By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
According to the book, the two main reasons Palestinians build illegally in Jerusalem are because the P.A. encourages them to, including providing funding, and because criminals want to make a quick buck. Real estate scams in East Jerusalem are definitely a problem, especially now that many people are desperate to find a place inside the city. Yusuf, when he went looking for an apartment to buy or rent, was sure that some of the places he was being shown had been built illegally, meaning they could end up demolished by the municipality. The owner, meanwhile, would skip town with everyone’s money.
"I tried to buy from these people," he said. "They claimed they have permits and everything. I said, ‘Show them.’ They said, ‘Well, it’s still in process.’ Mostly these people get a license for one floor and build seven floors."
The P.A. has definitely added to the complications in the city by discouraging Palestinians in Jerusalem from voting or participating in the city’s governance. Many Palestinians wouldn’t participate anyway, of their own accord; they want to vote in Palestinian elections. They believe that by voting in Jerusalem, they would legitimize Israel’s rule over the entire city and obscure the fact that East Jerusalem was conquered by Israel in the Six Day War in 1967, along with the West Bank and Gaza. Since then, East Jerusalem has been at least an unresolved issue (the United States’ position) and at most occupied by Israel (the United Nations’ position). The upshot is that Palestinians have no political clout in Jerusalem and no representatives on the City Council, even though they are about a third of the city’s population. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, by comparison, are a fifth of the city, yet almost half the City Council members, including the mayor, are Ultra-Orthodox.
The extent of the P.A.’s involvement in funding illegal construction in East Jerusalem is less clear. There’s no question the P.A. believes it’s in a turf battle with Israel in Jerusalem. The book cites an agreement in which a P.A. minister got a onetime contribution of more than $1 million to do illegal renovations on buildings in the Old City. The book also refers to some individual letters to the P.A. asking for money for illegally built houses that were under threat of demolition, and quotes P.A. members boasting openly about supporting illegal construction in Jerusalem. But what P.A. members brag about and what they actually do are different; many Palestinians, like Yusuf, build illegally out of their own pockets.
The one major factor influencing illegal construction that the book doesn’t explore is the fact that for the last several decades, Israel has had a policy in Jerusalem of "maintaining the ratio that existed in 1967 between the Jewish and Arab populations, 70:30, according to government policy." This statement is the first guideline listed in a Jerusalem municipal booklet entitled "Planning in the Arab [Palestinian] Sector: 1967–1996." To this day, the 70:30 policy goal is in effect; it was reiterated in the Jerusalem master plan issued this fall by the municipality, under the heading "Population Goals and Population Forecasts": "This goal, as it was presented by the municipality and adopted in cabinet meetings on the subject, aims to maintain the balance of 70 percent Jews as against 30 percent Arabs."
The implications of the 70:30 policy are detailed in another book about development in East Jerusalem called Separate and Unequal, written by two former longtime advisers to the mayor and a journalist. According to the book, in order to try and maintain the 70:30 ratio, in the face of Palestinians’ higher birthrate and Israelis’ increasing emigration to the suburbs, Israel has resorted to "expropriation of Arab-owned land, development of large Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and limitations on development in Arab neighborhoods."
The book tells story after story like the one about the Palestinian neighborhoods of Beit Hanina and Shuafat, which waited more than 20 years for a zoning plan that would allow residents to build, and during that time watched two Jewish neighborhoods — Pisgat Ze’ev and Neveh Ya’acov — be planned and built, with full support of the government, on land expropriated from the Palestinian neighborhoods after the Six-Day War. Just last September, according to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Jerusalem’s mayor, Uri Lupolianski, sent a letter to the Housing Ministry proposing to take a Palestinian-populated neighborhood called Wadi Joz and rezone it "for a Jewish population."
Jerusalem’s "limitations on development in Arab neighborhoods" have been documented not only in Separate and Unequal but also in a forthcoming report from an organization called Bimkom ("alternative" in Hebrew), a group of Israeli architects and urban planners who try to make planning in Israel more transparent and accessible to the public. According to Bimkom, there are five neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that still have no master zoning plan, making it impossible for residents even to apply for building permits. Other areas are zoned so that almost no further construction is allowed. Even the Jerusalem master plan states flatly that Palestinians in the city "suffer from a dire housing shortage" and that "in recent decades few new neighborhoods have been built for this population."