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The Politics of Urban Planning in Jerusalem

By Philippe Rekacewicz
Monday, February 19, 2007
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On 8 February violence broke out at the Al-Aksa mosque, revealing underlying tensions. Jerusalem is the holy city ofthree religions, but Israeli government policy has always beento preserve its control over the city to prevent its division,   so that East Jerusalem can never be the capital of a Palestinianstate.

THE main road from Tel Aviv runs fairly straight until past Ben Gurion airport. Then it starts to wind up towards Jerusalem, through hills captured by the Jewish forces in 1948 at the cost of much bloodshed. It enters the thrice-holy city from the west, at a height of over 700m above sea level. Israelis, like foreigners, have a wide choice of access routes. They can reach the city centre by many other roads to the north and south.


For Palestinians from the West Bank, access to the city is another matter. If they get through the internal checkpoints, they encounter the most brutal obstacle ever invented to control and restrict movement in the occupied territories: a 10m high wall that will soon completely surround the eastern part of the city, blotting out the landscape and blocking the traditional access roads. It cuts straight across historic highways from Jerusalem to Amman (Route 417) and from Jenin to Hebron (Route 60). For West Bank Palestinians, the monstrous concrete serpent is broken only at four points: Qalandiya in the north, Shuafat in the northeast, Ras Abu Sbeitan in the west and Gilo in the south. To reach these they have to make many detours, leave their cars and cross on foot. Palestinian vehicles, with green licence plates, are strictly forbidden in Jerusalem.


Colonel Danny Tirza, a settler from Kfar Adumim, was the Israeli defence ministry's man in charge of planning and erecting what is officially known as the security fence. The Palestinians call him the "second nakba" (1). Tirza promised his grandiose plan would include 11 Jerusalem checkpoints, rather like airport terminals. That was not our impression from a brief passage through Gilo checkpoint. Everywhere there were signs: "enter one at a time", "wait your turn", "leave this place clean", "take off your coat", "obey instructions". The corridors were enclosed by wire mesh on the sides and top, like tunnels through which animals enter a circus ring. No ringmaster, though.


The gate was fitted with a small light showing when to pass. A metallic voice instructed us to put luggage through a screening machine. A vague form could just be made out behind the tinted, reinforced glass panels. Finally, a human being: a slovenly soldier, with his feet on the table and an Uzi machine pistol across his lap, who checked identity cards, whispering or barking depending on their owners' faces. At the exit were signs in three languages reading "Welcome to Jerusalem" (still 4km away) and "Peace be with you".


  A separate body


The 1947 United Nations partition plan declared Jerusalem a corpus separatum, a separate body, to be run under an international UN administration. That is still its only internationally recognised status. But after the 1948 war the city was divided between Jordan and Israel, which established its capital in West Jerusalem. In 1967 Israel conquered the eastern part of the city and subsequently annexed it. In 1980 a Basic Law proclaimed Jerusalem "complete and united", the capital of Israel. Since then, the policy pursued by all Israeli governments has been to preserve Jewish hegemony over the city and prevent its division, thereby preventing the birth of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.


Khalil Toufakji is head of the map and survey department of the Arab Studies Society and advised the Palestinian delegation during the Camp David negotiations. "Demography is the key," he said. "The Israelis' absolute priority has always been to impose a large Jewish majority. But Palestinians have grown from 20% of the population in 1967 to 35%, and they could be a majority by 2030" (2). The proportional increase is not just the result of differences in birth-rates. Many Jews have been forced out by unemployment, a housing shortage and an intolerant atmosphere created by pressure from the ultra-orthodox.


Now, a 60-year-old taboo has been breached. While the master plan for 2020 maintains the 70% to 30% population ratio, the planners envisage a more pragmatic ratio of 60% to 40% (3). Meron Benvenisti, who is a leading expert on Jerusalem (4), was indignant about this: "As if there could be a correct percentage. It's pure racism. We live in the only city in the world where an ethnic population ratio serves as a philosophy." Menachem Klein, an adviser at Camp David on the Israeli side, added more calmly: "The politicians fight and the pragmatists bow to reality. We are witnessing the greatest Israeli effort to annex Jerusalem since 1967."


  Map of East Jerusalem by D.Vidal and P.Rekacewic z


The first tactic in this effort was the illegal extension of the city limits. Amos Gil, director of Ir Amim (City of Peoples), ran through the figures: "The Old City covers only 1 sq km. Together with the surrounding Arab quarters, it measured 6 sq km under Jordanian rule. In 1967 Israel incorporated 64 sq km of annexed West Bank territory, including 28 villages, increasing the area to 70 sq km. When the wall around East Jerusalem is finished, the enclosed area will measure approximately 164 sq km." The Safdie Plan for the development of West Jerusalem was strongly resisted on environmental grounds.


