Mustafa Abu Sneineh
Middle East Eye / December 13, 2021
The plans include settler neighbourhoods in Sheikh Jarrah, Damascus Gate, Beit Safafa, Beit Hanina and Sur Baher.
The Custodian General’s Unit at the Israeli Ministry of Justice has promoted plans to build housing complexes and neighbourhoods for Jewish settlers in various areas of East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967.
The plans include one settler neighbourhood in Sheikh Jarrah, another near the Old City’s Damascus Gate, two near Beit Safafa, and a Jewish community in Beit Hanina and Sur Baher – two Palestinian neighbourhoods to the north and south of Jerusalem’s Old City, respectively.
Haaretz said that the Custodian General’s Unit has formed a close collaboration with Israeli settlers groups, including Elad, Ateret Kohanim and Nahalat Shimon, with the aim of forcibly evicting Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and replacing them with Jewish settlers.
Nahalat Shimon was behind the attempt to evict tens of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, which led to widespread protests in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank in May, which were met with violence, and an Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip.
In recent years, settler groups have filed lawsuits against Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and Batn al-Hawa to prove that Jewish tenants have ownership of Palestinian lands and properties since before 1948, during the British Mandate or before the British seized Palestine from Ottoman rule in 1917.
There are an estimated 900 properties under the authority of the Custodian General’s Unit.
According to the report, Israel plans to build dozens of settler units between Beit Safafa and Talpiot south of Jerusalem’s Old City. Another complex is planned to be built over 3.3 dunams in Sur Baher.
In the Damascus Gate area, another housing complex for Jewish settlers is planned behind Palestinian shops in al-Musrara market. There are currently 10 Jewish families living in the area in properties sold by the Custodian General’s Unit to the right-wing settler group Homot Shalem.
In Beit Hanina, Israel is creating settler units over a six-dunam (0.6 hectares) plot of land.
These settlements exclude the project planned for Givat Shaked, which was announced last week and consists of 473 homes for Israeli Jewish settlers, with a synagogue, elementary and reception schools, close to Beit Safafa and Sharafat – two Palestinian neighbourhoods on the main road to the city of Bethlehem.
Suhail Khalilieh, a researcher at the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ) told Wafa news agency that the proposed Israeli settlement plans will dramatically change Jerusalem’s geography and demography.
“The Israeli project in Damascus Gate aims to completely close the area to [a] Palestinian presence, transform the Holy Basin area [around Jerusalem’s Old City] into settlement projects, and completely destroy Arab landmarks,” Khalilieh said.
In October, Israel also said it was building a new Jewish neighbourhood in Givat Hamatos, in southern East Jerusalem near the city of Bethlehem. Givat Hamatos, Atarot and Givat Shaked are all beyond the 1967 armistice line.
Israel makes it impossible for Palestinians in East Jerusalem to build new homes. Since it took control of the city in 1967, it has not approved a single new neighbourhood for Palestinians.
As of May, Israel had demolished 61 properties owned by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem: 33 were houses and the rest were used as commercial and non-residential buildings, according to Ir Amim, an Israel rights group.
In 2019, 358,800 Palestinians and 557,600 Israelis lived in East Jerusalem.
Mustafa Abu Sneineh – journalist, poet and staff writer at Middle East Eye