of the issue. At a minimum Palestinians should not compromise over their insistence that East Jerusalem become the capital of their state.
- The Oslo Accords defined Jerusalem as a “special case,” distinct and set apart from the West Bank. This should be changed, since making Jerusalem a “special case” diverts attention from the essential political issues – Palestinian claims to the city — to technical discussions such as how to keep the city “united,” how Israel’s “rights” should be protected, and even how the joint municipality should look. The dangers of creating artificial distinctions between Jerusalem and the West Bank became evident, for example, when Israel refused to release Palestinian prisoners coming from East Jerusalem under the Wye/Sharm agreement).
- Since 40% of “West” Jerusalem was owned and occupied by Palestinians before 1948, since the vast majority of refugees from both 1948 and 1967 reside within a few miles of their former homes, and since massive expropriations of Palestinian lands since 1967 and house demolitions have created new populations of displaced people, the refugee issue must be given high priority, including claims to land and property throughout the expanded urban area.
- Internationally recognized human rights covenants, that even Israel has signed on, contain provisions that extend great protection to Palestinians and can be used effectively to restore their rights. Negotiators and political activist groups should insist that these covenants – and especially the Fourth Geneva Convention protecting civilians under occupation — be applied to the Palestinian residents of the city, past and present.
- The Arab presence in Jerusalem, cultural and historical, not only political and physical, should be protected. Thought should be given to placing the Old City and its historical surroundings under international control, overseen perhaps by a committee comprised of representatives of the three major faiths (as envisioned in the Partition Plan), plus prominent intellectuals, world-class architects, Nobel Prize laureates and others.
- The emergence of “Greater” and “Metropolitan” Jerusalems threaten to make permanent Israeli control and hegemony over the entire West Bank, and should be opposed and eventually dismantled.
- All legal and physical obstacles to freedom of movement and residency in the city should be removed, as well as the construction and maintenance of artificially exclusive ethnic or religious neighborhoods. The issues of neutralizing Israeli control and hegemony, of ensuring equal rights and freedom of residency in the city and of ensuring equitable budgets and services to all sectors of the Jerusalem population should be addressed.
- Immediate requirements for preventing Israel from creating irreversible “facts on the ground” should include : freezing settlement activities; releasing “open green areas” to their Palestinian owners under fair and equitable building policies and end house demolitions; ending the policy of revoking Palestinian residency (the “Quiet Transfer”); ending the closure; establishing a transitional Palestinian/Israeli administrative and planning structure; identifying Israeli sources of control and working to neutralize them.
Also Published in Arabic in: Ruya Ukhhra 33.