Palestine-Israel Journal: How has the struggle for land in the
Jerusalem area been conducted since 1967?
Daniel Seidemann: The struggle has expressed itself in three
dimensions. The first is the expropriation of overwhelmingly
Palestinian land for the construction of new Jewish neighborhoods.
Historically, expropriation has been used as the major tool to
consolidate Israeli rule over Jerusalem, as defined in 1967 by
Israel. Over 34 percent, more than a third, of Palestinian land was
expropriated in order to build 40,000 residential units for
Israelis. Over the last 20 years, less than 600 units have been
built with any government support for Palestinians so that, today,
there are as many Jews as Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
No Palestinian buys property in an Israeli neighborhood. The formal
reason is that only Israeli citizens or Jews entitled to immigrate
under the Law of Return can purchase rights on state lands - and 93
percent of land in Israel is state land. An Israeli Palestinian or
Irving Moscowitz can purchase property in Neve Ya'akov; the
Palestinian from whom the land was expropriated can't. But the real
reason is that most Israelis and Palestinians respect the pattern
of living in almost homogeneous neighborhoods.
The second dimension relates to the limitations, often intentional,
sometimes inadvertent, placed on that land retained by the
Palestinians after the expropriations. Over 60 percent have no town
planning (so that one can't get a building permit there); many
areas have, for artificial reasons, been declared open spaces
(green areas); even on the 7.5 percent where building should be
possible, legal, economic and bureaucratic factors make this mainly
theoretical. Except for the fortunate few, Palestinians in
Jerusalem have the choice between leaving, living in terribly
overcrowded conditions, or building illegally.
The third dimension concerns the Israeli attempts, with government
encouragement, to take over Palestinian property on a
house-to-house basis, and hand it over to a small group of
settlers. Primarily in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and in
Silwan, this was attempted unofficially through legal, quasi-legal
and illegal means in the 1980s and early 1990s (including when
Labor was in power). MK Chaim Oron and I uncovered this abuse of
authority and of illegal allocation of large sums of money. The
Supreme Court regrettably refused to deal with the implications of
After an independent enquiry in 1992, the Rabin government curbed
these efforts and active government support for them declined
significantly, though they were not rolled back. In 1993, when Ehud
Olmert entered office as mayor, the position was reversed and he
used his authority to advance these schemes - Ras al-Amud, etc.
Whereas Teddy Kollek would sometimes toss wrenches into the works,
the eco-balance is now disturbed and, under Netanyahu and Olmert,
even the limited checks and balances which existed in the past have
The numerical significance of this is limited - some 60 dwellings
in the Muslim Quarter and a dozen in Silwan, when 23,000
residential units are owned by Palestinians and 40,000 by Jews in
East Jerusalem. But qualitatively, it is of extreme importance
because it entails the Hebronization of Jerusalem. New Jewish
neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, critical as one may be of them,
did not undermine all prospects of future coexistence in Jerusalem.
One can go through Jerusalem without armed guards. There is a
delicate balance which is upset by settler enclaves existing
Palestinian neighborhoods. Now Hebron, where the balance of terror
and military force rule, is becoming a role model for Jerusalem.
That's a disaster.
As I see them, those are the three dimensions of the struggle for
land in Jerusalem.
How many "illegal" Palestinian houses have been demolished in
Jerusalem? What is the logic behind the ups and downs in the number
of houses demolished?
As noted above, it is virtually impossible, except for the
fortunate few, for a Palestinian to get a permit to build in East
Jerusalem. Theoretically, for the 170,000 Palestinians in East
Jerusalem, there are an estimated 3,000 building permits available
for those who are interested and have the means, which is a small
In spite of that, government figures show that the scope of
building violation is significantly lower in East than in West
Jerusalem. However, enforcement is much more aggressive in East
Jerusalem. Palestinians have very many obligations and very few
rights. About 70 percent of the administrative demolition orders
are in East Jerusalem, and there are only limited cases in which
the courts are entitled to intervene and suspend such orders, which
are basically handed down by politicians.
