[News] A Jerusalem Displacement Master Plan

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 5 10:39:51 EST 2009

Jerusalem Master Plan


A Displacement Master Plan

February 05, 2009 By Khalil Tafakji

This is the transcript of an interview conducted 
by al-Majdal with Mr. Khalil Tafakji of the 
Mapping and Geographic Information Systems 
Department of the Arab Studies Society in 
Jerusalem. The interview was conducted on 30 December 2008.

al-Majdal: You work at the Mapping and Geographic 
Information Systems (GIS) Department, what is this organization?

KT: We were founded in 1983 as part of the Arab 
Studies Society by the late Faisal Husseini. Our 
goal from the very beginning was to research and 
document the effects of Israeli policies and 
practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory 
(OPT) affecting land and property, and to be able 
to produce maps showing these effects. Since its 
inception, the Department has accumulated a vast 
wealth of expertise and information; we have 
produced maps of historic Palestine as it was in 
1945, a map of Israeli illegal settlements from 
1967 to 1994, and a series of books and articles 
detailing various aspects of Israeli policies and practices in the OPT.

This expertise enabled us to play an advisory 
role in the negotiations process in the early 
1990s when we moved to the Orient House (later 
shut down by Israel). We have focused especially 
on 1967-occupied Jerusalem (East Jerusalem), and 
in 1998 undertook a pioneering project to survey 
all Palestinian property in the city through 
which we became the major information reference 
point for people engaged in land transactions, 
zoning proposals, and actually played an 
important role in limiting fraudulent sales of 
property by people forging title deeds to properties they do not own.

al-Majdal: How was the city of Jerusalem affected during the 1948 Nakba?

KT: Before 1948, Jerusalem was a major hub of 
Palestinian social, spiritual, economic and 
cultural life, second only to Jaffa. It was also 
the headquarters for many of the Palestinian 
political forces which, to varying degrees had 
mobilized to defend Palestine from the violent 
Zionist takeover. The military wings of these 
organizations set up their military front in the 
villages to the west of the city in an effort to 
halt the Zionist forces before they reached the 
city, and in the early months were somewhat 
successful despite their very poor training and 
lack of arms. On 6 April 1948, the Haganah (the 
main Zionist military force) launched Operation 
Nachson to push towards Jerusalem. Three days 
later, the Irgun and Stern committed the infamous 
Deir Yassin massacre as their part of the 
operation, and the following day, the main 
Palestinian resistance force led by Abdel Kader 
al-Husseini was defeated at al-Qastal.

By early May, the British forces essentially 
handed over the western part of the city to the 
Haganah, and the Jordanian military held on to 
the walled (old) city and the eastern part. The 
23,000 Palestinian residents of the western part 
of the city became refugees, many of them in 
Shufat and Qalandiya refugee camps on the 
outskirts of the city, and others went to Jordan 
and elsewhere. In terms of land and property, 
practically the whole western part of Jerusalem 
was confiscated by the Absentee Property Law. As 
for the tens of Palestinian villages to the west 
of Jerusalem, all were depopulated and destroyed, 
with the exception of Abu Ghosh, 'Ayn Naqquba and 'Ain Rafa.

al-Majdal: Between 1948 and 1967, Palestinians 
who managed to remain within the armistice 
boundaries (the 'green line') lived under 
Israel's discriminatory military rule; in cities 
like Jaffa, Ramleh and al-Lydd they were 
segregated into ghettos in these cities. What was 
the Palestinian experience in Israeli-controlled Jerusalem in these years?

