Sunday, July 12, 2020

East Jerusalem park prevents expansion of two Palestinian neighborhoods

By Lien S. - December 03, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Hebron] [settlements] [Settlers]

View Across Issawiya looking towards Mt Scopus, the potential site for the national park. Photo by Calum Toogood.


On Thursday 14 November, the Israeli District Planning and Construction Committee ordered plans to construct a national park on lands belonging to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Al-Issawiyyeh and A-Tur. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) condemned the decision, stating that the construction of the park would confiscate 740 dunums of Palestinian land foreseen for the expansion of the neighborhoods.

The plan for the establishment of the national park was submitted to the planning committee in July 2009 by the Israeli Municipality in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and was approved in April 2011. 

Muhammad Abu Al-Hummus, member of Al-Issawiyyeh’s local committee sees the current developments as part of the ongoing demographic war in Jerusalem. “The more Palestinians are living in Jerusalem, the easier it is to claim our rights to the city, so Israel wants to make it harder for us to expand and to attract more settlers.”

“Value” of the park

Israel states that the park is needed to preserve the archaeological and ecological value of the site and claims that the area constitutes “an integral part of the Israeli cultural heritage.” Activists, however, declared that the area is of no special natural or archeological value and that the only aim of the park is to prevent expansion of the two Palestinian neighborhoods.

Abu Al-Hummus agrees that the aim of the project is to deny the people from A-Tur and Al-Issawiyyeh the opportunity to expand their neighborhoods, while making money off of the tourists Israel could attract when making some investments in the site.

On 30 September, Haaretz revealed that a Parks Authority employee at the national park was recorded while saying, “the idea is to protect all of these slopes as open space. Especially that the communities not expand into it … it creates a corridor that leaves us the view of the whole ascent to Jerusalem. From a historical point of view, this is the pilgrims’ road.”

Separating Palestinian neighborhoods

On the one hand, the park would link Israel’s Hebrew University in East Jerusalem with the main street of Ma’aleh Adummim settlement, and in doing so, would create a geographical link between Jerusalem and the illegal West Bank settlement. On the other hand, it would further separate Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem from the West Bank.

The establishment of the park is part of Israel’s E1 plan that, according to the United Nations, would “complete the encircling of East Jerusalem and cut the West Bank into two parts.” Ir Amim, an Israeli non-profit organization focused on Jerusalem, points out that the main traffic artery connecting the north of the West Bank to the south runs through E1.  

The Facebook group, Stop the "Mount Scopus Slopes" National Park Project, warns that if Israeli activity in area E1 seals off the West Bank from all of Jerusalem, the option of a Palestinian state in the West Bank with its capital in East Jerusalem will be made impossible. 

 Muhammad Abu Al-Hummus, member of Al-Issawiyyeh’s local committee. Photo by Calum Toogood.

Palestinian neighborhoods cramped

The establishment of the park would worsen the shortage of Palestinian houses and infrastructure for the growing population. “The neighborhood is crowded. It needs land to expand,” a social activist from Al-Issawiyyeh told the Palestine Monitor. “Al-Issawiyyeh needs four new schools, but there is no space to build them or for the children to play or room for a community center or cemetery. We have land, but we are not allowed to use it.”

Another activist adds that “ten years ago this place felt like a village, now it feels like a camp: crowded and not a healthy place to live as a community. Having a private life is not possible. If I sneeze, my neighbor will say 'bless you.’”

According to the Palestine News Network (PNN), there is currently a shortage of 46,000 housing units in East Jerusalem and Israel’s routine refusal to grant building permits creates social, psychological and economical problems.

 Muhammad Abu Al-Hummus, member of Al-Issawiyyeh’s local committee. Photo by Calum Toogood.

 Home demolitions: “We can’t live in the sky”

Even before plans for the park were approved in December 2011 by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee, Israel already established facts on the ground.

“In order to establish the national park, they have already started carrying out demolitions,” Muhammad Abu Al-Hummus relates. “About 20 structures have been destroyed in A-Tur so far and about 7 in Al-Issawiyyeh.” 

“Al-Issawiyyeh is surrounded by the Hebrew University, three settlements and a military base. If they could, they would demolish all of the neighborhood, but they can’t, so they want to make sure that at least it doesn’t expand,” Abu Al-Hummus explains. “Where should we go? We can’t live in the sky and we’re not allowed to build again.”

Al-Issawiyyeh’s social activists explain that Israel refuses to issue permits for them to build on their land. When they are in need of extra rooms and have no option but to build without a permit, Israel demolishes the structures or fines them. “I have to pay a 192,000 shekels fine for my house. For this money I could be renting a nice house with a good view, but I am not leaving my land. My grandfather used to live here. It would be easier to pack up and go, but I feel connected to this land.”

“Refugees in our own country”

PCHR stresses that East Jerusalem is occupied territory and that all the measures taken by the Israeli authorities following the 1967 occupation do not change this legal status. Israel is violating international humanitarian law by confiscating land and constructing settlements. 

“Right now there are peace talks again, but should we sacrifice our souls for peace while all Israel does is take more land?” one of Al-Issawiyyeh’s social activists told the Palestine Monitor. “Israel gave us residency rights in Jerusalem, not citizenship rights and they can expel us if they want. We are refugees in our own country.” 

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