Palestinian geographer Khaili Tufukji walks the streets of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem every day, carefully noting the dizzying Israeli construction. He documents cases of demolished and seized houses, follows up on land confiscations, studies new archaeological and historical claims, and tries to decipher the meaning and extent of Israeli government plans for Jewish settlement in the city, a city Arabs consider the capital of Palestine. Most of Israel’s plans are secret, like the West Silwan map section of ‘Ain-M-9, Israel’s general plan for East Jerusalem. [1] Details dribble into the Israeli press as soon as government approval is guaranteed and funds secured. Some plans, such as the forced takeover of Palestinian houses in the Old City, Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods, are only made known in the middle of the night when police barricades are thrown up, barbed wire is strung and Palestinian families are flung out. But Israel’s view of the future is clear enough to Palestinian and Israeli alike. “You want to have one Jerusalem all right,” Tufukji says to a group of Israelis who had been trying to coopt Palestinians into city planning, “but it is an Israeli Jerusalem.” [2]

Washington needs no satellite photos to see the changes Israel has most recently carved into occupied East Jerusalem, in violation of the sensibilities of its Arab residents as well as international laws and guarantees protecting the status of the city. Within one block of the US Consulate lies Road 1, Israel’s new north-south artery built on the 1967 border’s no man’s land and opened in October 1991 to bind East and West Jerusalem together in a seamless whole. More than $50 billion will be spent developing roads in the city over the next three years, “to ensure the city remains the country’s unified capital,” according to Transport Minister Moshe Katsav. [3]

The eight-lane highway sweeps several kilometers north from Damascus Gate outside the Old City, past the Israeli police headquarters to French Hill, a settlement that goes back to 1968. Eventually it will extend to the midst of the huge Neve Yaacov settlement. There the highway connects to roadways which run eastward to the Maale Adumin settlement-city, halfway to the Dead Sea, and westward toward Tel Aviv. Road 1 bypasses the narrow, knotty streets of Sheikh Jarrah and Wadi Jawz. Later it will bypass the highway stretch from Shu‘fat to Bayt Hanina, which had forced Israelis in north Jerusalem settlements to drive through Palestinian neighborhoods in their commute to West Jerusalem. Within the decade, says Deputy Mayor Moshe Amirav, the eastern beltway will thread in and out of Jerusalem’s municipal borders to tie together the newer settlements in an outer ring around the city. [4]

The highway grid, like others in the West Bank, has the express purpose of connecting Israeli settlements while surrounding and confining Palestinian neighborhoods. Road 1 is the first major piece of infrastructure for their future ghettoization which Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have been forced to confront.

Watching their city change has caused grief among Palestinians, but there has been little visible reaction. The young daily toss stones and occasionally lob an ill-constructed Molotov at Bus 25, but even this bus no longer needs its military jeep escort to maneuver past the Palestinian neighborhoods on its way to Neve Yaacov. There have been regular car burnings and infamous stabbing incidents. But in 1991, resistance to Israeli settlement activity in East Jerusalem so far appears to have been overpowered by the sheer speed and magnitude of the Judaization. The Palestinian community, including its leadership, seems withdrawn and confused; not defeated but without the resources to face the multiple fronts opened by the Israeli government. For Israel, Jerusalem is the priority issue, separate and non-negotiable; for Palestinians, Jerusalem is an integral part of the Occupied Territories, an essential component of a political solution. Deputy Mayor Amirav would like to use the threat of Israeli plans to goad Palestinians into acquiescing to modified development schemes today. Palestinians insist that political control must be in Palestinian hands before development can be discussed.

Civil engineer ‘Abdallah ‘Abdallah views Israel’s “unification” efforts in Jerusalem as identical to its settlement policy of “establishing Jewish presence.” [5] One example is the transfer of government offices to eastern quarters. In staid, residential Sheikh Jarrah, dotted with consulates, hospitals, hotels and Palestinian institutions, bulldozers began leveling land last October for an eight-story Israeli border guard complex, complete with underground detention cells. [6] This lies at the entry point for West Bank traffic into East Jerusalem. A Shinbet center was established the year before across the road. The Ministry of Police headquarters occupies an entire block where Road 1 now ends. The Foreign, Interior and Justice Ministries also have East Jerusalem offices, guarded by police in knife-proof vests.

‘Abdallah catalogues other signs of Israel’s colonization: the migration of labor out of East Jerusalem to settlement construction and to West Jerusalem; the lack of basic infrastructure in Palestinian areas; an unfair tax system and confusing legal system which discriminates against Palestinians; seizure of basic resources (land, water, property, electricity); archaeological confiscations; denial of Arabic language and culture; and restrictions on religious institutions. Even normally quiescent Christian leaders in Jerusalem — the heads of nine major churches, including the three patriarchs of the Latin, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches — have called for international protection after Road 1 engineers unearthed, and then quickly paved over, sixth-century Byzantine church ruins. Church leaders accused Israeli officials of “disappearing” Christian sites while excavating Jewish ones in Silwan.

Transport Minister Katsav puts his government’s aims bluntly: “Israel’s enemies have tried to question Israel’s authority over Jerusalem. Jerusalem is not a subject for discussion.” [7] Israel’s race against the negotiations clock is obvious: A tour of northeast Jerusalem shows granite waves of apartment block shells, one after another, on roads hastily gouged from the West Bank hillsides. The scene resembles a chicken farm with rows and rows of cages, guaranteeing the demographic changes Israel has threatened.