KT: To the best of my knowledge, there was no 
significant Palestinian population left in 
western Jerusalem (Israel confined the remaining 
families to the Baq'a neighborhood, known at the 
time as the Bak'a Zone). I know that today there 
are only five Palestinian families still living 
in that part of the city. For all intents and 
purposes, that area had been depopulated, so we 
cannot really compare it to Ramleh or Jaffa, let 
alone Nazareth where most Palestinians of that 
city were able to remain in the city. I should 
also point out that this thorough and systematic 
forced displacement of Palestinian residents of 
the city was not by chance, but because the 
Zionists very clearly and consciously saw, and 
continue to see, Jerusalem as the capital of the 
Jewish state, and having any Palestinians in the 
city did not fit with that idea of the city. 
Also, this is why for us Palestinians, the issue 
of refugee rights, particularly the right of 
return is as much a part of the Jerusalem issue 
as the wall and zoning and all the rest of it.

al-Majdal: The eastern part of Jerusalem came 
under Jordanian control in 1948 until Israel 
occupied it in June 1967. What was the effect of 
Israeli control in the aftermath of the occupation?

KT: The days in which the Israeli forces entered 
the city and established control were themselves 
quite significant. I was seventeen at the time 
and remember the buses that the Israelis brought 
to Bab el-Zahreh (Herod's Gate), right in front 
of al-Rushaydiyyeh School, on which they loaded 
Palestinians and bussed them to the Jordanian 
border. This was in addition to many who fled the 
intense bombing and fighting that took place 
during the war; around 30,000 of the 100,000 
Palestinians in the eastern part of Jerusalem 
became refugees during and just after the Israeli occupation.

Another very important event was the destruction 
of Haret al-Magharbeh (the Moroccan Quarter) just 
south west of the Aqsa mosque inside, and its 
extension outside, of the old city walls. The 
part of the city wall separating the two parts of 
the neighborhood is the wailing wall, a very 
important religious site for adherents of 
Judaism. Historically, this neighborhood is where 
Moroccan immigrants to Jerusalem and their 
descendants lived for most of the past seven or 
eight centuries, and the Ayyubid, Mameluke, and 
Ottoman architecture of the neighborhood was 
quite distinct from the rest of the old city. The 
destruction order was issued by the military 
commander Shlomo Lahat, who was previously the 
mayor of Tel Aviv, and on 11 June 1967 the 
bulldozers began to demolish the homes within the 
old city near the wall, and over several days 
most of the neighborhood on both sides of the 
wall was flattened. Many of the neighborhood 
residents refused to leave, and their homes were 
destroyed while they were inside which meant that 
many of them were killed. Today, when people go 
to pray at the Wailing Wall, they are standing on 
the site where these people's homes once stood, 
and where many of them were killed. One-hundred 
and thirty two Palestinian families were forcibly 
displaced from this neighborhood in 1967.

al-Majdal: Did the fact that the city was no 
longer physically divided have any significance?

KT: A different aspect of the occupation was that 
we could access the western part of the city for 
the first time since 1948. Many of the refugees 
from the western part went to reclaim their homes 
and properties, and some of them mounted legal 
challenges to get their property back. The 
Israeli courts applied the 1950 Absentee Property 
Law quite strictly, so the vast majority lost 
their cases. The very tiny minority, specifically 
those who had western passports in 1948, won 
their cases because of a loophole in the text of the law.

al-Majdal: In the years that followed the 1967 
occupation, how did Israeli policies affect Palestinians in Jerusalem?

KT: Until the Likud election victory in 1977, 
Israeli interests in the West Bank can be 
summarized in four main points. The first two 
apply to Israeli policies generally since 1948: 
making sure that no refugees return to their 
original homes, and making sure that any form of 
Palestinian political organization to resist the 
occupation was severely repressed. The other two 
are specific to the West Bank and are quite clear 
in the Allon Plan, which was the Israeli plan on 
how to deal with the West Bank: to make sure that 
Palestinians in the West Bank are cut off from 
any direct access to Jordan, which has meant that 
the occupied Jordan Valley has been annexed de 
facto by Israel, and finally that Jerusalem 
become the 'indivisible and eternal capital of the Jewish state.'