Virtually, all the people involved build illegally out of
desperation, because they can't build legally, but, if they were
put on trial, they would be able to put their case before a judge
and argue extenuating circumstances. That right is consistently
denied to the Palestinians, for whom the administrative demolition
order is the rule rather than the exception.
We are speaking of tens of houses demolished every year. The
numbers fluctuate. Though I have been unable to verify this, in the
beginning of the 1990s, Teddy Kollek is said to have announced that
he would severely cut back on demolition orders, because a society
which doesn't allow people to build legally can't severely punish
them if they build illegally, especially without trial. As a
result, the Ministry of Interior under Eli Suissa (of the Shas
party ¬editors), then head of the Jerusalem Region in the
Ministry, now minister of interior, established a unit in Jerusalem
for the enforcement of demolition orders - Jerusalem is the only
urban area in Israel where the Ministry of Interior is actively
concerned with the policy of demolitions.
The start of 1995 saw a great surge of demolition orders under Ehud
Olmert, increasing the level by several hundred percent. The
driving force behind this campaign was the late deputy mayor Shmuel
Meir (of the National Religious Party - editors), who was the
patron of the settlers. After we filed a brief to the Attorney
General on this, he cautioned Olmert that he should roll back the
numbers to the previous levels, and this was indeed done. Next,
between October 1996 and July 1997 there were only one or two
demolitions because, in the wake of the Western Wall tunnel affair,
the Israeli security forces warned of the possibility of a
conflagration in the event of massive demolitions. So the numbers
In recent weeks, there have been about a dozen demolitions, mostly
by the municipality, some by the ministry, in the framework of the
agenda planned by Olmert for the coming weeks and months. In
general, the official figures for demolitions are probably low:
since demolitions are carried out by the authorities at the expense
of the owner of the building, many hundreds of Palestinians facing
a demolition order prefer to save money by doing it
How do you evaluate Israeli policies in Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim)
and in Ras al-Amud? In what ways are they similar and where do they
Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim) is the continuation of the use of
government authority to place lands in East Jerusalem at the
disposal of the Israeli population, in order to change the
demography and the geography of the city. In many ways, it is no
different from other expropriations of the late 1960s, the 1970s
and the 1980s (except that about two-thirds of the land is owned by
Jews). Qualitatively, however, it has a nastier effect than
previous expropriations: it threatens, in conjunction with other
actions, to cut off Jerusalem from the south - from its hinterland
in Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, etc.
Ras al-Amud is different in that it is an attempt to establish an
enclave or beachhead within an existing Palestinian neighborhood.
This plan was frozen by Yitzhak Rabin personally. The driving force
for many years behind the project was Eli Suissa. In the wake of
the Tunnel affair and Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim), Netanyahu put
the scheme on hold. Since then, the driving force behind Ras
al-Amud has been Ehud Olmert, and he has been the one trying to
bend the rules and use all available resources at his disposal for
The comparison between the two projects we are discussing is
interesting, in spite of the different dimensions. In January 1996,
Ehud Olmert was asked in a press interview why he doesn't build
homes for Palestinians in the framework of Har Homa (Jabal Abu
Ghneim). He answered that it would cause unnecessary friction and
we are not in favor of mixed neighborhoods. One of the compromises
suggested by [finance minister] Dan Meridor before he resigned from
the cabinet was to share Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim), to build for
the Palestinians as well. The driving force behind the rejection of
this compromise was Ehud Olmert. That didn't prevent Olmert from
being the main factor behind the incursion into the Palestinian
neighborhood of Ras al-Amud. Out of respect for the pattern of life
in Jerusalem, the Israeli Supreme Court did not allow a Muslim to
purchase a home in the Jewish Quarter, but that didn't stop the
Israeli government from actively supporting the attempt by Israelis
to take over houses in the Muslim Quarter.
