RAMALLAH - By late Saturday afternoon hundreds of heavily armed Israeli security
forces on horseback and on foot had arrested over 20 Palestinians, assaulted
a handful of people, and prevented numerous festivities from taking place.
Police in riot gear on horseback charged at groups of Palestinian youths in
Salahadin Street, the major thoroughfare of Palestinian East Jerusalem, forcibly
Several Palestinian women handing out celebratory T-shirts at Damascus Gate
at the entrance to Jerusalem's Old City were arrested and taken in for questioning.
A football game affiliated with the culture festival was broken up as students
attempting to release balloons were arrested. A group of young girls gathered
at a local youth club were forcibly dispersed.
Earlier in the week police stormed a meeting of festival organizers, arresting
several participants and confiscating laptops, mobile phones, and files.
The Israeli police were following the orders of Israel's Public Security Minister
Avi Dichter to use whatever force was necessary to prevent the Palestinian
Authority (PA) from celebrating "Jerusalem as the capital of Arabic culture
The tough crackdown, on what on the surface appeared to be a harmless and
fun cultural event, underlines the growing conflict between the Israel government
and the PA over the division of the city between Israeli West Jerusalem and
Palestinian East Jerusalem.
Israel sees a united Jerusalem as its undivided capital forever. The Palestinians
want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Under international law, underpinned by various UN Security Council resolutions,
East Jerusalem is illegally occupied by Israel and belongs to the Palestinians.
Jerusalem is not recognized as the legitimate capital of Israel by any foreign
country, all of which base their embassies in Tel Aviv.
Following the breakout of the second Palestinian uprising (Intifada) in 2000,
Israel banned the PA from carrying out any activities in East Jerusalem as
competing claims over the future of the eastern part of the city exacerbated
The Palestinian population in East Jerusalem comprises 253,000 people, while
there are approximately 192,000 Israeli settlers residing there in 12 illegal
The war over East Jerusalem has been fought on a number of fronts and on various
levels since Israel captured the territory during the six-day Arab-Israeli
war in 1967.
One of the first laws implemented after the 1967 war was the Absentee Property
Law, which Israel used to expropriate Palestinian homes and property. Any Palestinian
who vacated his home, even on a temporary basis to escape the fighting or as a
result of expulsion, was designated an "absentee" landlord.
The "absentee" automatically lost ownership or the use of his or
her property, and the homes were subsequently often sold or rented to Jewish
Israelis. Since then the Jewish state has meticulously tried to establish facts
on the ground by Judaizing East Jerusalem with the establishment of settlements.
Jerusalem municipality has redrawn the city's municipal boundaries to incorporate
the illegal settlements.
The building of the separation barrier, which separates Israel proper from
the West Bank, has increased the number of Palestinians on the "wrong
side" of the barrier or wall, thereby further limiting a Palestinian presence.
Conservative UN figures estimate currently that about 25 percent of the Palestinians
living in East Jerusalem have been cut off from the city by the barrier.
Furthermore, Israeli rights organization B'Tselem states, "Palestinians
residing outside of Jerusalem for seven or more years lose their Jerusalem
residency status unless they can prove Jerusalem residency within the municipal
boundaries and the importance of the city in their daily life, which is imperative
in order to keep their identity cards."
In 2003, the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel law was enacted. This prevents
Palestinians from the territories from living in East Jerusalem, or Israel
proper, with their Palestinian spouses who may have Israeli citizenship or
Another tactic has been to limit the number of building permits for Palestinians,
forcing many to build illegally and then risk demolition by the authorities.
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) says there is currently
a housing shortage of more than 25,000 units in East Jerusalem. Palestinians
receive up to 300 permits annually, while 150 homes are simultaneously demolished.
Suhail Khalilieh, head of the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem (ARIJ)
settlement unit, told IPS that "even if Palestinians are fortunate enough
to get the permits, they are still restricted to building on only 25 percent
of their land."
Furthermore, B'Tselem explained that Palestinians account for only about 20
percent of illegal construction in the city, yet more than 75 percent of the
demolitions are carried out on Palestinian homes.
While Israel has been winning the war on the ground and in the media to date,
the tide may be turning.
Pressure from the new U.S. administration over Israel's planned demolition
of 88 Palestinian homes in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, among
others, might force the demolition orders to be frozen.
Furthermore, a report released by the EU in December accused Israel of using
settlement expansion, the security barrier in the West Bank, Palestinian house
demolitions, and discriminatory housing policies to gain control over East
Another boost has come from an unexpected quarter recently. Turkish officials,
at the behest of lawyers acting on behalf of Palestinian owners, have uncovered
archives going back to the Ottoman empire days (that ended in 1922) in Ankara
confirming that Palestinians are the owners of a number of homes in East Jerusalem.
The officials recently helped to trace documents which could end a 30-year-old
dispute over the ownership of around 30 buildings in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood
Hitherto, a number of Sephardic Jews (Jews from the Arab countries) claimed
to have legal documentation to prove their ownership.
The Palestinian owners had claimed for years that these documents were forged
but were unable to prove their case due to lack of cooperation from the Turks
who were hesitant to spoil their relationship with Israel prior to the Gaza
According to the Palestinians' attorneys, one of the Ottoman documents proves
that the Sephardic leadership never purchased the compound but only rented
it. Another Ottoman document confirms that the ownership document presented
by the Jewish party is not authentic.
Other dispossessed Palestinians have also claimed forgery was committed in
regard to their homes.
(Inter Press Service)