Meir Margalit, coordinator of the Israeli Committee against house demolitions (Icahd), said: "There's a colour here that exists nowhere else.Political green." He told us how the late Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem at the time, had responded to protests from Ornan Yekutieli, former leader of the leftwing party Meretz, at plans to build the Har Homa settlement on the site of a fine Palestinian forest. "It's only green for the Arabs," Kollek had retorted.


Ayala Ronel, an architect, explained how environmental apartheid worked. "Dusty yellow areas strewn with rubbish" were declared green zones in order to prevent Arabs building on them, but were open to Jewish settlement.


   Settlement as strategy


The second tactic of Israeli strategy is settlement. Shmuel Groag, an architect on the board of Bimkom, which campaigns for full involvement of the public in the planning process, summarised the process: "The first ring consisted of seven large settlements: Gilo, Armon Hanaziv (East Talpiot), French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, Ramot, Ramot Shlomo and Neve Yaakov. The second added two more: Pisgat Zeev and Maale Adumim. Then came a third ring of nine settlements: Givon, Adam, Kochav Yaakov, Kfar Adumim, Keidar, Efrat, Betar Ilit, Har Homa and the Etzion Bloc. Together they contain half of the 500,000 settlers in the West Bank."


Michel Warschawski is the founder of the Alternative Information Centre and a major figure in the pacifist movement. He takes activists on tours to see the "underlying principle of settlement: the creation of Jewish territorial continuity at the expense of Arab territorial continuity". Waving a sheet of paper falling apart from constant handling, he quoted the former mayor of the Karnei Shomron settlement: "The aim is to ensure that the Jewish population of Yesha (5) does not live behind barbed wire, but in a continuous Jewish population belt. If we take the region between Jerusalem and Ofra and add an industrial zone at the entrance to the Adam settlement and a service station at the entrance to Psagot, we will have a continuous line of Israeli settlement."


The third tactic is total control of the lines of communication in order to fragment the Palestinian space, reduce the mobility of the population and destroy any possibility of development. Israel has not only seized, renovated and widened the existing major highways. It has also built new roads to enable settlers to reach Jerusalem as quickly as possible, and a tramline is planned for the same purpose (see Jerusalem's apartheid tramway, page 10). The result is an impressive network of four-lane highways, lit up at night, along which the trees have been cut down, "dangerous" houses destroyed and protective walls erected in the name of security.


These bypasses linking the settlements are prohibited to Palestinian vehicles, which have to use poor-quality secondary roads that are badly maintained, if at all, and are sealed off by many fixed or flying checkpoints.


The "container" roadblock outside Abu Dis controls, and often closes, the last Palestinian highway linking the northern and southern parts of the West Bank. The road deserves its name of Wadi Nar (Fire Valley). In places it is so narrow that two lorries can hardly pass, even assuming they could climb and descend its dangerous winding slopes. Not far away, settlers from the Etzion Bloc and Hebron speed along the expressway Yitzhak Rabin built for them, without encountering a single Arab. This "apartheid that dare not speak its name", as Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat calls it (6), was graphically illustrated by Colonel Tirza's fluid traffic project: where Jews and Arabs had to cross paths, bridges and tunnels would prevent them seeing each other.


Alon Cohen-Lifschitz, an architect from Bimkom, showed us an example: "To disenclave the Palestinian villages of Bir Nabala and Al Jib, the Israelis are building 2km of road 10m below ground level, closed in and covered with a wire grating, plus two tunnels and a bridge." There was worse to come in segregation: a military order was issued prohibiting, from 19 January 2007, any Israeli or Palestinian resident from carrying a non-Jewish resident of the West Bank in his car. It provoked such protests that its implementation has been frozen.


   The `republic of Elad'


The fourth tactic is infiltration of the Old City and the Holy Basin: repossession of former Jewish property, confiscation under the law on absentees and purchases via collaborators are proceeding quickly. Meron Rappoport, a journalist on Haaretz, calls Jewish settlement in the historic centre the "republic of Elad" (7), from the name of the settlers' organisation to which the authorities have, unusually, delegated administration of the "city of David" (8). But the number of Arab houses flying Israeli flags, and armed bodyguards strolling in the streets, show that Silwan, al-Bustan (where 88 buildings are threatened with demolition), Ras al-Amud (Maale Zeitim) and Jabal Mukaber (Nof Zion) are also being taken over. The first two houses of Kidmat Zion defy the empty Palestinian parliament on the other side of the wall in Abu Dis. A look at the map confirms that these secondary growths form a continuous diagonal line of ethnic cleansing.


