RAMALLAH Feb. 9 (JMCC) - Ali al-Kurd owns real estate in strategic locations around Jerusalem
. Over time, his business as a money changer has collapsed and his income has declined.
A sure route to a quick fortune would be to sell his Jerusalem properties, al-Kurd muses, but he believes that the costs of doing so are far higher than he can afford.
“I’m trying to preserve my properties,” he says. “Most of them are in strategic locations. I will not sell, but I scream out for help and only settlers respond.”
Pressure from Israeli settlement groups to buy and build in Jerusalem has driven up real estate prices in the city.
“They are willing to pay multiple times the original price to take over my and other Jerusalemites’ properties.” He estimates he could raise $50 million were he to sell the properties to Israeli settlers.
Al-Kurd goes on: “The point is - who owns more, has more control over Jerusalem.”
That political fact prevents al-Kurd from selling to the highest bidder. Palestinians who do sell can risk their lives or reputations, as the stigma against selling is so great.
Al-Kurd is not alone, say observers. Israeli “measures give Jerusalemites the choice of selling, leaving, or living under humiliating circumstances,” says Khalil Tafakji, head of the Mapping Department at the Arab Studies Society.
Jerusalem has effectively lost some 125,000 of its original 280,000 Arab residents since the Wall that Israel is constructing through Jerusalem severs them from its heart. ‘Neighborhoods like Kufr Aqab, Samiramis, al-Ram, parts of Shufat, Beit Hanina and Abu Dis are all part of East Jerusalem district, but located outside the Wall demarcating the city’s borders.’
Some data suggests that more than 10,000 Jerusalemites could lose their identity cards under regulations that require proof that one’s “center of life” is in the city.
“We are about to lose the Arab-ness of Jerusalem,” Tufakji goes on. He estimates that in only a few years, Arab Palestinians will make up only 12 percent of the city’s residents.
“Through home demolitions, construction on the Wall, and the revocation of identification papers, the city is being turned into a big Arab-free settlement.”
This minority will be likely to accept Israeli nationality, Tufakji says, rather than acquire a Palestinian nationality and residency in a city controlled by Israeli security institutions.
“It’s a purely demographic equation that doesn’t require much thought. With the expansion of Jewish neighborhoods and an increase in construction, there will be over 500,000 settlers in East Jerusalem.”
Palestinian officials admit that they are losing the race against time.
“All we can do is persevere in the city until then,” says Hatem Abdul Qader, Fatah leader in the city. “With the Palestinian Authority's limitations, international detachment and Arab weakness, we will one day long to call this al-Quds. Instead, we will call it the ‘settlement of Jerusalem’ - vacant of Muslim, Christian, Armenian and Arab residents.”
Abdel Qader reportedly resigned his position as minister over what he believed was official apathy over East Jerusalem’s dire straits.
Battered by the winds of change, Palestinians like al-Kurd are trying to hold fast.
“My properties are all under threat of being stolen or ‘bought’ with forged papers,” says al-Kurd.
“Some people tell me to sell and take the money since the Palestinian Authority will not help. But I will not surrender a single grain of soil, even though I am drowning in debt.”