Calling a Spade a Spade: The Case of East Jerusalem

If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would have become tears.1

In the quote above, Mahmoud Darwish, the renowned Palestinian poet is referring to all of Palestine and the dispossession of the Palestinian people from their land. In this article, I will be referring to the latest manifestation of dispossession taking place under the guise of the so-called peace process, which has become the norm. The article will focus on Jerusalem — a unique and beloved city that evokes ethereal images of a messiah, a messenger of peace, and a prophet ascending to heaven from the Dome of the Rock. Interfaith peaceniks may emphasize the mutual respect for religious beliefs and traditions which transcend the ensuing land-grab. Jerusalem’s unique character invites solutions such as those put forth by Jordanian diplomat Adnan Abu-Odeh, where Al-Quds would extend as far as the holy sites inside the walled city for the Palestinians, and where Yerushalayim would stretch as far as the Jewish holy sites inside the Old City for the Israelis.2 Many would like nothing more than to embrace such plurality and to accommodate diversity, for this is the true nature of the city. Instead, a singular reality, an Israeli reality which has been manifesting itself under the pretext of peace, has destroyed such aspirations and leaves little, if any, room for Palestinian self-determination and Palestinian security in their city.

Within this context, the terminology that we have become accustomed to using, such as “peace,” is of fundamental importance. Words and concepts have been transformed into slogans that we take for granted and use without seriously contemplating if we are actually engaged in a genuine paradigm of peace. As a reminder, a few definitions of peace consist of the following:

1.The normal, non-warring condition of a nation, group of nations, or the world.
2.An agreement or treaty between warring or antagonistic nations, groups, etc., to end hostilities and abstain from further fighting or antagonism….
3.A state of mutual harmony between people or groups, esp. in personal relations: Try to live in peace with your neighbors.3

Yet we have seen nothing that bears a remote resemblance to these definitions of peace in East Jerusalem. What we are witnessing is the onslaught of a tremendous imbalance of power which has resulted in urbicide and the slicing of memory for the Christian and Muslim Palestinians. East Jerusalem is undergoing processes of deconstruction and construction — the finishing touches to cement it as the “undivided capital” of the State of Israel.

Where is the space for peace within this ongoing trajectory? Instead of waving a nonexistent banner of peace or of a peace process and adapting it to what has become reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984 doublespeak, we should take a hard look at the narrative that is unfolding in East Jerusalem.

The blatant reality is that East Jerusalem represents territory occupied by Israel in 1967 as a result of war, legally binding Israel, the belligerent occupier, to the law of belligerent occupation. However, in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel has unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem, subsequently implementing policies to alter its ethnic composition, physical character, borders and legal status. Israel continues to violate Article 47 of the Convention, which stipulates that residents of an occupied territory are to be afforded the rights of the Convention regardless of changes imposed by the occupying power, such as annexation of all or part of the territory. Israel is in violation of Article 49 (1) and Article 49 (6), which forbid “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations,” and “the transfer...of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Israel continues to breach Article 53, which stipulates that “[a]ny destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons is prohibited, except where absolutely necessary by military operations.” And, Israel continues to disregard Article 147, which prohibits “extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity.”4

Israel’s unilateral annexation of the city violates previous negotiation agreements, laws and numerous resolutions, including United Nations General Assembly and United Nations Security Council resolutions. Moreover, Israel is in violation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Additionally, Israel violates almost every right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.5

In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that[t]he construction of the Wall, including in and around East Jerusalem is contrary to international law. In consequence, Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; to cease construction and dismantle the Wall; to make reparation for all damage caused. All States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction; all States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention have the obligation to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention.6

Instead of heeding international law, the veil of a peace process is being utilized to ethnically cleanse East Jerusalem of its Palestinian inhabitants. This has been characterized by land expropriation; the ongoing construction of settlements, settlement roads and infrastructure; encroachment on the Old City and its environs; restrictions on Palestinian building; the destruction and confiscation of Palestinian homes and public infrastructure, along with a housing shortage and overcrowding; prejudicial land and zoning laws and regulations; severe closures coupled with the impacts of the separation wall; the revocation of residency rights and permits and, hence, access to employment, education and other services.

Restrictions on the existence of Palestinian national institutions in East Jerusalem have left Palestinians with no representation. Instead, they have to contend with an ambivalent reliance on a discriminatory Israeli system of services with approximately 10% of the municipal budget services allocated to Palestinian taxpayers.7 Such infringements on Palestinian political, civil and human rights has jeopardized their existence in the city. The deliberate consequences of Israeli laws, policies and regulations have left the Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem with only 13% of the 72km2 of the Jerusalem municipal area to live on. Thirty-five percent of the land has been confiscated for Israeli settlements, where an estimated 195,000 Israeli settlers reside.8

Lastly, on Israeli assertions regarding the issue of sovereignty, such as those espoused by former UN Ambassador Yehuda Blum, that there was no ousted legitimate sovereign or “a missing reversioner” to whom the territory would revert, Dr. Eyal Benvenisti, son of former Deputy Mayor Meron Benvenisti, has rightly observed that the law of belligerent occupation recognizes the principle of “self-determination of peoples” and that “sovereignty lies in the people and not its government.”9 Accordingly, “the modern occupant needs to heed the political interests of the people,” who are “the sovereign.”10 The Palestinian people were not missing in 1948, they were not missing in 1967 and they are not missing in 2011. Palestinians are still here and, even as attempts continue to extricate them from the city, their presence in it is a fact.

So what is the solution?

The solution is to adhere to international law regarding Jerusalem. The international community as well as Palestinian and global civil society need to assume their role as active participants in the actual implementation and enforcement of international law. Likewise, the aid trajectory requires serious re-examination. Development cannot transpire under occupation. Self-determination cannot reach fruition under annexation, and people cannot live together when one nation that refuses to be destroyed is undergoing multiple layers of destruction. Reports and condemnations have proven to be insufficient. What is needed is for the international community and the local community to abide by their mandates and proceed accordingly. It is only through this path that genuine peace and justice may be served.

To conclude, it is worthwhile to reflect on a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind.... The time is always right to do the right thing.... Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”11


2 Abu-Odeh, Adnan. “Two Capitals in an Undivided Jerusalem,” Foreign Affairs (Spring 1992):
4 See ICRC Website on the Geneva Conventions of 1949:
5 Specifically, Denial of equal protection under the law (Article 7); Arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile (Article 9); Denial of the right to return to one’s country and freedom of movement (Article 13); the right to nationality (Article 15); the right to family (Article 16); Arbitrary expropriation of personal property (Article 17); and, Interference with religious worship and observance (Article 18), among others.
6 See the International Court of Justice ruling on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory:
7 Statistics provided through direct interview with Meir Margalit, Jerusalem Municipal Council member and field director of ICAHD, October 2009.
8 Estimated number through direct interview with Sarah Kreimer, associate director of Ir Amim, October 2010.
9 Benvenisti, Eyal. The International Law of Occupation. Princeton: The Princeton University Press, 2004.
10 Ibid.