JERUSALEM, Feb 8 (JMCC) - Approximately 30 people gathered in front of the Jerusalem municipality Monday, denouncing the recent decision to approve two new Jewish-only settlements
in the East Jerusalem
neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah
The Jerusalem Municipal Committee for Planning and Building sanctioned the construction of 13 housing units – to be built in two separate buildings – reserved exclusively for Jewish families Monday morning.
Holding signs that read “Stop settlement in East Jerusalem” and “Illegal settlements in East Jerusalem = obstacle to peace,” Palestinian, Israeli and international demonstrators condemned the project, which many argued adds fuel to the fire already burning in the neighborhood.
“Today I’m here because the situation of Sheikh Jarrah is going from bad to worse,” said Nasser al-Ghawi, a Palestinian resident of Sheikh Jarrah, during the demonstration.
In August 2009, al-Ghawi and his extended family were evicted from their homes. Since then, he has participated in the weekly demonstrations against ongoing settlement expansion in Sheikh Jarrah.
“They started to implement the plan of these settlements in Sheikh Jarrah when they evicted our family on the 2nd of August, 2009. They evicted 37 people in my family, and [the settlers] occupied the houses after one hour,” al-Ghawi explained.
The settlement project approved Monday would involve the destruction of three buildings that presently house Palestinian families in the Umm Haroun area of Sheikh Jarrah. Two new buildings – one with ten apartments, the other with three – would then be built in their place.
The project must receive final approval from the Ministry of Interior's District Planning and Construction Committee before construction can begin, however.
According to the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz, the companies sponsoring the project are based in the United States. Chaim Silverstein, a well-known entrepreneur in Jerusalem with ties to right-wing settlement organizations, submitted the plans to the municipality for approval.
SETTLEMENT TO GROW
Built in the 1950s by the United Nations Relief and Work Agency
and the Jordanian government to house Palestinian refugees from the 1947-48 war, Sheikh Jarrah is one of the major hotbeds of settlement activity in East Jerusalem.
Israeli settlers claim that they purchased land in the neighborhood during the Ottoman period. In 1972, they succeeded in registering this claim with the Israeli Land Registrar and have since then forced Palestinian residents to regularly deal with land ownership and residency rights issues.
To date, Israeli settlers have forced three Palestinian families – totaling over 75 people – from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Settler-related real estate company Nahalat Shimon International aims to evict 500 Palestinians in order to build a 200-unit, Jewish-only settlement, called Shimon HaTzadik, in the neighborhood.
Despite international condemnation, previous evictions in Sheikh Jarrah have gone ahead without much difficulty, in large part due to approval and help from the Jerusalem municipality, the Israeli police forces and the Israeli court system.
Indeed, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the settlers claim that Jewish families had lived in Sheikh Jarrah under Ottoman rule, and authorized the eviction of the al-Ghawi family.
In an October 2010 report issued by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the organization stated that forcible evictions in Sheikh Jarrah raise concern about Israel’s respect for international humanitarian and human rights law.
“These include the general obligation of the occupying power to protect the civilian population as well as the prohibitions against changing the laws in occupied territory; against the transfer of a settler population into occupied territory; against forced displacement and destruction of private property; and against discrimination on national, racial or ethnic grounds,” the report stated.OCHA
estimated that in 2009 alone, 380 Palestinian, including more than 90 children, were forcibly displaced in East Jerusalem, while another 190 were also affected. Approximately 1,500 demolition orders are pending in East Jerusalem, which could potentially impact thousands more Palestinian residents.
According to Nasser al-Ghawi, the Jerusalem municipality’s continued aggressive policies signal a clear intention: to forcibly transfer Palestinian residents from East Jerusalem.
“They want to evict the Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah to build 250 houses for the settlers,” Nasser al-Ghawi said at the demonstration on Monday. “I’m here to say no for this project to transfer the Palestinian people and to build settlements in Sheikh Jarrah.”