More Israeli settlements will mean fewer Palestinians
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No sooner did Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPolice say man dangling off Trump Tower Chicago demanding to speak with Trump Fauci says he was 'absolutely not' surprised Trump got coronavirus after Rose Garden event Biden: Trump 'continues to lie to us' about coronavirus MORE take the presidential oath of office and seemingly put a promised move of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem on hold, than Israel announced it was building some 6,000 new housing units in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank. 

Despite the U.S. administration’s slap on the wrist in response, Israel’s far-right Jewish Home party, led by Naftali Bennett, pushed through a bill “legalizing” outposts built on private Palestinian land, a move that brought international condemnation and was described as “theft” even in Israel. In fact, any changes in occupied territories are illegal under international law, as was recently reaffirmed by the United Nations Security Council.


Yet, away from the headlines about settlements and the threat they pose to the two-state solution, there is little information about how settlement construction affects the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and the cumulative effect over almost 50 years.


Simply put, settlement construction for Israeli Jews means uprooting Palestinians from their homes, causing pain, grief and despair. In my work at the Human Rights Clinic and Community Action Centre at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, I see first-hand the human impact of Israel’s policies: Palestinian families whose homes have been demolished, or who have been denied the permits needed to bring in parents, siblings or children who are stuck on another side of a wall or border. This painful situation is familiar to those in the U.S. who would be affected by the expansion of the wall along the border with Mexico, which Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been encouraging Trump to move forward on, and which Israeli companies responsible for our walls are angling to build. The images of distraught family members waiting at U.S. airports for relatives impacted by Trump’s refugee and Muslim ban also feels all too familiar too many Palestinians.

In just the past few weeks in East Jerusalem alone, dozens of Palestinian homes have been issued with demolition notices on the basis that they were built without a municipal permit – a permit that is almost impossible to obtain. Over the last 50 years, Israel has demolished more than 1,800 homes in East Jerusalem on the grounds that they have lacked such permits.

Other means of displacement include the engineering of personal statuses so as to exclude residents from the right to live in their homes in Jerusalem. For example, a Jerusalemite who gets married abroad and lives for a while with their spouse will find their residency revoked, which cuts them off from their parents and other close relatives. I know several cases first-hand and they are heart-breaking. Just in the 10-year period 2005-2014, Israeli authorities revoked the residency of 7,797 Palestinians in East Jerusalem. 

Other methods of pushing out Palestinians include discriminatory town planning that encourages Jewish expansion and suppresses Palestinian construction. Since 1967, Israel has confiscated 35 percent of Palestinian lands in East Jerusalem and allocated them to illegal settlements. Currently, only 13 percent of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian construction, most of which is already built up and inhabited.

On a larger scale, Israeli authorities are creating unbearable circumstances that eventually drive the civilian population to leave their homes and move to other areas. One such method is discrimination in access to services provided for the Palestinian-populated part of the city versus the Jewish-populated parts, including welfare services, water access and postal services. Unsurprisingly, such discrimination contributes to approximately 82 percent of Palestinian Jerusalemites living under the poverty line.

Israel furthermore uses collective punishment in retaliation for actual or alleged attacks by Palestinians, including the demolition of the homes of alleged attackers, displacing entire families. This collective punishment of a population living under occupation is prohibited under international law.

Such measures are described, and justified, by the Israeli government as simply law enforcement measures, or “deterrence.” In fact, they are part of longstanding and ongoing policies of forced displacement. The aim is to maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority in Jerusalem, a priority openly stated by Jerusalem council members. As councilman Yakir Segev put it, “We will not allow residents of the eastern part of the city [Jerusalem] to build as much as they need... At the end of the day, however politically incorrect it may be to say, we will also look at the demographic situation in Jerusalem to make sure that in another 20 years we don’t wake up in an Arab city."

In short, what we are seeing unfold in East Jerusalem is a systematic attempt to displace Palestinians and to “Judaize” the city, to use the term employed by Israelis. Israel’s stated aim in its 2020 master plan is to reduce the proportion of Palestinians to Jews to 40/60 by 2020 and eventually to 30/70.

Israel’s dispossession and displacement of Palestinians in East Jerusalem is a microcosm of the bigger picture, both in the West Bank and inside Israel’s pre-1967 territory, as evidenced by the recent violent demolition raid at the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev, which Israel is trying to destroy to build a new town for Jews. To protest the destruction, Palestinian citizens of Israel have launched a boycott of Hyundai given its complicity in home demolitions, the first such campaign for corporate responsibility launched within Israel.

It is vital for the U.S. and Europe to uphold international law and to prevent a further escalation of the crisis in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. Indeed, states that recognize Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem would themselves be violating international law. The European Union has taken a modest step by labeling settlement products that enter the EU, however they need to go further and ban them altogether. For its part, the U.S. administration should reject pressure to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and use its leverage to halt Israel’s settlement enterprise.

The international community must act immediately, not just to ensure the feasibility of a long-term political agreement, but because the situation in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem is a human rights emergency.

Munir Nuseibah is a Policy Advisor at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network and Co-Founder and Director of the Al-Quds Human Rights Clinic at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.