|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
9 -15 November 2000
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Cairo Book Fair
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Strategies of defiance
-- Majallat Al-Dirasat Al-Filastiniya [Journal of Palestine Studies], Arabic Quarterly, Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, Summer 2000
-- Nahw Istratijiya Filastiniya Tigah Al-Quds, [A Palestinian Strategy Towards Jerusalem], Saleh Abdel-Jawwad, ed., Birzeit, Palestine: Birzeit University Press, 1998. pp435
At one point during the Camp David II talks, it seemed as if the whole Arab-Israeli conflict could be reduced to the struggle over the control of Al-Quds and its holy sites. The city has occupied a central position in the discourse of that conflict, a position easily maintained by its holy and symbolic characteristics, and one that has sometimes shifted attention away from other crucial points of dispute, such as the plight of the refugees. Since their occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, the Israeli authorities have pursued various strategies to appropriate the city, and in reaction the Palestinians have resorted to different resistance mechanisms to confirm their rights.
Thus it comes as no surprise that the latest issue of Majallat Al-Dirasat Al-Filastiniya (Journal of Palestine Studies) devotes its main feature articles to "Jerusalem: The status quo and pages from the past." The first article here is Walid Al-Khalidi's recent findings on the ownership of the American embassy site in Jerusalem. Though Israel has since 1967 emphasised its claims over all of Jerusalem through its oft-repeated dictum, "Jerusalem is the eternal, undivided capital of Israel," the status of the city as an Israeli capital-in-waiting has not been recognised by the international community, and only three embassies (those of Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras) are located there. In 1995, the American Congress passed a law authorising the move of the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, the Clinton administration has postponed this move ostensibly because such an action would symbolise American acceptance of Israeli claims over all of Jerusalem, which would jeopardise final-status negotiations. It would amount to presenting the Palestinians with a fait accompli.
In his study Walid Al-Khalidi proves that the land which the state of Israel has leased to the United States for 99 years as the site of the new embassy building is in fact the property of Palestinian refugees displaced since the 1948 war. He shows that at least 70 per cent of the 31,250 square metre area is owned by refugees, and more than a third of that is awqaf [charitable endowments]. Today, more than 90 of these rightful owners have American passports, and 43 have Canadian or European nationalities. As American citizens, they could file suits claiming their right to the land. They would also have been eligible for compensation for this confiscated property if an American law passed in 1996 -- just six months after the embassy law -- had not excluded property used by an official diplomatic delegation from such litigation.
Khalidi's research is pioneering in many respects. First, it represents an attempt by a popular/ non-governmental group of researchers, namely the Arab Committee for Jerusalem (ACJ), to voice their views and to form a Palestinian lobby of sorts within American politics. Just as the American Jewish community has succeeded in constructing and maintaining a powerful Jewish lobby in Washington and elsewhere, one that is firmly grounded in American politics and whose interests are intertwined with American political interests, so such groups as the ACJ can begin to argue the cause of Palestine in American terms.
Second, this research is a prototype of what could be shown to be the case for all of Jerusalem, and, potentially, for all of Palestine. That is, such legal research could show Palestinian ownership of Jerusalem, for almost all of Jerusalem today consists of property confiscated from the Palestinians. Jewish property in West Jerusalem before 1948 did not exceed 15 per cent of the total, while that figure is less than two per cent for East Jerusalem. In reaching those conclusions, the research group relied on archives and on documents whose authenticity cannot be disputed either by the international community or by the State of Israel, using the records of the UNCCP in New York, which registered all property in areas of Palestine occupied by Israel since the Israeli-Jordanian truce of 1949, including West Jerusalem. They also relied on registers of the Public Record Office in London; land registers in Jerusalem and the archives of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, as well as on the family documents of the owners. Thus the research team relied mainly on documents produced by the occupying forces (British as well as Israeli) to subvert the claims of those occupiers.
Even if politics finally does take precedence over legal rights, this research will have at least raised the issue in American and international discourse. The idea that Jerusalem -- and by extension Palestine -- is "confiscated property" denied to its rightful owners is one that needs to be promoted. This is in sharp contradiction to the idea promoted by Israel that Jerusalem is legally, undividedly and eternally Jewish/Israeli, and that by contemplating any partition scheme Israel would be making a huge sacrifice.
The Dome of the Rock
The research by Khalidi and the ACJ signifies one approach to the challenges faced by the Palestinians in affirming their rights over Jerusalem. Through a review of a series of articles by Nadav Shragai published in the Israeli Haaretz newspaper in June 2000, Majallat Al-Dirasat Al-Filastiniya acquaints its readers with other strategies used by both the Israeli authorities as well as by the Palestinians in trying to control Jerusalem and in particular East Jerusalem.
