“MESSAGE TO MR NOBODY: MAKE WAY FOR THE TOURISTS”
COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 27 Nov 2009
With the Jerusalem Centre for Women
So now, it’s a game of chicken. Stop expanding settlements on our land, then we’ll talk to you: the message to Israel from Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, backed – for once – by the White House. Start talking to us and we’ll stop expanding settlements, says Israeli president Shimon Peres, who promised, at a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, last week: “The minute we shall start to negotiate there won’t be new settlements, there won’t be confiscation of land. There will be no financial investment in new settlements, there will be a dismantling of the settlements that were established without authorization”.
It’s an example of the sophistry Peres has made his trademark, of course. All the settlements were established without proper authorization, having been built on land stolen from the Palestinians, and should, under international law, be dismantled forthwith: this refers to the so-called ‘outposts’ that even Israel regards as illegal. And the message from his host amounted to a welcome shaft of clarity in the hall of mirrors surrounding and obscuring the key issues of justice, rights and freedoms underpinning the conflict: “I will use words that are not open to interpretation”, Mubarak said. “Israel is destroying the opportunity for peace, with its plans to populate Jerusalem with Jews and excavate around the al-Aqsa Mosque”.
As President Barack Obama warned that Israeli plans to build a new settlement at Gilo, in East Jerusalem, could lead to a “dangerous” situation – telling Fox News that such developments made it harder for Israel to make peace in the region and “embitter the Palestinians” – the Jerusalem Center for Women presented new evidence that Palestinians in the holy city are being pushed out of neighbourhoods that have been home to their families for generations, to make way for new developments. The JCW has heard from dozens of Jerusalem households where Palestinians are now facing eviction to make way for a massive new state-backed development for religious tourism, which could leave as many as 1,500 Palestinians homeless.
Al Bustan, a neighborhood of 88 houses within the area of Silwan, south of the Old City, stands on ground claimed to be the site of the ancient Palace of King David, and now earmarked by Israel for the planned construction of the so-called ‘City of David’, a complex designed to attract religious tourists.
One resident, Mousa Odeh, has received a municipality demolition order, in which he was addressed as “unknown addressee” despite the fact that his name and address are clearly written in all payment orders he receives for the municipality taxes he regularly pays. ‘Mr Nobody’ can name each of the ten generations who preceded him, all living in the same place south of the al Aqsa Compound. But, in Occupied Jerusalem the space for Palestinian inhabitants is continually shrinking, no matter how far back their roots go.
The planned City of David in Silwan is part of the Israeli policy of Judaization of Jerusalem and ethnic cleansing of its Palestinian population to make it the “united Jewish Jerusalem” currently advertised by the Netanyahu government around the world. Palestinian residents are being squeezed out of the city, to make space for Jewish residents. This quiet transfer first started with the deportation of an estimated 5,000 Palestinians to Jordan immediately following the illegal Israeli annexation of the Eastern part of the city in 1967.
The municipality’s Master Plan for the city – ‘Jerusalem 2020’ – includes provisions for a demographic balance where Palestinians are no more than 20% of the entire population. Their proportion today is 35% and according to Israeli estimates it is expected to reach 40% in 2020.
Bureaucratic and legal devices combine to make life impossible for Palestinians. At Wadi Qaddum, another Palestinian neighborhood in the Silwan area, the Israeli municipality provides no services, even though the inhabitants pay taxes. A local woman, Fadwa al Razem, who contacted JCW for legal advice, was forced to demolish the upper floor of her own building, earmarked for her son’s family. Tearing down her own walls was the alternative to having to pay thousands of shekels for the municipality bulldozers due to demolish the extension, which she was building without a permit. Mrs Al Razem is not an isolated case: while the Jerusalem municipality keeps expanding Jews-only settlements in East Jerusalem, permits for Palestinian constructions are nearly impossible to obtain even when the land is privately owned.
With support from the Olof Palme Foundation, the Jerusalem Center for Women has been holding a legal clinic for Palestinian women at the home of Mrs Al Razem, to facilitate women’s participation. Besides offering legal advice on the maze of Israeli, Jordanian and even Ottoman law that governs their lives, these meetings have become a counseling and support unit for mothers and wives who have nowhere else to turn but their neighbours, helping to strengthen community ties and creating a network of female solidarity.
Some Palestinian families have now resorted to living under canvas, after being evicted at gunpoint by Jewish settlers protected by Israeli forces. The Al Ghawi family, in Sheikh Jarrah, another Palestinian neighbourhood close to the old City, have taken up residence in a tent. With no support by a Jewish state which doesn’t grant equal rights and benefits to Occupied Palestinians, no protection by a hapless Palestinian Authority and little legal recourse in a court system biased at best, the Al Ghawi family are only one of many Jerusalemite families made homeless by creeping Judaization but stubbornly refusing to leave their city.
However, prospects are bleak. A UN estimate calculates that around 60,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem may be at risk of forced evictions, demolitions and displacement. Mariam Ikermawi, director of the Jerusalem Center for Women and herself a resident of Occupied East Jerusalem, commented: “Today it’s the Al Ghawi, tomorrow it could be my home”.
The Jerusalem Center for Women works to support the Palestinian population of Jerusalem, especially the women, in their quest to resist their ethnic cleansing from the city and to achieve a just compromise on the city’s future as the capital of two states. The JCW calls on all interested parties to demand that Israeli authorities end their current discriminatory policies and for all sides to put Jerusalem at the top of the political agenda for talks and status resolution.
Associate Professor Jake Lynch is Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney.
He recently took part in a workshop, at Bir Zeit University, Palestine, with representatives of NGOs, including the Jerusalem Center for Women. Find out more at their website, here:
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 27 Nov 2009.
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