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November 2003 • Vol 3, No. 10 •

Israel’s Jerusalem policy, Sparta and Apartheid

Menachem Klein

In July 2003, Israel began to build systems of physical and electronic separation in Jerusalem. If and when the plan is implemented, it will constitute the most dramatic change effected by Israel in East Jerusalem since it was conquered and annexed in 1967. In many places the new line extends into the West Bank beyond the 1967 annexation, but without officially annexing the area. Israel is working to include Rachel’s Tomb and the settlement Har Giloh in southern Jerusalem in the area of Israel, at the expense of areas belonging to Bethlehem and Beit Jalla.

Moreover, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to include several settlements on the Israeli side of the fence, principally Maaleh Adumim and Givat Zeev, which would increase the number of Palestinians on the Israeli side. The World Bank estimates that in addition to the 220,000 residents of East Jerusalem, about 60,000 Palestinians will be trapped between the border system separating them from the West Bank and the walls separating them from East and West Jerusalem. Israel does not intend to grant them residency or the status and rights possessed by East Jerusalemites. It certainly does not intend to offer them the Israeli citizenship that was rejected by almost all the residents of East Jerusalem areas it annexed in 1967.

Over and above extending the area annexed, Israel wants to destroy Arab metropolitan Jerusalem and control it without annexing it. The Israeli undeclared hope is that the conditions of life in these besieged areas will be so hard that most of the residents will prefer to leave. It aspires to achieve this through a wall enveloping all the following suburbs of East Jerusalem: Anata, Hizma, Al-Zaim, Al-Ram, and Dahiat Al-Barid, leaving them only a narrow link with the Palestinian hinterland in the form of a cramped road or tunnel under Israeli control. Only in a limited number of places did Israel agree to relinquish suburbs, which it included in “united Jerusalem” in 1967: Kafr Aqab in the north, Arab Al-Sawahara and Sheikh Saad in the East. By that, about 20,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians will be left on the West Bank side of the wall, cut off from their families on the eastern side of the wall.

In densely populated areas where there is no possibility of erecting a broad complex of walls and obstacles, the concrete wall that Israel intends to build will rise to a height of eight meters. In the center of Abu-Dis Israel has already built a concrete wall about two meters high on the 1967 annexation line, dividing in two the neighborhood’s main road. This wall divides the section officially annexed to Israel from the section, which in the near future will be cut off from the West Bank and from Israel alike.

In order to control entry and exit through this new wall, Israel has also built four permanent points of passage at the entrances to East Jerusalem from the West Bank. Thus the ground is ready to the next stage in the Israeli plan: divided autonomous neighborhoods.

Divided autonomous neighborhoods.

On the neighborhood level there will be Palestinian autonomy for each separate neighborhood or suburb. Contact with the central Palestinian government will be carried out through the local Palestinian resident’s coming to the central Palestinian governmental meeting point, and not through agents of the Palestinian central government coming to the neighborhood. Israeli supervision will be carried out through its control over the road, which is the main artery of the besieged suburb.

If the Israeli plan will be completed, about a quarter of a million Palestinian Arab residents of East Jerusalem will be cut off from their social, political, economic, cultural and language hinterland. This is about 10 percent of the total Palestinian population in the West Bank. The metropolitan connections of East Jerusalem had been hard hit by Israeli measures since the early 1990s. Now it can be expected that they will be destroyed.

On the other hand, the accessibility to West Jerusalem of those Palestinians who are today permanent residents in Israel is already not easy nowadays. Israel has blocked many roads that connect East Jerusalem to the West Bank by digging trenches, destroying roads, and constructing walls and piles of earth. Israel erected concrete and earth barriers at the entrance to East Jerusalem neighborhoods looking West, in order to control traffic to the few exit roads which Israel can supervise. From time to time Israel places checkpoints on these roads. A mobile and rapidly changing line of checkpoints and inspections is also occasionally set up close to the old international border or the “demographic border.”

The intifada, the swelling unemployment, the militarization of life in the city, the lack of a centralized and institutionalized authority which can impose the law in most areas of East Jerusalem—all had grave consequences in places like Al-Tur, Silwan, and Ras Al-Amud and they found themselves on the way to becoming slums.

Israel argues that her plan to “envelop Jerusalem” will upgrade the status of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem. They prefer to disconnect their relationship with the corrupted Palestinian regime in order to enjoy many economic benefits that the Israeli regime offers them, the Israeli argument goes. Thirty-six years of Israeli annexation disprove this argument and show the classical colonial approach behind it.

Using security purposes as a pretext the rightist Israeli government is now attempting to achieve by means of destructive walls what it was unable to achieve since 1967 through a belt of new construction: the building of new Jewish neighborhoods around the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods. In this way Israel forced demographic Jewish-Arab equality in the area annexed in 1967. In the talks in the year 2000 on a permanent settlement, discussions took place on models of dividing both territory and control between Israel and the planned Palestinian state. The rightist Israeli government was not satisfied with this and strives for exclusive Israeli control over all the areas annexed in 1967. What the Barak government proposed with the start of negotiations on permanent arrangements for the urban and historical heart of East Jerusalem, the Sharon government proposes to the Palestinians only in distant suburbs scraped off the body of Jerusalem. In such policies the Sharon government is also marking the borders of the authority of that sort of Palestinian state to which it can agree. The authority of the Palestinian state will be weak in East Jerusalem suburbs and non-existent in its center.

This demands the destruction of the demographic, urban and metropolitan reality which developed since 1967 in Arab Jerusalem. All these measures are intended to perpetuate the control and the superiority of Jewish over Arab Jerusalem. The most appropriate name for this policy is “Spartheid”—Apartheid through the arguments and means employed by Greek Sparta.

Menachem Klein is a board member of B’etselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and participated in the recent Geneva Agreement talks. This commentary is from a presentation he recently gave to Americans for Peace Now in Washington.

The Daily Star, Beirut, Oct 25, 2003





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