Friday, May 22, 2009

Occupied Jerusalem Is Being Suffocated

AL-QUDS — Besieged by settlement blocs and strangled by a towering separation wall, Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) is suffocating under the Israeli occupation that aims at isolating the holy city from its Palestinian context and displacing its people.

“They want as few Arabs in Al-Quds as possibly,” Khalil Tufakji, an official of the Arab Cartography Department in Al-Quds, told

“This is why they are trying to strangle Arab demography in Al-Quds by surrounding the Arab areas with Jewish colonies from all directions,” added Tufakji, a prominent expert on Jewish settlements schemes in the holy city.

According to the Cartography Department, Israel has confiscated more than 34 percent of the city for what it describes as “public benefits”. It has designated further 43 percent as a “green space.”

Nearly 10 percent of the city is seized for building additional Jewish settlements, leaving only 13 percent of the original area for the city’s 450, 000 Palestinian inhabitants.

One of the most ambitious settlement plans Israel is contemplating is to build tens of thousands of settlement housing units throughout the remaining area.

Last week, it announced plans to confiscate large swathes of Arab lands near Ma’ali Adomim settlements, east of Al-Quds, in order to merge the large colony with a smaller one nearby the city known as Kedar.

The Israeli group Peace Now has also revealed that Tel Aviv was planning to build more than 73,000 units in the occupied West Bank, many of them in and around Al-Quds.

Israel captured and occupied Al-Quds in the six-day 1967 war, then annexed it in a move not recognized by the world community or UN resolutions.

Greater Jerusalem

“They [the Israelis] are trying to decapitate Arab existence in Al-Quds step by step, home by home and neighborhood by neighborhood,” says Husseini.
The Palestinian cartographer asserts that Israel is planning to expand the boundaries of what it calls “Greater Jerusalem” to the northern suburbs of Al-Khalil (Hebron) in the south, Ramallah in the north and the western slopes of Ariha (Jericho) in the east.

In this case, Greater Jerusalem would devour nearly one fifth of the West Bank area and would cut off entire cities like Al-Khalil and Bethlehem.

Tufakji, himself a resident of Al-Quds, added that Israel also plans to build a ring road around Al-Quds to connect settlements outside the city’s municipal boundaries.

“The purpose of this planned road is to reduce Arab neighborhoods into isolated and miserable ghettos without any real possibility for future expansion or growth.”

Al-Quds is home to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which includes Islam’s third holiest shrine Al-Aqsa Mosque, and represents the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Palestinians insist the city will be the capital of their future independent state.

Stealing Future

Israel’s plan to create new demographic realities in Al-Quds has seen further restrictions chocking the holy city and turning life unbearable for its original residents.

“Israel’s ultimate goal is to narrow our horizons, make our daily life unbearable and eventually force us to leave,” says Tufakji.

One of Israel’s major tools to achieve this scheme is through the systematic demolition of Palestinian homes under the pretext of not possessing building permits.

According to the Al-Quds Center for Economic and Social Rights, Israel issued in the first four months of 2009 a thousand demolition orders against homes owned by Arab citizens.

In addition, there are 15,000-20,000 homes already threatened to be torn down at any time, some of which dating back hundreds of years ago.

Last year, the Israeli interior ministry said it was planning to destroy dozens of Arab homes in the Arab Silwan neighborhood in order to create a “park” for Jewish settlers in the area.

“They are indulged in ethnic cleansing in broad daylight,” Rafiq al Husseini, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told IOL.

“They are chasing Palestinians out of their homes; they are trying to decapitate Arab existence in Al-Quds, step by step, home by home and neighborhood by neighborhood, while they continue to lie about their desire for peace.”

Tufakji, the cartographer, agrees that Israel is killing every hope for a future Palestinian state.

“They are stealing not only our past and present, but our future as well.”

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