This idea of Jerusalem has an ideological Zionist 
dimension, but also a practical geo-political 
aspect which in the Allon Plan serves to separate 
the occupied West Bank into two parts - north and 
south - by expanding Jerusalem eastward to the 
Jordan Valley through the establishment and 
expansion of the Ma'ale Adumim settlement block. 
For both ideological and geo-political purposes, 
policies implemented within the city of Jerusalem 
have aimed to transform the demographic character 
of the city into one with a guaranteed and 
overwhelming Jewish majority. This translated 
into major waves of land confiscation, 
specifically in 1968 when the Israeli authorities 
confiscated land in the northern part of the city 
to build the illegal settlements known as the 
French Hill, and Ramot Eshkol; and again in 1970 
when Israeli authorities confiscated 12km² from 
Jabal al-Mukabbir, Shufat, Beit Hanina, the old 
Jerusalem airport and Beit Safafa to build the 
illegal settlements Talpiyot, Neve Ya'cov, and 
Gilo. Also that year, land was confiscated to 
create 'green areas' or nature reserves that are 
now Ramat Shlomo and Rehet Shufat. Since 1967, 
one of the many tactics the Israeli authorities 
have used is to confiscate land for proposed 
ecological reasons, and to later transform these 
green areas into Jewish-only settlements.

al-Majdal: What changed when Likud took power in 1977?

KT: It was largely an ideological shift with 
brutal implications for the rest of the West 
Bank. Instead of being an area to keep under 
control, the West Bank became Judea and Samaria 
(even administratively the name of the area was 
changed), the historic Jewish kingdom which Likud 
wanted to reclaim, and so the policies and 
practices aimed at taking as much Palestinian 
land as possible that had been practiced within 
the green line during and since the 1948 Nakba 
began to be implemented in the West Bank as well 
as Gaza. This is what sets the Ariel Sharon plans 
of the late 1970s apart from the Allon Plan; 
Sharon envisioned massive illegal settlement in 
all parts of the West Bank leading to annexation. 
It was this criminal vision which has been 
transforming into a reality for the past fifteen years.

For Jerusalem, this change meant actively 
expanding the borders of Jerusalem as part of 
this project of taking as much West Bank 
Palestinian land as possible. In 1980, the 
Israeli authorities confiscated another 4.4km² 
for the Pisgat Ze'ev settlement while expanding 
others. Since 1995 and the Oslo climate in which 
Israel legitimized its accelerated settlement 
expansion program by pointing to the negotiation 
process, more settlements were created and others 
expanded, most notably Har Gilo (on Wallajeh and 
Beit Jala land), Har Homa (on Abu Ghuneim), and 
the Gush Etzion bloc all of which became part of 
the the expanded Jerusalem metropolitan area in their municipal zoning.

If you look at it on a map, the land confiscated 
and settlements created in the 1967-1977 period 
created a kind of ring around the old city within 
Jerusalem, after 1977 the Israeli authorities 
began to work on acquiring land within eastern 
Jerusalem's Palestinian neighborhoods themselves 
such as the old city, Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and 
Ras al-'Amud; today, around 35 percent of 
Occupied East Jerusalem is under exclusive 
Jewish-Israeli control. The additional aspect 
post-1977 was the creation of a new fact on the 
ground labeled 'greater Jerusalem' illegally 
annexed to Israel, and with arms reaching north, 
east and south which are built on West Bank 
Palestinian land but off limits to West Bank ID-carrying Palestinians.

al-Majdal: The Israeli Separation/Apartheid Wall 
is often used as the prime example of the Israeli 
creation of facts-on-the-ground. How does the 
Wall fit into this map of 'greater Jerusalem'?

