Meir Margalit's Seizing Control of Space in East Jerusalem is an important summary of the recent escalation of settlement activity inside Palestinian neighborhoods, a development that is dangerous for the future of the city and the region. It describes the way in which the Israeli "matrix of control" is established by seizing Palestinian property and land for seemingly innocuous purposes such as public parks and governmental institutions. He points to the clear collaboration between state and municipal organs and fundamentalist settlers' organizations in the Judaization of Palestinian neighborhoods, and places this phenomenon against the backdrop of massive restrictions on Palestinian construction and housing, in practice driving Palestinians out of their city. Yet while Margalit's recent book is another courageous effort to bring justice to Jerusalem and put the spotlight on government-settler collaboration, the book's content is limited and its English translation deeply flawed. Though of value to those less familiar with the situation on the ground, the book is essentially a summary of what many activists in the field consider to be common knowledge.Spotlight on Government-Settler Cooperation
Margalit emphasizes the way in which official governmental bodies and settlement organizations work together to seize control of space in Jerusalem. In this way, the book contradicts the distinction in the mainstream Western media between the Israeli government and "extremist" settlers. Margalit's book flatly rejects the idea that Judaization is merely an unfortunate consequence of the actions of a handful of extremists. He summarizes the groundbreaking Klugman Report (prepared by an official Board of Inquiry headed by Haim Klugman, then-director general of the Ministry of Justice, whose findings are classified), commissioned by Yitzhak Rabin's government almost 20 years ago, to give the reader a sense of the massive, high-level coordination between key state institutions and settlers' organizations like Ateret Cohanim and Elad. He explains how institutions such as the Custodian of Absentee Property, the Jerusalem municipality and the public corporations under its jurisdiction, the Jerusalem District Police and the Housing Ministry, all work in coordination, not only to provide support for settlers' organizations, but also to carry out the Judaization agenda itself. Reading Margalit's book, the reader is struck with the extent of the institutional commitment to "de-Arabize" East Jerusalem.
The commitment is not only legal but financial. Margalit references an instance where MK Ophir Pines tried to discover how much money was going to the "upkeep of the cemetery at the Mount of Olives." He discovered that vast sums were invested in the cemetery, far more than was necessary for its maintenance, and that the "Mount of Olives" was a budgetary front to funnel millions of shekels to settlers' organizations and initiatives. Likewise, around 40 million shekels a year is provided by the government for private security companies in settlements in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods under the title of "Protection of Holy Sites." Apart from the vast and undisclosed funds received from sympathetic millionaires in the United States, such as Irving Moskowitz and others, Margalit says that about 60-70% of the settlers' funds come from the Israeli government. The book serves to clarify to the public the active role taken by the government in these matters, and that the settlers' organizations truly are "the long arm of the state," doing things that the state is either legally unable to do or things that it finds "unbecoming." Margalit lists some of the cynical and even illegal means by which settlers come to own many Palestinian houses. This list includes bribing financially or psychologically vulnerable Palestinians to sign away their houses, under the cover of the relevant institutions' mysterious disinclination to check the legality of such purchases. State support for the settlers, combined with these predatory practices, paints a picture of state criminality that should have far-reaching consequences but receives no attention in the world media."Permanent Temporariness"
Margalit touches upon an important and rarely discussed aspect of Israel's Judaization strategy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, what Professor Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University calls a state of "permanent temporariness" or "intentional ambiguity":
The occupier relates to the area as a sort of "deposit" to be repaid to its legitimate owners when peaceful times return... It is true that Israeli authorities always declare that the annexation of the Territories is "eternal," but all practices and measures applied indicate land in an interim situation, a sort of parentheses in the course of life; the land belongs neither to the occupier nor the occupied (p.23).
This permanent temporariness allows the Jerusalem municipality to deny essential services and development projects to Palestinian inhabitants, arguing (albeit behind closed doors) that they should not invest in areas that will be returned to some Palestinian sovereignty at a future point in time. Further, land registration was intentionally halted in 1967 in order to maintain the ambiguity surrounding land ownership and create more favorable conditions for the acquisition of property by the settlers:
In the past few years, many entities, Palestinian citizens in particular, but international ones too, have petitioned the state to conduct a proper registration of land, but clearly it (the government) prefers to leave things unclear....(p.38).
