Middle East Monitor / July 24, 2020
Jerusalemites live in a complex situation, amid an immense sense of suffering and concern about the current stage, as headlines of escalating violations, whether by the occupation authorities or extremist Jewish groups, prevail in the media scene. On the other hand, the spectre of the annexation plan of the lands on which the settlements are built, and the increasing spread of the coronavirus with its dramatic rise in cases, add to the locals’ fears.
The gravity of their suffering deepens the Jerusalemites’ apprehensions regarding the fateful challenges awaiting the city and its people, especially in light of the acceleration of Zionist plans to impose political control on the administrative side, while competing against time in order to fully dominate the situation, by annexing 30 per cent of the lands of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.
Although East Jerusalem is under Israel’s control, the implementation of the annexation plan will further enshrine the hegemony of the occupation, as the Israeli authorities have insisted on postponing negotiations on the future of the holy city and adding the file to the list of issues that will be discussed in the “final status” stage of the Oslo agreement. This allowed them to impose new procedures on the ground that led to a pivotal event, after US President Donald Trump announced the city as the capital of the Jewish state, more than a year ago.
The Jerusalemites are expressing alarming concerns about the occupation’s intention to change the demographic traits of the city after the approval of the annexation plan, by continuing the Judaisation process and the uprooting of the city’s residents at a faster pace, while covering up for its foul policies by a sense of “legitimacy” acquired by the US decisions in light of the deal of the century.
After annexing the lands of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, Jerusalemites are expecting that the Israeli authorities will proceed in changing the status of Jerusalem at a fast pace, starting with granting the occupation state the legitimacy of all decisions issued against the city and its Arab residents since 1967. In addition, there are fears that adopting new policies will aggravate the rift within the community, and establish larger Jewish settlements that would completely erase the Arab and Islamic identity of the holy city.
Israel’s secretive intentions to carry out a comprehensive change of the status of Jerusalem can be clearly depicted through the situation of the East Jerusalemites, who were ambushed by the authorities to unwillingly remain “stuck” with the status of residents rather than of citizens. This comes in addition to the occupation’s unfair handling of the Palestinians’ right to legally own real estate, which facilitates the expulsion of families from their homes under several pretexts, either for the absence of a building license, or failing to pay exorbitant taxes. In fact, confiscating houses and lands does not require significant legal justifications, especially since the authorities often take advantage of the owner’s absence to argue for expropriating their land or home.
The occupation’s goals are translated through a number of procedures and practices, including the violation of the Jerusalemites’ right to access neighbourhoods and areas with an Arab minority in the holy city, as the annexation plan requires the consecration of the essential ”larger land with less people”. However, East Jerusalem neighbourhoods were, and are still, overcrowded with Palestinians, which constitutes a fundamental problem for Israel.
The occupation state anticipated the annexation phase, which is described by its leaders as historical, through implementing policies and measures for many years on the ground with the aim of changing the features of the holy city. The most prominent step in this direction was to build the apartheid wall that cuts off Palestinian lands, including Jerusalem, in order to separate the settlements from Palestinian communities on the one hand, and East Jerusalem from the West Bank and Palestinian areas, on the other. The objective of this strategy was to bring about a change in the area’s demographic features in favour of the Jewish settlers.
The occupation strategy regarding the situation of the Palestinian population in the coming stage was voiced by Israeli leaders calling for the isolation of Palestinian areas and neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, east of the separation wall, and then working to transfer them to separate regional directorates under Israeli control, with the aim of preserving the Jewish majority of the population. This would serve as a model to unfold the essence of the entire annexation plan, which is to take over large parts of the West Bank and transfer the Palestinian residents, who will be considered as residents rather than citizens, to separate Israeli administrative units.
The Israeli frenzy to finalise the afore-detailed demarche appears in the final touches to prepare the last stage that precedes the annexation declaration by: “Implementing several plans to disperse Palestinian neighbourhoods in occupied Jerusalem, and to prevent geographical communication between the Arab communities, while continuing to build roads and move the existing barriers between settlements, to ensure that geographic connectivity between the Jewish residential areas that may tighten a demographic belt around Jerusalem from all sides,” according to Jerusalem affairs expert Fakhri Abu Diab, who described the occupation’s measures as a “silent annexation” in occupied Jerusalem.
The particular infrastructure project currently implemented by the occupation, including the railway line linking the coast to the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and paving the so-called “American Street”, to facilitate the passage from one settlement to the other, while systematically demolishing Palestinian homes, is telling about the future of the area under these extreme changes that will result in taking Jerusalemites out of the equation. Jerusalemites, after being isolated in areas where they lose their legal status and citizenship, may not even enjoy residents’ rights.
The holy city, which is suffering due to the actual application of a racist “apartheid” system that has been working on tearing the Arab Jerusalemite society apart and imposing extremely difficult social and economic conditions on them, stands as an epitome for the Palestinian people’s plight amid the annexation crisis. Jerusalemites have been fighting the occupation authorities on their own, who imposed a new reality on the ground over the years, and took advantage of an ideal opportunity that was created with regional and international complicity, to execute the recent crackdown on the rights of the Palestinians to their lands, resources and holy sites.
This bitter situation was further complicated by a series of shocks that ravaged the peace of Jerusalemites, as the occupation authorities are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic in the city to intensify the arrest campaigns, to distance the population, including many officials, from Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, and hampering the provision of medical assistance to combat the spread of the virus, in addition to speeding up the demolition of more houses.
Amid this crisis, Jerusalemites found no other solution but to stand alone in the face of the pandemic and confront the violations committed by the occupation, while hoping for a change in political balances in their favour, and a push of support from brotherly countries, as well as everyone with a vivid conscience. Jerusalem has become a leading humanitarian and liberation cause that no logic, pure instinct, or even basic principle of law, can accept half-solutions for.
Essam Youssef is the President of Nazaha Foundation for Humanitarian and Legal Work