Jerusalem: a place with no room for Arabs
Israeli urban policy indicates the will to exclude Arabs from the Holy City.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) The spread of Jewish settlements toward East Jerusalem and the "political will" behind urban planning decisions show that Israeli authorities are seeking to "exclude Arabs" from Jerusalem and to reduce the city's Arab presence "to a minimum". This according to Christian sources in the Holy Land who spoke to AsiaNews on the news -- contained in a detailed Washington Post report -- that the Jewish settlement Maleh Adumin, east of Jerusalem, is spreading west, with the explicit intention of linking up with the edge of Arab East Jerusalem, which is now within just 3 kilometres. Such expansion has been taking place without the required building permits and in violation of urban planning, according to a statement by Israeli army Lt Talya Somech, spokesperson for the West Bank's civil administration.
Other signals point to an Israeli tendency to "seal off" Arab-dominated East Jerusalem within the grips of Jewish urban development. Just yesterday, the city of Jerusalem unveiled its 20-year development plan, which limits construction in East Jerusalem to 18,000 new housing units, while Arab demographic growth trends indicate that 35,000 new dwellings will be required.
"There are Israelis who say they are in favour of Israeli/Arab coexistence", a Jerusalem Christian, who asked to remain anonymous, told AsiaNews. "Yet documents like yesterday's show that those in charge of the Israeli state's long-term planning have the clear intention of excluding Arabs from Jerusalem". Israel's policy, according to AsiaNews' interlocutor, is to set up "a chain of settlements that stands in the way of East Jerusalem's expansion".
Maleh Adumim's expansion is a case in point: it is growing westward into the hills, while an industrial area has been built in the flat area. Two Israeli centres, Nase Yakov and Gheravad Zev, prevent Arab urban growth in the northeast, while Ramot acts as a barrier to the northwest: these examples of Israeli construction are all on Palestinian territory occupied in 1967.
According to a high-ranking official of the Israeli Interior Ministry, given Maleh Adumim's current expansion, its current population of 30,000 will double. Anti-settlement activists say that Maleh Adumim's expansion is the latest step to cut West Bank Arabs off from Jerusalem.
But, the spread of Jewish settlements is not the only source of worry: according to the Washington Post's report, the Jewish organization Ateret Cohanim which enjoys the tacit approval of the Israeli government is helping Jewish citizens to settle into homes built on land owned by Arabs who have been declared "absent" since the construction of the security wall. According to the Absentee Property Law, enacted in 1950, real estate owned by people no longer residing in Israel can be seized by the Israeli state through an entity known as the Custodian of Absentee Property. It is worth recalling however that a Palestinian who has not resided in Jerusalem for 3 years can no longer obtain an i.d. card that allows him to re-enter the city.
Daniel Luria, spokesperson, for Aterat Cohanim stated that his group's goal "was not to block Palestinian access to Jerusalem", or to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but both results were inevitable and desirable effects of the group's activities. "We're creating the shield of Jerusalem," he concluded. (LF)