"Don't stop at the figures," said Fouad Hallak, adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation negotiating team. "The 17 settlement points in the Old City and its immediate vicinity contain barely 2,600 inhabitants out of 24,000, but they are part of a tenacious strategy of depalestinisation."


Judaicisation, the fifth tactic of the strategy, begins with symbols. A Palestinian friend pointed out the way that the decor of the Jewish city is being imposed on Arab Jerusalem. "From the most spectacular manifestations, like the memorials to Israeli war heroes and the public buildings erected in East Jerusalem, to the most trivial: paving stones, lampposts and litter bins. Not to mention the street names." (Israeli Defence Force Square, Paratroopers' Street, Central CommandStreet, Central Command Square. Another Haaret zjournalist, Danny Rubinstein, said "the names were given after the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, apparently so the Arabs would understand who won" (9).


People in Paris had warned us that the Old City was emptying, and in 30 years it had never seemed so dreary. "The Israelis want to settle most of it and leave a few picturesque Arab streets for the tourists, like in Jaffa," said Elias Sanbar, the new Palestinian ambassador to Unesco. He had thwarted an Israeli attempt in 2000 to get the Arab Old City listed as part of Israel's heritage.


Another tactic in the Judaicisation process is interference with the principle of free access to the holy places, which has been enshrined in all international agreements since the Treaty of Berlin (1878). "For years now West Bank Muslims and Christians have been denied access to the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre," said Adnan al-Husseini, director of the Waqf (10). "As for Jerusalem residents, they have to be at least 45 years old to pray there. Not to mention humiliations inflicted by 4,000 soldiers deployed during the main religious festivities." We asked about the Temple Mount excavations. "I dare not think what would happen," said al-Husseini, "if the madmen who dream of rebuilding the Temple were to damage our mosques."


 Christian concerns


The patriarchs and heads of the Christian churches in Jerusalem are also worried. On 29 September 2006 they issued a statement reaffirming the need for a special status for Jerusalem guaranteeing, inter alia, "the human right of freedom of worship and of conscience for all, both as individuals and as religious communities; equality of all her inhabitants before the law in coordination with the international resolutions; free access to Jerusalem for all, citizens, residents or pilgrims". Insisting that "the rights of property ownership, custody and worship which the different churches have acquired throughout history should continue to be retained by the same communities", they called on the international community to guarantee respect for the "status quo of the holy places" (11).


Any occupier, Jewish, Christian or Muslim, is capable of extreme violence. Yet the bulldozing of a house as its inhabitants stand by is an unbearable sight (12). Since 2000 the municipal authorities and the ministry of the interior have bulldozed 529 houses, and imposed fines totalling $28.5m on owners (13). But the repression is not even-handed. According to B'Tselem, the Israeli information centre for human rights in the occupied territories, there were 5,653 building violations in West Jerusalem in 2005, resulting in 26 partial or total demolitions; the 1,529 violations recorded in East Jerusalem gave rise to 76 (14).


Margalit said the municipal authorities "live in constant dread of a threat to Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. They are completely paranoid. For them, every house, every tree, every pot plant, is part of an international political conspiracy." Deputy mayor Yigal Amedi does not use such arguments but claims that "exceptional" demolitions are justified because they concern "structures built illegally". He is a member of the municipal planning and building committee but seemed unaware that municipal inspectors carry out demolitions in many cases in violation of a court order. He claimed: "The municipality is trying to put some order into the chaos."


The claim is risible: 40% of houses in East Jerusalem (15,000 out of 40,600) are illegal because municipal authorities grant few building permits to Palestinians: only 5,300 dwellings were built and 481 permits granted between 2000 and 2004. The cost of a permit is exorbitant, more than $25,000, plus months of administrative hassle, for a building of 200 sq m. Building land is fast disappearing. After 1967 West Jerusalem had an area of 54 sq km and East Jerusalem 70 sq km, 24 sq km of which was expropriated for settlements. Of the remaining 46 sq km, 21 sq km are not part of any planned development. Of the 25 sq km for which plans exist, 16 sq km have been set aside for green spaces, public buildings and roads. The 9 sq km of building land available to Palestinians is just 7.25% of the total area.


