Monday, May 4, 2009

60,000 soon to be homeless in East Jerusalem?

In a Washington Post Foreign Service article of May 2, 2009, which was picked up by the Boston Globe, Howard Schneider reports on a U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs study, which finds that “60,000 Palestinians Risk Eviction in East Jerusalem.” (See here.)

60,000 Palestinians are threatened with eviction from East Jerusalem? How can that be? What have so many people done to deserve to live with such a threat hanging over their heads? Are they illegal aliens, perhaps? Did they live in Jerusalem without proper papers for all these years? Have rules of residency or other regulations been tightened that would warrant such an enforced exodus?

But, wait a minute: not
from East Jerusalem, but in East Jerusalem! 60,000 Palestinians are not to be evicted from East Jerusalem but merely from their houses! So why is this? Are they squatters? Are the houses unsafe? Or is someone else to live in their homes instead? Is this an initiative to make room for more Jewish housing? No, this isn’t it either, or not immediately, since the houses are not to be used at all. The houses, not the Palestinians, are illegal since they were built without a permit. When a house is built without a permit, the state or the municipality may be legally obliged to demolish it. After all, part of orderly city development is to issue or deny permits, based on the common good of all citizens. To allow residents to build without permit means anarchy.

Now, it has long been known that many of the houses that were built in and around the very small and somewhat declining Jordanian municipality that existed from 1949 until June of 1967 were built without permit. The U.N. OCHA report mentioned in the Washington Post article finally puts a number on it. Within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, boundaries vastly extended after June 1967, 60,000 individuals are now threatened with eviction and housing demolition should the State of Israel decide to enforce its laws. Enforcement of such a draconian law is a matter of politics. It is not a matter of municipal planning, but it, like many other political issues, emanates from the government of the state. Housing policy for Jerusalem is made by the Israeli cabinet, not by the municipality. It is a matter of national interest.

It is therefore extremely disingenuous to dissimulate, claim otherwise, and blame the Arab residents of Jerusalem for their own situation, as Yigal Palmor, a Foreign Ministry spokesman quoted at the end of the Washington Post article does when he says as follows.
But it "is not part of some all-encompassing government plan to do this or that," said Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "It is municipal policy."

Arab residents of East Jerusalem traditionally have boycotted municipal elections on the grounds that they are living under an occupation. "If they are not trying to influence the municipal policy from within, which they can do," Palmor said, "then they cannot complain."
The problem is, if Arab residents (a minority of about a third of the population of Jerusalem today) decided to participate in municipal elections, they would legitimize the policies the majority imposes on the minority; they would accept the legitimacy of Israeli claims to a united Jerusalem; they would therefore merely put their signature under their eviction from their homes. At least, if they must be homeless in Jerusalem, let them keep their pride!

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