“The stone is from Hebron. The workers are Palestinian. The money was made possible by US aid, directly or indirectly. And the people who will live there are from the Soviet Union,” says Ibrahim Matar, a Palestinian development expert. Forty thousand housing units are expected to be completed in the next eight years in the Jerusalem area, half within two years. This will boost the Israeli settler population of East Jerusalem to more than 200,000, well past the Palestinian population. [8]

East Jerusalem’s first mobile home settlement, Givat Hamatos, appeared instantly in mid-October 1991 in the form of 300 duplex prefabs. Older settlements such as Ramot and Neve Yaacov in the north and Gilo in the south are being expanded, as is Maale Adumim, the largest settlement in the West Bank with a population of 15,750, just over Jerusalem’s eastern border. [9] Israeli planners are discussing annexing Maale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev (population 6,850) to Jerusalem to further increase the city’s Jewish population.

Inside the Old City, an effective micro-settlement process is fast gaining momentum. In al-Wad, Bab al-Hutta and ‘Aqabat al-Khalidiyya, more than 30 homes and buildings have already been taken over in an aggressive Israeli settlement campaign to break up the Muslim Quarter and force out Palestinians. Ateret Cohanim spearheads settlement activity in the Muslim Quarter and claims more than 250 Palestinian homes are under direct Israeli government or private control. [10]

Right-wing parties demanded $4 million from Shamir’s 1992 budget expressly to purchase Arab houses in East Jerusalem. [11] The administrative methods used by Israel to seize Palestinian property in Jerusalem are complicated. They include forged sales, the transfer of “absentee” property to the state, manipulation of Arab inheritance customs, tax trickery, bribery and force. Israeli law prevents Palestinians from reclaiming homes they owned in West Jerusalem when they were forced to flee in 1948, but protects the right of Jews returning to property rented, for example, in the 1920s.

In Silwan, where several trips by settlers, Knesset members and police were needed to rout the first handful of Palestinians from their homes in late 1991, a young woman settler sits smiling doll-like in the sun, rolling an empty baby carriage back and forth on the veranda of her new home — a home taken from the ‘Abbasi family one month before. She waves her hand in the air at the idea that she has made anyone homeless. “The Arabs made a lot of money by selling this house,” she says. “They are rich. They don’t care about the furniture still inside. Anyway, Arabs want to kill Jews even just for looking at their houses. This is the City of David. Jews should be here.” Musa ‘Abbasi and his family now live in an adjacent house, cramped into two small rooms, his ancestral house lost. He paces nervously and wonders aloud, “Where will this end? When will they stop wanting?” [12]

The grandfather of Fatima Qara‘in built a simple two-story stone house in 1933 with a large balcony overlooking the Silwan valley — “with his own hands and blood,” Qara‘in says proudly. The house is strategic to Israeli designs for the area, which include a museum, parking lot and new road to service City of David excavations directly below the house. An Israeli court has delayed announcing whether Qara‘in or a group of Israeli settlers has the right to live in the house. Meanwhile, the house is sealed. Qara‘in and her husband and four children now live with neighbors. Her few olive and lemon trees have been encircled with new concertina wire. Three other houses on the western hill of Silwan were taken over by settlers on the same night last October. Although they have been uninhabited for years, off limits for Arab residents, the takeover occurred in as provocative a manner as possible. Settler commandos charged in at night, backed by police and reporters, on the anniversary of the 1990 al-Aqsa massacre.

Faisal Husseini, Jerusalem’s most prominent Palestinian leader, has called for Palestinians to take active steps to confront settlers’ takeover of their neighborhoods. [13] The ‘Aqabat Khalidiyya Committee and the Committee for the Defense of Land in Silwan, for example, secure legal representation for families fighting takeovers in court. The committee also serves as community spokespeople, raises funds to rehabilitate houses, populates empty houses and improves services with local cooperation.

At 6 am on an ice-cold January morning, East Jerusalem’s lone newspaper hawker boards a Red Cross bus crammed with families bound for prisons inside Israel on visiting day. He is an energetic antidote for the already tired families as he sarcastically calls out: “This is the news. Liars! They’ve sold Ra’s al-‘Amud and ‘Azzariyya and Bab al-Hutta! News.” [14] Only a few people are willing to dole out the shekel for the issue of al-Quds. More look quizzically at their neighbors to see how much of this news should be believed.

The legacy of forced Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem may lie a bit farther into the future, when tensions cannot be controlled by Israeli security forces and the promise of peace negotiations break down altogether. “We are driving the Arabs crazy here, and making them hate us,” said Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, in criticizing the Silwan takeover. A US diplomat visiting Jerusalem could only make the dismissive analogy of Palestinians being like Israel’s “Indians, stuck on reservations.” [15]


[1] ‘Ain-M-9 is the general planning map for East Jerusalem created in 1968 and revised in 1976. Parts relating to crowded Palestinian neighborhoods have been kept secret to preclude the possibility of residents’ lodging formal objections.
[2] At a forum of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information on the “Future of Jerusalem,” chaired by Moshe Amirav and Hanna Siniora.
[3] Jerusalem Post, October 2, 1991; Israel Radio (English), October 26, 1991.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Interview.
[6] Kol Ha’ir, November 1, 1991.
[7] Jerusalem Post, October 2, 1991.
[8] Israeli Settlement and its Consequences, 1991 (Jerusalem: Palestine Human Rights Information Center, June-July 1991).
[9] Ha’aretz, December 27, 1991.
[10] Jerusalem Post, October 24, 1991.
[11] Israel Radio (English), January 1, 1992.
[12] Interview.
[13] Al-Fajr, December 16, 1991.
[14] Palestinian areas of Jerusalem near the Jewish Quarter.
[15] Personal comment made to author.

How to cite this article:

Anita Vitullo Khoury "Erasing Arab Jerusalem," Middle East Report 175 (March/April 1992).

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