The Tragedy of Occupied Arab East Jerusalem

Last Sunday (July 10, 2005) the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published a news story, which was ignored by the Canadian media. The headline was “55,000 Palestinians to be cutoff by Jerusalem fence”. The paper reported that an Israeli separation fence, to be completed by September, will cut off some 55,000 Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians, residents of Arab East Jerusalem from the rest of the city. “The number includes more 3,000 school children, who will have to pass through the fence in order to get to school,” the paper continued.

Arab East Jerusalem, including the Walled Old City, has been under Israeli occupation for 38 years.

During that time, Israeli authorities managed to manipulate most mainstream Western media into dropping the more accurate name of "Arab East Jerusalem." But this does not change the legal, moral, or historical facts — AEJ is part of the West Bank, which has been illegally occupied by Israel since June, 1967.

Nearly 10 years ago, in November 1995, I went on a personal pilgrimage to AEJ’s Muslim holy places. My visit was tragically interrupted by the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin by an Israeli Jew.

Since 1967 Israel — in defiance of international laws governing the behavior of occupying powers toward their occupied peoples -” has demolished more than 2,000 Palestinian homes in AEJ alone, under the pretext that they were constructed without a license.

Jewish settlers have also seized and occupied more than 70 Palestinian properties within the historic Old City precincts, most of which are located adjacent to Muslim holy places.

In the meantime, Israel has confiscated some 20,000 dunums of Palestinian owned land — more than one third of the area of AEJ — for the construction of Jewish settlements. In 2001 alone, the Israeli Construction and Housing Ministry earmarked more than $5 million for Jewish settler security in AEJ.

As a result of this continual destruction, dislocation and incursion, Palestinian residents of Arab East Jerusalem live a miserable life. They are classified as "permanent residents" in the state of Israel. Israel nevertheless treats these Palestinians as "immigrants," although they were born in Arab East Jerusalem, live in the city, and have no other home.

Any Palestinian living in AEJ (whether Muslim or Christian) who marries another Palestinian from outside the city boundaries, is forbidden to return to AEJ once s/he leaves. Between 1967 and 2001, this insidious Israeli policy of "quiet deportation" from AEJ has resulted in the revocation of more than 6,000 identity cards of former Palestinian residents of the city. This figure doesn’t include more thousands of their dependent children. Similarly, Palestinians living in the West Bank outside AEJ cannot visit the city freely.

Israel’s "Greater Jerusalem" plan is aimed at strengthening the Zionist vision of a metropolitan Jerusalem that covers 30 per cent of the West Bank. Less than one quarter of the land area in this exclusionary plan lies within pre-1967 Israeli borders.

Palestinian Naif Abu Mayaleh, 51, who owns two little shops in the Muslim Quarter of the Walled Old City in AEJ, recently reported that a Jewish settler organization offered him a blank cheque, plane tickets, and U.S. visas in exchange for his properties.

"My people have paid for this city with their blood. I cannot, I will not, sell to these people," he said. Having refused to sell his properties, Abu Mayaleh has been victimized by a campaign of terror waged by the settlers. He spoke of how they physically abused him and vandalized his shops on countless occasions throughout the past 26 years.

Israeli policies are aimed at creating new de facto realities on the ground, which will affect the outcome of peace negotiations on the final status of Occupied AEJ in Israel’s favor.

But here is another brutal irony. Despite the Crusaders’ massacre of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Jewish inhabitants, it was Salaheddin (or Saladin) the Arab Muslim leader, who restored Jewish presence in the city, and admitted Jews who were fleeing persecution in Christian Europe.

Today, unfortunately, it does not matter one iota that numerous Palestinians — some still living in Jerusalem, and others in Diaspora communities, including Canada — can retrace in their minds the steps they took from their front doors to their olive groves, years ago. What matters is that they can no longer walk those paths, because the houses and olive groves of their heritage have been cruelly bulldozed into oblivion.