Efrat Cohen-Bar, an architect and Bimkom activist, brandished the heavy master plan: "Despite some progress, unequal treatment continues. From now to 2020, our planners allocate another 3 sq km of building land to the additional 158,000 Palestinians, whereas a further 110,000 Jews receive 9 sq km." Irène Salenson, a geographer, pointed to the "horizontal and vertical restrictions on Palestinian urban development". East Jerusalem will be able to build to an average height of four storeys (two at present), whereas six to eight storeys will be allowed in the western city (15).


`Drops in the ocean'


This unequal treatment is one aspect of a policy of discrimination, the tactic of Israeli hegemony. Only Jews (and 2.3% of Palestinians) are citizens. West Bank Palestinians with green identity cards have no rights, not even the right to enter the city without permission, which is granted ever more rarely. Permanent residents with blue identity cards enjoy social welfare benefits and can vote in local elections, but those rights are not transmitted automatically to their spouses or children. The European Union report, shockingly censored by the Council of Ministers of the 25 in 2005, highlighted another aspect of discrimination: "Between 1996-1999 Israel implemented a centre of life policy, meaning that those with blue ID found living or working outside East Jerusalem, for example in Ramallah, would lose their ID. A wave of blue ID cardholders quickly moved back to East Jerusalem" (16).


The city budget is no less discriminatory. East Jerusalem, with 33% of the population, gets just 8.48%. An average of $1,415 is spent on each Jew and $310 on each Arab. No wonder B'Tselem reports that 67% of Palestinian families live below the poverty line, compared with 29% of Israeli families (17). Deputy mayor Amedi, from a poor quarter of the city, did not deny that "the Arab and ultra-orthodox quarters lag behind in infrastructure and services". But he claimed that, when Ehud Olmert was mayor, the city "invested more money than ever to fill those gaps". Listing current projects, Amedi admitted they were "drops in the ocean. You have to start somewhere."


For now the most important matter is the construction of the separation wall, which will cost over $1m per km over a total length of 180km. Only 5km of wall runs along the Green Line, so the security argument seems hardly relevant. (The city was traumatised by suicide bombings, which claimed 171 victims in six years.) Most of the wall around Jerusalem does not separate Israelis and Palestinians but cuts off Palestinians from their schools, fields, olive groves, hospitals and cemeteries.


Menachem Klein said: "The wall is a tool the government uses to control Jerusalem, not to ensure the safety of Israelis." The wall epitomises all the tactics of domination. It more than doubles the area of East Jerusalem, creating a clover shape to include the new settlements and their development zones: Bet Horon, Givat Zeev, Givon Hadasha and the future Nabi Samuel park; Har Gilo, Betar Ilit and the Etzion Bloc; Maale Adumim.


The view from the terrace of Augusta Victoria Hospital gives a better idea of the threat to the future Palestinian state posed by the building at Maale Adumim. The settlement is 7 sq km. But the municipal plan for the Maale Adumim Bloc covers an area, still largely uninhabited, of 55 sq km -- more than Tel Aviv, with 51 sq km. It stretches almost to the Dead Sea, cutting the West Bank in two. To the north, the contested E1 area of 12 sq km (12 times the size of the Old City), is East Jerusalem's last possible expansion area. Yet even formal opposition from Washington did not stop the new West Bank police headquarters from being built there, pending the construction of homes, shopping centres and hotels. The Jahalin Beduin, expelled to make way for the development, have erected dwellings on the hill overlooking the rubbish dump.


 A series of losses


As much Palestinian land as possible with the smallest possible number of Palestinians: that is the long-standing principle governing the route of the wall, which incorporates Jewish settlements and removes Arab districts to the West Bank: Kufr Aqab, alongside the Qalandiya refugee camp, half of Beit Hanina, most of Al-Ram, Dahiyat al-Bared, Hizma, the Shuafat refugee camp, Dahiyat al-Salam, Anata, Ram Khamzi and Walaja. For the first time, 60,000 of Jerusalem's 240,000 Palestinians have been expelled without even moving, resulting in a series of losses.


o Loss of time: "I used to be able to walk to university in 10 minutes," said a student from Ramallah studying medicine at Al Quds University: "Now it takes me 90 minutes by car."


o Loss of personnel: 33%-50% of doctors, nurses and teachers can no longer work in Jerusalem.


o Loss of income: shopkeepers on the "wrong" side of Al-Ram complain of a 30%-50% drop in turnover, a dentist was forced to close his surgery and the owner of an apartment block with an unimpeded view of the wall has lost all his tenants.


o Loss of resident status: anyone unable to prove he lives and works in Jerusalem when his blue identity card comes up for renewal will have it withdrawn.


o Most importantly, the loss of East Jerusalem's role as the Palestinian metropolis.


