Case of illegal settlement threatens Palestinian neighborhood

By Ibrahim Takouji, Special to CNN • Published 30th May 2016

Amman (CNN) — The settlement of Mishor Adumim in occupied East Jerusalem, a model of Israeli right wing ideology, has shocked Israeli policy makers for its illegal expansion.

It’s out of reach for many in the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem as it lies between Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

But the people who live there are feeling even more trapped by Israel’s deal with their government: They are at the mercy of the Israeli High Court, the only body empowered to overturn zoning and planning in the disputed area.

During a recent visit to Sheikh Jarrah, Palestinian families living there, agreed to talk to CNN to discuss how this historic neighborhood is jeopardized by the Israeli state’s high court.

Enemy in their own land

Located on Jerusalem’s Old City, Sheikh Jarrah is home to the most loyal Palestinian population. Once literally in the enemy camp, the Palestinians here were once welcomed by government policy because of their residents’ affluence.

However, everything changed in 1967 when Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan.

Although the then Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin stated that the Palestinian people would have a right to return to their homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank, then Palestinians were once again marginalized and living in the least desirable areas in the holy city.

Prior to the 1967 war, most West Bank Palestinians had been living in the West Bank-Tel Aviv area on lands that were in Jordanian control at the time. As the area came under Israeli control, large numbers of Palestinians were asked to move to poorer neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. This has drastically impacted on people’s housing and salaries.

Thousands of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah since have been forced to live as squatters, squatting on government-owned land that has since been razed in a practice called ‘green building’ or ‘smart city’ construction, which moves people out of the way of busy roads, and new luxury developments in order to add glitz and glamor.

Currently, 7,000 Palestinian residents remain on the Palestinian lands, but new buildings are being constructed to extend the Jewish settlement.

The ideological project behind this project includes the expansion of Jewish settlement east of the separation barrier.

Some residents believe they were evicted from their lands and now they are under siege, because they could lose their lands.

“This whole area has nothing but barren land,” said Jaber Mussalem, 55, a resident of Sheikh Jarrah, pointing to the Palestinian homes scattered across the outskirts of East Jerusalem.

“At any time the Israeli [government] can evacuate us. We have no hopes,” he added.

Since 1967, this unique neighborhood has existed between the Jewish settlements of Mishor Adumim, adjacent to the Palestinian neighborhood, and the Israeli government’s growing and notorious Jaffa Road — the heart of Israel’s trade, finance and transportation.

What now

As part of a deal with the Israeli government in 2000, the Sheikh Jarrah local council, led by Hussein Abu Hussein — the local leader of Fatah — was given control of this area.

The council then redefined the area to exclude Palestinians because the land was in the vicinity of a large number of Jewish settlements, including those built by well-known Jewish human rights activist Uri Avnery and his family.

Apart from Abu Hussein’s family, Abu Izzuddin, 28, lives in a two-bedroom apartment that may no longer be his home.

Apart from Arab families, Palestinians and Jewish Americans, Tel Aviv-based businessman and philanthropist Seymour Bezalel, 69, who bought this property in 1999, also lives in this area, and has also faced eviction.

“We are paying 1.3 million Israeli shekels (US$369,183) a year in taxes — even though we don’t live here,” Bezalel said. “I would like to have my neighborhood back. My family and I want to stay in the old city where we are loved. But the state has put us under pressure by making me leave the building which I have purchased.”

As a result of the eviction order, the Bezalel family members have a lease to occupy the building until 2025, provided that they have complete possession.

But for those residents who live on the Palestinian side, it is difficult to leave the area and they are afraid that if they do, they will be forced out to another country, Palestinian writer Halim Al-Azzawi wrote in a recent open letter to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, while denouncing the Bezalel family’s eviction.

Al-Azzawi’s family used to live here but two years ago they were driven out. He revealed that local Israeli officials threatened to demolish their home if they failed to move out to a different building

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