by Aviv Tatarsky
The Ramat Shlomo neighborhood is just one more neighborhood (beyond the Green Line) in Jerusalem. From its hilltop location, one can view the north of the city. While for the average Israeli this view may be nothing unusual — some open expanses, a few neighborhoods — in fact, from the observation point from Tzaddik M’Stefanest Street, one can observe the myriad ways in which Israel is driving Palestinians out of the city.
Let us begin with the neighborhood itself. Not one of the residents would call him/herself a settler, and even this article will not attempt to challenge the unquestioned assumptions of the vast majority of Israelis regarding the existence of this neighborhood. Instead, we will recount that two years ago the planning committees approved a massive laundering of building violations in Ramat Shlomo. So massive was the laundering that it required the Jerusalem Municipality to prepare nine new master plans for all 2,200 apartments in Ramat Shlomo. Remember this the next time they tell you about building violations in East Jerusalem.
We are standing at the edge of the built-up area in Ramat Shlomo next to a wooded area. This area will soon be replaced by another 1,500 housing units for the neighborhood. Ask any Palestinian and they will tell you: “First, Israel plants trees in order to take over our land, and then 20 years later uproots them to build another settlement.” Two and a half years ago, dozens of Palestinian residents of Shuafat, from whom Israel expropriated the land in question some 40 years ago, came to a discussion of the Regional Planning Committee about the expansion of Ramat Shlomo. (Some 35% of the land in East Jerusalem was expropriated by Israeli governments from Palestinian landowners. The vast majority of Israeli neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city were built on these lands.) It was heartbreaking to see them importune the committee members, asking why housing would be built on their land for other people, when they themselves could not build for their own children on the remaining lands in Shuafat. The committee chairwoman listened patiently and then answered tersely: “Those aren’t the kinds of questions we discuss.”
In the vacant area to the north of the neighborhood a plan for another 500 housing units is being advanced. Construction in this area will bring Ramat Shlomo even closer to the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina. One of the things right-wing sources like to point out is the intermingling of Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods, and they ask: “This is what you want to separate? Where will you put a border here? It will destroy the city!” This, of course, does not prevent them from continuing to bring the neighborhoods together, as this plan will do.
How Can an Israeli Dictate What Happens on a Palestinian’s Land?
But there is an additional twist here. The plan was prepared by Israeli entrepreneurs who claim ownership of the land they intend to build the 500 apartments on. According to their plan, the access road to the neighborhood will pass through Palestinian-owned land. The green areas that the planning authorities require for the development of every new neighborhood will likewise be on Palestinian land. How is it that one entrepreneur (Israeli) can dictate what will be done on the land of another person (Palestinian)? Well, according to the law, he can not. But the Jerusalem Municipality exists just for this purpose. It does have the authority to execute plans on private land and, of course, is supposed to do this in a fair way.
So this, it seems, is the meaning of fairness in the context of Jerusalem: Israelis will get rich from the neighborhood they build on the land they own, while Palestinian-owned land will be used to serve the Israeli building venture. There is a procedure in the planning and construction law called “unification and division.” Its sole purpose is to prevent such inequality among landowners and to ensure that all of them contribute their part to the public areas while retaining the possibility of building housing units. Ten months ago, however, the regional committee advanced the plan, insisting on the circumvention of this procedure.
A Wall within a Wall
From here we can also see the Separation Wall. This is a wall that surrounds a few Palestinian towns and villages: Israel built the Separation Wall far beyond the border marking the jurisdiction of Jerusalem so as to include within it Givat Ze’ev and a few other settlements. Included with them on the Israeli side of the wall are the Palestinian town of Bir N’ballah and a few Palestinian villages. As a result, an additional wall was built, a wall within a wall, which encloses these Palestinian areas within a 360-degree ring. Up until 10 years ago, Bir N’ballah was a bustling suburb of East Jerusalem. Today, the road to Jerusalem is blocked, and traffic in the direction of Ramallah travels via a tunnel passing under the wall. The freedom of movement to the town’s agricultural lands and to villages in the area has been severely impaired. These communities have been cut off from their surroundings and in Bir N’ballah, for example, 50% of the residents have left.
Roads are much more than what the Israelis who travel on them want to think. For example, there was a small scandal over the interchange here when it was named after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s father, Ben-Tsion Netanyahu, a few months after his death. What is not as well known is that the paving of Road 20 from the interchange via Beit Hannina to Pisgat Ze’ev further deepens the inclusion of the Palestinian neighborhood within the space where Israelis live. This road is currently used by tens of thousands of residents of Pisgat Ze’ev, Neve Ya’akov, and the settlements northeast of Jerusalem who daily drive through the Palestinian neighborhood on their way to work and places of entertainment in the heart of the city.
A year ago an Israeli couple was driving on this road when a Molotov cocktail was thrown at them. The woman was moderately injured with firstand second-degree burns on 15% of her body. It is easy to call the throwing of a Molotov cocktail terrorism. It is a bit harder for us to see that the road (and its travelers) are part of what, at least for Palestinians, is occupation.
Above, on the hill — the square building with the tower — is Nebi Samuel, a little outside Jerusalem. All three religions view the place as holy and when peace comes, Nebi Samuel will be a site extolled for its religious harmony. Peace, however, is distant, and so today we can only recount that the original village houses were demolished by Israel in the 1970s as part of the place’s designation as an archeological site (no, Sussiya is not the only one). Twenty years later, all village lands — including the area where the new houses were built — were declared a national park, and since then all building has been prohibited: for housing, expanding the school, employment needs, etc. This village too is located on “the wrong side” of the wall, which means that the movement of its residents to municipal centers in the West Bank is problematic, and access for service providers, relatives, or just simply friends is virtually impossible. Because we are talking about a small community of only a few hundred people, the pressures being exerted on them could, in the end, lead to the abandonment of the village.
A Jewish and Democratic “United Jerusalem”?
And across from us we can see Beit Hanina, which is considered a good neighborhood from a socioeconomic point of view. Recently Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat announced that, in response to the evacuation of the illegal Jewish outpost Amona in the West Bank, he intended to demolish 14 houses in the neighborhood. If it were not for the fact that we are talking about the destruction of people’s homes, his response would be laughable: a mayor who has demolished a record 122 housing units in East Jerusalem this year (and the year’s not over yet) does not really need an excuse to demolish Palestinian homes. Barkat is currently conducting a campaign to impress the members of the Likud Party, which he recently joined. His use of threats against Palestinian homes as a way of gaining a few more votes in the race is shameful.
This is the reality of “united Jerusalem.” If you are a Palestinian it does not matter much what your situation was at the outset: outside Jerusalem or inside; a landowner or one forced to buy cheap land far from the village; a resident of a strong neighborhood or of a poor village. Inside East Jerusalem or outside — you lack the most fundamental security. Your home is certainly not your castle. And if you are Israeli, you can somehow lead a perfectly normal life surrounded by these acts of injustice, without knowing anything. A policy of such brazen discrimination on the basis of nationality is not only illegitimate from a moral point of view, it is unsustainable on a practical level.
A united Jerusalem, Jewish and democratic, is untenable. In the coming years the two peoples will have to cope with this three-fold contradiction and decide which part of the equation to leave out.