Menachem Klein said "everyone knows the next negotiations will start from the Clinton Parameters, which include partition of the city to make room for two capitals. That is what the wall is designed to prevent, by disconnecting Al Quds from its Palestinian economic, social and cultural hinterland and destroying it as a metropolitan centre. But Israel's leaders are shortsighted if they think they can profit from the weakness of the Palestinians. The younger generation will lift their heads. Then what will become of Sharon and Olmert's ambition to reliberate Jerusalem?"


Facts on the ground


Other people linked the Israeli escalation with the peace process. Ambassador Sanbar said: "Things speeded up from the moment Jerusalem was officially put on the negotiation agenda. The aim was to create facts on the ground so that nothing was left to negotiate."


For Wassim Khazmo, adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team, "Sharon took advantage of the international community's weakness to seize what George Bush had promised him in his letter of 14 April 2004: the settlement blocs." We were astonished to learn that Khalil Toufakji was prepared to renounce claims to those blocs in the name of realism. "Even Maale Adumim?" "Yes." "Even the E1 area?" "Yes." Hasib Nashashibi of the Coalition for Jerusalem pointed to the leadership crisis in the PLO: "The Israelis are exploiting our divisions and our mistakes." "It was the suicide attacks that were the main argument for the wall," said Amos Gil.


The situation of the Palestinians in the enclaves of Biddu (35,500 inhabitants), Bir Nabal (20,000) and Walaja (2,000) are Kafkaesque. They are trapped by the wall, which surrounds them. The Gharib family has been scapegoated. The Givon Hadasha settlers have built their houses, on private Palestinian land, around the Gharibs' house, so that it is now a mini-enclave linked by a path to its original village. The settler houses are enclosed by a wire fence, soon to be electrified, and monitored by a video camera. "I've got a gun," a settler neighbour shouted at us. "I'll shoot the lot of you!" An empty threat? They have already killed one of Gharib's sons. Yet the Gharibs have resisted for more than 20 years.


We remembered Meron Benvenisti's outburst of the previous day: "The wall? A monument to despair! Look at Bethlehem: on one side, the Church of the Nativity, on the other, the bunker around Rachel's Tomb. It's the arrogance of an occupier who feels free to define and redefine communities as he sees fit. As if the fence separated `good' Arabs, accepted in Jerusalem, from `bad' Arabs excluded from it. Those who dreamed-up this horror follow the same logic of 19th century colonialism as did the French when they hung on to Indochina and North Africa. It won't work this time either. TheJerusalem wall will go the same way as the Berlin wall."


  Jerusalem Map by D.Vidal and P.Rekacewic z<>  ________________________________________________________


   * Philippe Rekacewicz is a geographer and cartographer for`Le Monde diplomatique' and the United Nations EnvironmentProgramme (UNEP/Grid-Arendal in Norway)


   (1) Nakba (catastrophe) is the Palestinian term for theforced exodus of 800,000 inhabitants in 1948. Colonel Tirza'scontract was not renewed after he lied to the Supreme Court.


   (2) In 2006 the population of Jerusalem was estimated ataround 700,000: 470,000 Jews and 230,000 Palestinians.


   (3) Bulletin du Centre de recherche français de Jérusalem.


   (4) All sourced at


   (5) Haaretz, Tel Aviv, 17 July 1996. Yesha is a contractionof Yehuda ve-Shomron, the settlers' name for the West Bank.


   (6) Rene Backmann, Mur en Palestine, Fayard, Paris, 2006.


   (7) Haaretz, 21 April 2006.


   (8) King David established his capital circa 1000BC.


   (9) Haaretz, 26 November 2006.


   (10) Responsible for the management of religious property.


   (11) http://www.holyland-lutherans




   (13) "Discriminations in the Heart of the Holy City", IPCC,Jerusalem, 2006. The figures are from this source.


   (14) B'Tselem, "A Wall in Jerusalem", Jerusalem, 2006.


   (15) Bulletin du Centre de recherche français de Jérusalem.


   (16) The social welfare services want the identity cards ofJerusalem residents living outside the city to be withdrawn,for financial reasons. The interior ministry and themunicipal authorities, anxious to reduce the number ofPalestinians living in Jerusalem, prefer them to keep theircards.


   (17) "A Wall in Jerusalem", op cit.




  Translated by Barry Smerin




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