I'm blogging from Human Rights Under Fire: A Jewish Call to Action, Rabbis for Human Rights - North America's third conference on Judaism and human rights.
Break-out session: The Crisis in East Jerusalem
This session is led by Maya Wind, Columbia University; Ruth Carmi, New Israel Fund; and Wendy Zerin, Congregation Nevei Kodesh.
Maya Wind begins by showing us a map of Jerusalem, explaining the Green Line and the various definitions of East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem. In 1967 came the unification of Jerusalem. She shows us the old city walls of Jerusalem; the Old City is east of the Green Line, which means that early on, the Israeli authorities were clear that they didn't want to leave the old city (with the Western Wall) under Palestinian control. The old city is only 1 square kilometer, but Israel wound up annexing 70 square km into the municipal border of Jerusalem.
"What happened to the Palestinians living there? Today there are 740,000 people in Jerusalem; 36% are Palestinians living in East Jerusalem." They have a special ID; they have a residency permit, a unique status only for East Jerusalem Palestinians. They can technically, by law, receive social services and benefits from the municipality, and can travel freely in Israel, which their counterparts in the West Bank cannot do. The map she's showing us also shows settlements; there are 200,000 settlers living in one area to which she points. There are also more disputed settlements, in an area the settlers call the "Holy Basin," a ring around the Old City. The settlers have targeted this area specifically because should Jerusalem be divided, they want to ensure that the Old City remains within Israel. This is where we find Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, etc.
Four main issues faced by Palestinians in East Jerusalem, says Wind, are: 1) settlement expansion, in the Holy Basin and around East Jerusalem. The consequence of this expansion is displacement; settlements may be built atop the former houses of Palestinians. Also harassment. Some of the settlers are here for theological reasons, not economic ones, and they can be hostile and quite violent to Palestinians. 2) House demolitions. Much of this land is called "green land" in Israeli law; it's technically public land, which means it's difficult to get a building permit. The Israeli government has not granted zoning plans since 1967; with no zoning plan, there can be no legal house-building. So Palestinians have no ability to build legally. They build illegally without a permit, which means the Israeli municipality can demolish their homes and also fine them for the privilege. 22,000 houses in East Jerusalem are considered illegal, of which 6,000 have pending demolition orders.
The third issue faced by Palestinians in East Jerusalem is budget discrimination. They pay land tax, arnona, to the city, but receive only 7.2 percent of the budget. This means that there's a severe lack of infrastructure, facilities, schools, clinics, etc. And the fourth issue faced by Palestinians in East Jerusalem are arrests of children. There are many demonstrations going on, and "one of the results of the political unrest in the area is that Israeli forces are arresting people, including small children," Wind says, "which is against international law." This whirlwind tour we've been given is, she says, "East Jerusalem 101."