To complete the land registration process would be to officially settle the question of land ownership and effectively close Palestinian land to seizure. In the northern West Bank, where the Jordanians registered the land during their rule from 1948 to 1967, the settlement enterprise is severely limited, especially compared with the South Hebron Hills region, where the expulsion of Palestinian residents has been frequent. This is a clear example of the government abandoning its responsibility to resolve territorial disputes, for the simple reason that it fears foreclosing Palestinian land to seizure.The "Apolitical" Is Very Political
Importantly, Margalit includes seemingly "apolitical" land uses among the arsenal of Israeli domination, such as government offices and national parks. In the introduction, Margalit writes that "[t]he process of changing the physiology of East Jerusalem is based on the principle of cumulative effect in which seemingly neutral elements, without significance if each is considered separately, creates a different dimension when viewed as a whole." He argues that "[a]n identifiably Israeli place can greatly enhance the basis of ownership of land" (p.26). Government offices, religious sites and memorials, garbage containers and street paving designs all contribute to the identity of the space and are all used to Judaize Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. In the section on Sheikh Jarrah, Margalit shows how seemingly apolitical Israeli-owned structures are strategically placed along major thoroughfares and in key areas in order to both control the space and symbolically annex it to Israel.
Another important and lesser-known means of seizing land outlined in the book is the designation of public parks and "green spaces." Margalit writes that in many cases, control over land in East Jerusalem is achieved "by transforming extensive swathes of land into 'green' and tourism areas with a strong Jewish flavour" (p.116). The Jerusalem parks authority, he notes, is managed by a former employee of the Israeli settlement organization Elad. Margalit explains that declaring areas to be public parks is a way of expropriating private land without compensating the owners, as well as a way of limiting "illegal" Palestinian construction.A Flawed but Valuable Book
Although the content is important for the general public, and although it describes some lesser-known aspects of the Judaization of East Jerusalem, the book does not explain or expand on crucial points in the account of the Judaization process. For example, Margalit does not explain the legal and historical background of land ownership in East Jerusalem in general, nor how they are reflected in each incursion into Palestinian neighborhoods. He also leaves out recent changes in the larger political context, such as the first formal recognition of Israel's settlement blocs by then-U.S. President George W. Bush to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Furthermore, he does not outline the Palestinian residents' struggle against the Judaization of their neighborhoods or that of solidarity activists (including Margalit himself) who have joined that struggle. Stories of resistance are really important, not only because they invite the reader to think of how he or she can contribute to justice in Jerusalem, but also because the stories themselves provide profound insight into the nature of the root issues in Jerusalem.
Despite the book's many important achievements, its most severe shortcoming is its poor English translation. If they consisted merely of misspellings, capitalization errors and missing quotation marks, then the text would still be accessible to English speakers. But the English translation also includes literal translations and run-on sentences, most of which are difficult to understand unless one can guess how the Hebrew version reads; some sentences are indecipherable even with that benefit. Direct translations of Hebrew words and idioms are frustrating to read; for example, the translation of the Hebrew word ????? (amutah) into "association" is incorrect. The intention is to refer to "non-profits" or "non-profit organizations." Another problem is the awkward manner in which some arguments are developed in the book. Names of organizations are introduced without explanation or are only explained later on, and key claims are frequently repeated without advancing the argument.
Despite these shortcomings, Seizing Control of Space in East Jerusalem is an important book that puts the spotlight on the settler movement's latest assault on Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. This is a phenomenon of which people hear snippets in the news, but all the incidents are rarely, if ever, put into the context of a single strategy, and the state and non-state promoters of that strategy are seldom even named, much less held accountable. Margalit has dedicated many years to exposing the Judaization of Jerusalem, and this book is a necessary addition to the worthy effort of communicating Margalit's on-the-ground experience to Israeli and international audiences. I remain thankful for his efforts and await his next book.