The East Jerusalem land grab and one way to proceed



On 21 January Meron Rapaport of Ha’aretz published a lengthy article in the Ha’aretz Magazine detailing an Israeli government decision to apply the Absentee Property Law to the lands inside the municipality of Jerusalem that belong to Palestinians who have West Bank residency. The decision was made official in July but kept secret while the Separation Wall/Fence was being built. Some of the land near Bethlehem was even cleared off, likely to make room for the expansion of Har Gilo. (1)

The magnitude of this decision was realized by enough people for the word to start getting out. It made the Washington Post, Al Jazeera along with several other major media outlets. Even the right-wing NewsMax.com carried it. (2) Major news outlets were not the only ones that noticed it. Many peace and justice groups in the United States and Europe not only realized what the potential consequences were to the declaration but decided to act on it. Not in My Name, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and many other groups got the word out on their websites, listserves and by other means. (3) Enough people contacted their representatives to make the government pay attention. The pressure was such that the Bush administration, the same one that calls Ariel Sharon a “man of peace”, the same one that advocates the extrajudicial assassination of Palestinian militants, the same one that, well, you get the picture…the pressure was such that Condoleeza Rice had to bring up the issue with the Sharon government in a meeting on 31 January. (4)

When the United States government is forced to act morally, however briefly, the ramifications are such that it forces other nations to behave in the same way, again, however briefly. The citizens of the United States compelled their government to apply pressure. The next day the Israeli government reversed the decision to confiscate the land. (5)

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this victory. The invocation of the Absentee Property Law was done in the shadow of the “Security Barrier”. The President and Congress, while not specifically endorsing this action, declared the permanence of the “major Israeli population centers” in the West Bank which would certainly include the East Jerusalem settlements that would have benefited from the Absentee Property Law. (6) Despite the fact that Israeli sovereignty has been de facto recognized by the United States, the US had to step in to avoid the application of a certain Israeli law to the area. Those who took part in this campaign are to be congratulated and thanked.

If victories are to be had in so large an operation, surely smaller land grabs can be turned back as well. The village of Jayyous lies just outside of Qalkilya. Like many towns that border The Apartheid/Separation/Security Wall/Fence/Barrier, much of the land of Jayyous lies on the west side (towards Israel but still on the West Bank side of the 1949 armistice lines) of the fence and the Palestinians have only limited access. On the morning of the 9th of December, Caterpillar equipment showed up and trees were uprooted. The clearing of the land continued for the better part of December. This is another, quieter, case of the barrier being used to modify the borders of Israel. (7) There is a small campaign already active on this issue that all are asked to join. In the United States the Rhode Island Qalkilya Alliance (RIQA) has been aggressively doing outreach and has got the attention of their Senators. (8) Similar campaigns in other states, provinces and nations are likely to produce results similar to the success that we’ve just had in Jerusalem. Those wishing to help are encouraged to contact RIQA for information about their campaign. (9) An article from the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem gives an excellent overview and documentation of the situation in Jayyous (10).

This issue can be framed into already existing mobilizations around The Wall and boycott/divestment. We can build on the results of the efforts against the East Jerusalem land grab. One victory is good work. Two victories is momentum.

(1) www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/530047.html
(2) www.aljazeera.com/me.asp?service_ID=6894
www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A31140-2005Jan23.html newsmax.com/archives/articles/2005/1/24/94953.shtml
(3) www.nimn.org/articles/whats_new/000436.php triangletikkun.tikkun.org/index.cfm/action/article/id/135.html
(4) www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/533838.html
We feel that the circumstances surrounding the decision indicate that it was grassroots pressure that caused the action by the Bush administration. Bush has shown approximately zero sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians and with the Iraqi election getting intense coverage this could have been buried. There was no comment from the Bush administration during the week previous to the decision until calls started coming from concerned citizens. It is of course impossible to prove motive but we feel believe that the grassroots activism was the causal factor.
(5) www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/534925.html
(6) www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/rm/31490.htm
(7) www.poica.org/casestudies/Jayyus%2011-01-2005/casestudies.htm
(8) www.riqa.info/chafeeletter.htm
(9) www.riqa.info/
(10) www.poica.org/casestudies/Jayyus%2011-01-2005/casestudies.htm

Here is a sample letter that could be modified and sent to fit your personal position and location. The pieces above and below are attached in Word form.

February 3rd, 2005

Dear Senator/Representative…,

I’m writing to express my concern over actions that have taken place in the West Bank in the last two months. Land has been confiscated in the Palestinian village of Jayyous to make room for a new settlement, Nofei Zufim. On December 9th, the uprooting of trees began and continued for the better part of the month. Jayyous is an agricultural village and 70% of its lands lie on the west side of the “Security Barrier”. Not only is the appropriation of its lands for the building of a new settlement against the Fourth Geneva Convention which explicitly prohibits an Occupying Power from moving “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies,”; this would also destroy the economy of the village.

Israel has consistently declared that the purpose of the wall/fence is to provide security for its citizens against Palestinian militants. The recent attempt to confiscate about half the Palestinian property of East Jerusalem under the Absentee Property Law of 1950 (reversed under American pressure) along with what’s happening in Jayyous would seem to indicate that the reason for the “Security Barrier” might well be to establish a new border with the nascent Palestinian state. The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem has written an extensive analysis of the situation that is available on their website along with background information about Jayyous. The links are below. If the situation is as it seems, I would ask that you raise anew concerns about the path of the “Security Barrier” and act to halt the construction of both the barrier and the settlement of Nofei Zufim. Additionally, it is American equipment (excavating machines and bulldozers from Caterpillar) being used to clear off the lands. I ask that you consider the ramifications of the actions in Jayyous and what it means for the United States to be supporting Israel while the illegal confiscation and population of occupied land is carried out.

regards, …