One of the lessons is that, whereas one has respect for a
homogeneous pattern of life in Israeli neighborhoods, when it comes
to the Palestinian neighborhoods, they are an open invitation for
Israeli incursion in the guise of Jewish settlement.
How do you see Palestinian claims to large areas in West Jerusalem?
How can an end be put to the present situation of no reciprocity
over the rights of Palestinians and Israelis concerning property in
Palestinian claims to property in West Jerusalem have been raised
in recent months, only in the context of the attempt by Israelis to
undermine the integrity of Palestinian neighborhoods in East
Jerusalem. In final-status negotiations, the sensitive questions of
property and compensation will have to be addressed. But I sense
that, if an equitable resolution to the other issues in the city
are to be forthcoming, it is largely recognized by the Palestinians
that there is going to be no return of property in Baka'a (a
formerly Palestinian West Jerusalem neighborhood inhabited since
1967 by Jews - editors) and elsewhere.
But when are attempts to undermine the Palestinian presence in what
reI.11C\ms, ~he understandable response is: if you have claims to
Ras al-Amud, we have claims to Baka'a and the German Colony.
Regardless of the precise contours of the final status in
Jerusalem, anyone interested in maintaining and, cultivating
coexistence must refrain from any actions which threaten the
integrity of the Israeli or the Palestinian neighborhoods.
Final-status questions must be dealt with in the framework of a
moratorium on these kinds of actions. That could help to neutralize
some of the import which is attributed to both sides of the city to
questions of property.
What is the concept of "Greater Jerusalem"? What are its limits,
how can it be justified and does it threaten the establishment of a
contiguous Palestinian state?
The term "Greater Jerusalem" is amorphous and is used
inconsistently in order to hide different intentions. In the
simplest sense, it refers to the fact that in the area of Jerusalem
there is an urban sprawl in which the numbers of Israelis and
Palestinians are about equal - altogether about 650,000. Sewerage
obeys the laws of gravity rather than national charters or party
platforms. This may be disturbing to Israelis and Palestinians who
would like to get rid of each other, but within this "Greater
Jerusalem," they are going to be sharing space, land and problems.
Nothing is going to make either side evaporate.
But on the Israeli side, the term "Greater Jerusalem" is used with
greater political importance: Israeli rule is to be consolidated
over Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is to be welded into Israel and into
its immediate environment by taking into consideration, formally or
informally, Israeli settlement outside the City. This particularly
involves the Etzion Bloc, Ma'aleh Adumim, Giv'at Ze'ev and Betar
Elite. The implication is that this area would come under Israeli
These policies may be more a mood than a master plan. But, clearly,
whatever the questions and dilemmas that arise, these four areas
have import on the nature of the final status, on the future of the
Palestinians living there, on the nature of Jerusalem and of
borders within this status and of lands and their disposition, both
in the interim and final-status arrangements.
This is well illustrated by what is called the "El Plan," which
deserves special attention. This is a master plan to develop the
land between Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem, within the municipal
boundaries of Ma'aleh Adumim. The area is larger than Tel Aviv.
This plan will be coming up before the Planning Committee and its
implications are more serious and detrimental than Har Homa (Jabal
First, it threatens in the northeast to cut off East Jerusalem from
the West Bank. Second, it threatens to stifle the development of
the Palestinian villages and towns in the area. Third, it discloses
a "pre-Oslo" mentality in which state land belongs exclusively to
the Israeli population. Finally, it will effectively cut the West
Bank in two between a northern and a southern half, connected by a
string, in the shape of a road, between the northern West Bank and
the southern West Bank. By joining Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim,
the only way it will be possible to travel from Ramallah to
Bethlehem will be through Israel.
More imaginative ways must be found for sharing the area so that it
is not a zero-sum game. It is a paradigm of many of the issues of
means negotiation and not unilateral action. The E1 Plan does not
predispose the outcome of the final status, but almost dictates it.