KT: The most basic part of the answer to this 
question is that the Wall separates between what 
is now considered the West Bank, which is the 
Palestinian Authority administered areas, and 
Jerusalem, which as I said has been de facto and 
illegally annexed by Israel, even though this is 
theoretically still under negotiation. To 
understand it better we need to realize that 
since 1973, a central part of the stated policy 
of the Jerusalem municipality has been to limit 
the relative size of the Palestinian presence in 
Jerusalem, to ensure that Palestinians continue 
to be a small minority within their historic 
city. So while the wall itself is a brutal 
monstrosity, the effects and goals of the wall 
are the real crime, and this is what the 
International Court of Justice realized and 
stated in their advisory opinion of 9 July 2004.

What the Israeli planners who planned the route 
of the Wall did was to use it to physically 
exclude densely populated Palestinian areas, like 
the Shu'fat refugee camp and Anata, from 
Jerusalem - instantly removing a large portion of 
the city's Palestinian population from the city. 
Add to this that many of the people who depend on 
Jerusalem for their jobs, schools, hospitals, 
etc.. live just on the other side of the wall, 
and that historically Jerusalem is the main hub 
of West Bank economic, cultural, and social 
activity. The wall thus severs all of these relationships.

There is also a housing crisis that the Wall has 
created; Israel systematically strips 
Palestinians of their Jerusalem residency if they 
cannot show that they are habitually resident 
within Jerusalem. As such, there was a frenzy of 
people moving into increasingly overcrowded and 
overpriced housing within the already overcrowded 
Palestinian neighborhoods in order to keep their 
Jerusalem residency status. Without this status, 
Palestinians are forced to acquire West Bank 
residency which means they can no longer enter 
the city without military permits, and can no 
longer receive health, family and retirement 
benefits for which they've been paying taxes for 
as long as they have been Jerusalem residents. 
The result is that those unwilling or unable to 
move into the city have lost their residency 
status, and that there has been a serious 
deterioration of Palestinian quality of life for those within the city.

al-Majdal: You said that the Israeli controlled 
Jerusalem municipality has an official policy of 
maintaining a ceiling on how many Palestinians 
live in Jerusalem. Can you tell us more about the 
ways in which this policy works?

KT: We can look at the workings of the 
municipality's Local Outline Plan Jerusalem 2000, 
a published document that does very little to 
conceal the objectives of the Israeli authorities 
which can be described as the Judaization of 
Jerusalem, that is to change the demographic 
composition of the city to favor the 
Jewish-Israeli population. The plan is quite 
clear that the planning objectives of municipal 
policy and practice are to maintain a Palestinian 
population that is no more than 30 percent of the 
city's total population. Towards this goal, there 
are two kinds of policies and practices, those 
that aim to increase the city's Jewish 
population, and those that aim to decrease the city's Palestinian population.

In terms of increasing the Jewish population, the 
main tactic used is that of settlement 
construction and expansion. For instance, the 
plan calls for the construction of at least 
17,000 new illegal settlement housing units in 
the coming years. Another aspect is support at 
all levels - from the Jerusalem municipality, to 
the Israeli government, to Zionist para-state 
organizations like the Jewish National Fund - for 
settler groups like Elad and Ateret Kohanim which 
actively work to take over Palestinian homes and 
real estate within the city to establish settler 
communities in the heart of Palestinian 
neighborhoods. This is clearest in the old city, 
but takes place across the eastern part of the 
city. For instance, the municipality allocated a 
$13 million budget for an eight-year project to 
establish a 'national park' in the al-Bustan 
Valley of Silwan, a Palestinian area, with a 
large proportion of the funds for the project 
going to the Elad settler organization. Another 
side of increasing the number of Jewish settlers 
in Jerusalem is the major development of settler 
infrastructure in the city. The most significant 
example of such infrastructure is the Jerusalem 
Light Rail project, a massive transportation 
system which will almost exclusively service the 
settlements in and around Jerusalem connecting 
them with the western and central parts of the 
city, and greatly enhancing the settlement 
expansion project's chances of success.

