Sunday, May 3, 2009

Breaking Homes and Hearts in Jerusalem

(This article is also available on Minority Dreams.)

If home is where the heart is, then the hearts of countless Palestinians are being shattered as Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes in Jerusalem.

Last Friday, the United Nations released a report on Israel's demolition plans for another 1,500 homes in East Jerusalem, based on Tel Aviv's claim that the homes were built without permits from Israel's Jerusalem municipality.

There are lots of issues with Israel's claims about what it calls a "planning crisis" in East Jerusalem. First of all, Israel's control of East Jerusalem itself is not recognized by the international community, as it illegally annexed the city after the 1967 war. But although Israel's control of East Jerusalem is unlawful, Palestinians have to deal with the facts that it created on the ground, applying for permits to build their homes on land that has belonged to their families for generations.

This brings us to the second issue: the Israeli authorities have only set aside 13 percent of East Jerusalem for Palestinian residents. Much of that area is already crowded, and with the Palestinian population jumping from 66,000 in 1967 to 250,000 today, Palestinians have been forced to build their homes "illegally," according to the Israeli government. And finally the third issue comes along, namely that few Palestinians who apply for permits within the designated Palestinian area of East Jerusalem are actually able to obtain them.

If the Israeli government goes ahead with its plans for solving its "planning crisis," at least 28 percent of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem are at risk of demolition. That's at least 60,000 Palestinians at risk of becoming homeless. Recognizing the situation that could arise from these plans, United Nations has called on Israel to immediately halt its demolitions, and provide real solutions for the housing crisis in the Holy City.

The international community must put pressure on Israel to end this inhumane eviction of Palestinians from their traditional home. It is both illegal and a serious obstacle to any progress on the peace process. Arab newspapers like the secular, pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi are calling Israel's actions in East Jerusalem "ethnic cleansing," indicating the level of anger felt on the Arab street. Similarly, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the demolitions "unhelpful," and EU diplomats have described them as illegal and said they "fuel bitterness and extremism."

The Palestinians have fought, and continue to fight, for their rights under the state apparatus of Israel. But this is one fight that they cannot win on their own. All those who claim to support human rights and international law must rally together to bring an end to Israel's unlawful demolition of Palestinian homes. That way, the Palestinian people can focus their energies not on picking up the pieces of their shattered hearts, but on working towards the peace that both they and their counterparts in Israel so desperately need.

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