Israeli border policemen perform a body search on a Palestinian man at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem Old City [File: Reuters]
US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he will recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is unprecedented, but the reality is that Israel has been actively working on the ground for decades to reflect that recognition.
Israel illegally occupied Palestinian territories in the 1967 war, inclduing East Jerusalem in defiance of the international community, and wasted no time in declaring the city as its “eternal, undivided” capital.
This meant that it extended its law to East Jerusalem and claimed it as part of Israel, a move that no country in the world recognised, including up until recently the US, citing international law which states that an occupying power does not have sovereignty in the territory it occupies.
Teddy Kollek, the mayor of the contested city, said in 1968: “The object is to ensure that all of Jerusalem remains forever a part of Israel. If this city is to be our capital, then we have to make it an integral part of our country, and we need Jewish inhabitants to do that.”
In 1980, Israel formalised its annexation of the eastern half of the city when it passed the Jerusalem Law, claiming that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel”.
To hammer the point in, all of the branches of the Israeli government institutions, including the parliament, or Knesset, and the Supreme Court are located in Jerusalem.
Settlers and settlements
Using a series of measures that involve massive land grabs, rapid construction of Jewish settlements, and the imposition of a repressive system on Palestinians designed to stifle their daily lives and push them out of the city, the Israeli state has managed to change the demographic makeup of occupied East Jerusalem and entrench their control over it.
Today, 86 percent of East Jerusalem is under direct control of the Israeli authorities and Jewish settlers. Around 200,000 settlers live in settlements that have been mostly built either entirely or partially on private Palestinian property.
|US President Donald Trump, talks on a podium at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in May [Reuters]|
Of that number, 2,000 settlers live in the midst of Palestinian neighbourhoods under army protection.
Based on the law in the West Bank, a state is only allowed to expropriate private land for public Palestinian needs.
Israel uses this law, however, to confiscate private land for building Jewish-only settlement roads, connecting them with one another and to Israel. In this way 12 settlements were built in East Jerusalem on Palestinian property declared for “public needs”.
The separation wall, which Israel started building in 2002, snakes through the West Bank territory, dividing villages, encircling towns and splitting families from each other.
It has also impacted Palestinian Jerusalemites: more than 140,000 residents living in Jerusalem neighbuorhoods are disconnected from the rest of the city and as a result, suffer from a severe lack of basic services and infrastructure.
Moreover, Israeli lawmakers are now making moves to annex three large settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank to the Israeli-defined boundaries of Jerusalem.
The so-called “Greater Jerusalem bill” would see the addition of 140,000 Jewish Israelis who live in these settlements to the population of Jerusalem, to ensure a Jewish majority in the city.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem are considered permanent residents of the Israeli state. As such, they require building permits from the municipality. But Jerusalemites are almost never granted these permits, forcing them to build houses without them.
Palestinian organisations and businesses also require permits and licenses from the municipality to operate in Jerusalem. These applications are also often rejected.
Between 2016 and 2017, about 59 non-residential buildings were torn down.
To date, more than 20,000 housing units have been built without permits in East Jerusalem. The construction of these homes have increased over the past 10 years, due to the municipality’s neglect of the area.
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Last year, some 88 homes were destroyed, leaving 295 people without shelter. Over the past decade, more than 2,600 people have been rendered homeless after their houses were demolished.
The local and district planning authorities have failed in delivering a plan to develop the eastern part of the city. The halt in planning has also been accompanied by a drastic rise in home demolition orders in East Jerusalem.
Israeli authorities claim buildings lack the necessary permits, which residents say is impossible to obtain.
Lack of infrastructure and municipal services
Out of Jerusalem’s 324,000 Palestinians, only 59 percent of them are connected to the city’s official water grid.
Some 140,000 of residents are disconnected from the rest of the city due to the separation wall that cuts through Palestinian neighbourhoods.
The issue of lack of access to water and other services, including public transportation, was exacerbated due to the planning freeze. This hindered the development of East Jerusalem to a large extent, while population growth continued to grow over the years.
Palestinians in the area thus do not have access to adequate sewage system either. The eastern part of the city has a shortage of sewage pipes, but the municipality has not worked quickly enough to accommodate the residents’ needs.
Some neighbourhoods have not had a single outline plan approved since the area’s annexation in 1967.
Palestinian residential statuses
The Israeli government has also worked on imposing a greater Jewish majority in East Jerusalem at a ratio of 70-30 to prevent the realisation of Palestinian national aspirations in the city.
Since 1967, Israel has revoked the residency status of 14,595 Palestinians in Jerusalem. Palestinian holders of the Jerusalem IDs live under the constant threat of residency revocation.
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For instance, residing outside Jerusalem in the other occupied territories is considered sufficient grounds for Israel to annul a permit.
For financial and family reasons, many Jerusalemites live in the occupied West Bank, but they must maintain a house within Jerusalem’s municipality to keep their residency. Israeli authorities regularly conduct random inspections of households in Jerusalem to verify if they actually live there.
Moreover, Palestinians in Jerusalem are required to pay taxes, such as the national insurance tax, for services they barely receive. This is in contravention of international law, which considers East Jerusalem as occupied territory and thus, Israeli law should not be applied to the area.
The Arnona municipal tax has been imposed on residents of the city since 1967. It is widely seen as a form of discrimination as it affects Palestinians disproportionally. With the rates highest for East Jerusalem, Arnona taxes can exceed the annual rent of low-income families.
Businesses are also subject to Arnona taxes. The rate applicable to each business correlates with the size of the property and not its economic revenue.
If Palestinians are unable to pay, they risk facing penalty fines and even imprisonment.
The system has strenuously placed pressure on Palestinians, forcing many to relocate to the occupied West Bank.