After the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, official Israeli policy as articulated by David Ben Gurion was to increase the Jewish presence there whatever the costs might be, even if this meant flouting urban-planning regulations. In his articles in Haaretz, Shragai argues that the Jewish-to-Arab ratio of Jerusalem's population was increased mainly through land confiscation and through expanding the area of the city three times since 1967, bringing more land into the city area. Jewish settlements were built on confiscated land, and urban planning was done in such a way that the landscape was reconstructed, making any future partition plans difficult. Thus roads, public parks, university campuses, hospitals, an airport and a government complex were built to affirm Israeli control over East Jerusalem. The pattern of settlements is meant to impede the drawing up of viable Palestinian neighbourhoods.
These Israeli actions were not watched passively by the Palestinians. The Palestinian Arab population of Jerusalem grew at a faster rate than did that of the Jews, which meant that the Palestinians were faced with demographic pressures increased by the Israeli authorities' policy of denying them building permits and adequate services and infrastructure. The Palestinian response, Shragai explains, was to build without permits -- a process that took on connotations of resistance and of defiance with the outbreak of the Intifada in 1987. This process has also since Oslo received PA blessing and support.
Successive Israeli governments neglected their civic duties in East Jerusalem, where services provided to the Arab population are in sharp contrast to those provided in Jewish West Jerusalem. Shragai points to an inherent contradiction in this attitude. By ignoring East Jerusalem, and as these facts came to light with the outbreak of the Intifada, the Israelis sent the message that East Jerusalem was a neglected, unimportant annex to the main city, something which directly contradicts claims that Jerusalem is the "eternal, undivided capital of Israel." It is therefore not surprising that under the Netanyahu government, and as Israel prepared for final-status negotiations, the budget for East Jerusalem was increased 20 times as a way of consolidating Israeli control over the city.
In his article "Problems of Population and Housing in the Jerusalem Community," in A Palestinian Strategy Towards Jerusalem, Ishaq Al-Qutb similarly explains the mechanisms by which the Israeli authorities have worked to increase the Jewish presence in Jerusalem. In addition to the confiscation of property, they have restored the old Arab quarters of the city, attracting middle and upper-class Jewish families to settle in Jerusalem and leaThiding to a process of gentrification. s was followed by the construction of Jewish settlements in Arab districts. Official Israeli policies that often ignored the needs of Arabs in Jerusalem have also worked to depopulate Arab neighbourhoods that lie within the area of future Israeli expansionist plans or that face Israeli settlements. The majority of Arab building in Jerusalem by contrast, which Shragai complains has mostly been done without permits, has been done through private investment. Many Palestinians have formed cooperatives in order to finance their housing projects, since building communal and individual houses is one of the main strategies they have used in resisting Israeli attempts to take control of the whole city.
Anne Latindresse in her article "National Struggle, Mobilization and Urban Confrontation in Jerusalem" in the same book deconstructs Israeli discourse on the "unity of the city of Jerusalem." The argument for this usually refers to the alleged necessity of having a single infrastructure, urban-planning code and eventually demography in the city. Latindresse, however, argues that this could be reversed, for research has shown that water, sewage and electricity networks could be changed, and that with some investment programmes, Palestinians could construct an independent infrastructure. Similarly, the validity of statistics arguing for a Jewish majority in Jerusalem can easily be disputed, especially by reference to those Palestinians who live in the city informally or illegally, that is to say without Israeli identity cards. Finally, any Palestinian-Israeli political settlement will inevitably result in a redrawing of the different neighbourhood boundaries of the city.
Unlike the rest of the occupied territories, which are under military rule, Jerusalem has been annexed to the state of Israel and is subject to Israeli law. By setting up Palestinian non-governmental organisations in Jerusalem, the Palestinians have been able to benefit from some of the protections and rights offered by Israeli law, and such organisations have now become the potential nuclei for future Palestinian institutions. Taking Jerusalem as their headquarters is a step in affirming Jerusalem as a future capital for Palestine.
However Palestinian efforts to control Jerusalem have thus far been sporadic and relatively minor, Latindresse argues. They lack a coherent, forceful political strategy that could stand up to the "Israelisation" of the city. As such, individuals remain isolated before strong social and economic pressures. The majority of the Palestinians in Jerusalem receive an income below the average for the city, and they do not receive adequate services. This makes them very vulnerable to pressures from Jewish settlers to accept money to sign away their property. Latindresse believes that only a strategy based on mobilising grass-roots Palestinian support is capable of keeping Jerusalem Palestinian in the face of such pressures.
However, these writings show that the Palestinians are nevertheless using various tools to confirm their control and rights over East Jerusalem. Walid Khalidi and the ACJ have utilised a legal approach that is primarily directed towards American policy-makers. Shragai's pro-Israeli warnings are proof that the Palestinians are occupying any inch of physical and political space they can lay their hands on. The unplanned construction of Palestinian housing in Jerusalem is a spontaneous reaction to both economic and demographic pressures, as well as a form of resistance to the occupiers and a method to confirm control over the land. Similarly, the PA has tried to use the terms of the various agreements -- limiting as they may be -- to its advantage in order to affirm its presence and authority within East Jerusalem Yet as Anne Latindresse argues, Palestinian politicians need to plan a general strategy to re-appropriate their city, even as many different kinds of battles are being fought on Jerusalem's holy ground.
Reviewed by Amina Elbendary
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