Palestine: Only 13 percent of Old Jerusalem remains

by Ahmed al-Abed, Al-Akhbar English

“Jerusalem is the bride of Arab nationalism, why did you let all these aggressors into her room?” asked Muzaffar al-Nawab, a renowned Iraqi poet, long before seeing the city at its worst today. As Israel continues to Judaize the city, forever changing its urban and cultural heritage, Arabs continue to condemn and denounce the occupation’s actions but in vain.

Ramallah – Jerusalem is in its worst state since the beginning of the Israeli occupation, with only 13 percent of the old city remaining intact. The Israeli occupation managed to transform the city geographically through illegal settlement building plans, and demographically by encouraging illegal settlers to move into the city while driving Jerusalemites out of their homes through continuous harassment.

Since its inception, the Zionist state launched dozens of settlement building projects, like the “Great Jerusalem 1967-2020” project, as part of a systematic and comprehensive plan to erase the city’s identity and history.

Khalil al-Tafakji, the settlement and map expert in East Jerusalem for the Orient House, asserted that Israel has been systematically working since 1967 to turn Jerusalem into a city with Jewish features.

“Israel expanded the city’s limits from 6.5 to 72 square kilometers by seizing Palestinian land and granting Israeli settlers ownership of Palestinian property,” he added.

The occupation forces annexed 35 percent of East Jerusalem’s territory (24 square kilometers) for “public interest” and then issued new construction laws that marked most of these territories as “green.”

In other words, Israel, through these measures, denied Palestinians access to their own territories as part of a plan to turn them into Israeli settlements in the future.

“Not to mention the new law that allows confiscating the properties of those who don’t reside in the city,” added Tafakji.

According to Tafakji, if we compare the city of Jerusalem today to how it was at the beginning of the occupation, only 13 percent of East Jerusalem’s urban heritage from before 1967 remains.

“This drastic change in geographic percentage is also evident demographically,” Tafakji added. “In 1967, 70,000 Palestinians and not a single Israeli lived in [East] Jerusalem, whereas today 320 thousand Palestinians and at least 200 thousand Israelis are residing in the city.”

Tafakji then said that “125,000 Palestinians have been forced by the Israeli occupation forces to live behind the [apartheid] wall, which means only 195,000 Palestinians are currently living in East Jerusalem, making Zionist settlers the city’s majority.”

The demographic shift is doubtlessly reflected in property ownership.

According to Fatakji, in 1967 Palestinians owned around 12,000 housing units, whereas Israeli settlers owned none. However, the tables have turned.

Today, 48,000 housing units are owned by Palestinians, whereas 58,000 units are owned by settlers, adding to that another 58,000 housing units that are still under construction.

Fatakji dated the process back to 1972 when former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir launched a plan to decrease the percentage of Palestinian Jerusalemites in the city to 22 percent and adopted a series of measures to implement it, including demolishing Palestinian houses, confiscating their identification cards, forcing them out of their homes, and occupying their lands.

However, Jerusalemites withstood all pressures and today they constitute 37 percent, not 22, of the city’s population.

The Israeli authorities, in Tafakji’s view, are threatened by the growing number of Palestinians in Jerusalem and hence decided to put an end to this demographic shift by building the apartheid wall.

Israel predicts the percentage of Palestinians in Jerusalem will grow to 55 percent by 2040, which would make Jerusalem a binational city and the capital of two states, Tafakji said.

“The Israelis refused to allow that to happen and hence they built the apartheid wall and expelled 125,000 Jerusalemites in an attempt to make the entire city the capital of its self-proclaimed state,” Tafakji explained.

Not only that, but the Israelis are seeking to expand the borders of the city by including the settlements surrounding it in the hope of creating “a greater Jerusalem” that they can then declare as the capital of their state.

Moreover, Tafakji noted that Jerusalemites are forced to pay Israeli taxes and undergo military service although they are not entitled to all rights and services.

According to Tafakji, Israel’s ultimate plan is to decrease the percentage of Palestinians in Jerusalem to 12 percent while increasing that of Israelis to 88 percent and then turn the city into an “isolated” entity “under the control of Israel.”

Moreover, Tafakji noted that Israel has been actively trying since June 3 to desacralize the al-Aqsa mosque by turning its yards into public parks and institutions and transferring its ownership from the Islamic Endowments to the Israeli municipality.

Tafakji concluded by warning that “the Israeli authorities already imposed a schedule at the al-Aqsa Mosque that gives Israelis the right to enter from 7:30 am until 11:30 am and lets Palestinians enter afterwards,” and predicting “the implementation of spatial divisions in the recent future.”

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