We can take the same 'national park' project in 
Silwan to show the other side of the equation, 
displacing Palestinians from Jerusalem. In order 
to create this national park/settlement complex, 
with its 'for-Jews-only' apartments, 
kindergarten, library, car-park and synagogue, 88 
Palestinian homes in al-Bustan were served with 
demolition orders. Usually in the past, the 
municipality has used section 205 of the 1965 
Israeli Planning and Building Law which allows 
for demolition on the basis of unlicensed 
construction. This has usually been enough 
because the authorities discriminate quite 
clearly against Palestinians and it is very 
difficult for Palestinians to renew, let alone 
acquire, licenses for their homes. For al-Bustan, 
many of the demolition orders were based on 
section 212/5 of the 1965 Planning and Building 
Law which allows for demolition on the basis of 
"public interest". This is extremely dangerous 
since it means that the master-plan goal of 
Judaization is a public interest, and will 
essentially allow unhindered demographic and 
social engineering by the municipal authorities.

Demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem has 
been rapidly accelerating over the past few 
years. In the last six months of 2007, 20 
Palestinian homes were demolished by the Israeli 
authorities. In first six months of 2008, 44 
Palestinian homes in the city were demolished 
displacing 269 people, 159 of them children; and 
this was before the Local Outline Plan was 
officially adopted by the municipality which 
means that these numbers can only grow if there 
is no action to stop the Israeli authorities from 
displacing and taking our city away from us, and 
if the world continues to allow Israel to grossly 
violate international law without scrutiny or accountability.

al-Majdal: What kinds of actions have 
Palestinians in Jerusalem taken to defend their rights in the city?

KT: The options are quite limited in light of the 
massive imbalance of force in Israel's favor 
combined with the blind international support for 
the Israeli regime. There are increasing efforts 
at international advocacy both at the grassroots 
level with the campaign for Boycotts, Divestment 
and Sanctions (BDS) as well as on the more formal 
level by working with international agencies 
operating here, as well as making detailed 
submissions at appropriate international venues. 
As a result, the plight of Jerusalem's 
Palestinians figures prominently in UN reports 
and resolutions dealing with Israeli human rights abuses.

On the ground, and especially in cases of house 
demolition orders, there continues to be social 
solidarity among Palestinians, with some support 
from international solidarity activists and some 
Jewish-Israelis who work to fundraise for 
advocacy campaigns, legal challenges, house 
rebuilding, and in some cases try to physically 
stop demolitions from being carried out. A case 
where such solidarity was clearly manifested was 
that of Um Kamel al-Kurd whose home was destroyed 
along with 27 others in the Sheikh Jarrah 
neighborhood; the community set up a solidarity 
tent, which itself was subsequently destroyed and 
rebuilt three times, and was accompanied by an 
important action in which Um Kamel, a refugee 
from the Talbiyeh neighborhood in the western 
part of the city, marched to her old home in Talbiyeh.

Part of what we work on in the Mapping and GIS 
Department is to fundraise for and develop 
detailed zoning plans for certain parts of the 
city where we can get all of the residents' 
consent which are subsequently submitted to the 
municipality for approval. There are huge 
complicating factors, that are confounded by the 
various kinds of property title held by 
Palestinians, as well as the time, great 
financial and skilled human labor costs required. 
The other difficulty is that even if we overcome 
all of these obstacles, there is no guarantee 
that such zoning plans will be accepted by the 
municipality, especially given the stated goals 
of this Israeli institution. In cases where we 
have been successful, however, we have managed to 
ensure that Palestinians will be able to remain 
in their city for the foreseeable future.

*Khalil Tafakji works at the Mapping and GIS 
Department of the Arab Studies Society in 
Jerusalem. He can be reached at toufakji [at] 
hotmail [dot] com. This interview will appear in 
the upcoming (Autumn 2008 / Winter 2009) Issue of 
al-Majdal, the quarterly magazine of the Badil 
Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and 
Refugee Rights. See the rest of the magazine 

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