Israel seized East Jerusalem during the 1967 war, in which it completed its occupation of all Palestinian land. Israel unilaterally expanded the boundaries of Jerusalem by annexing some 70 sq kms to the municipal boundaries of the West Bank area and evicting over 6,000 Palestinians from the Old City’s Mughrabi Quarter in order to create a plaza in front of Al-Buraq (the Western Wall). Israel then declared Jerusalem its capital.
East Jerusalem was annexed shortly after the war in a move that has not been recognised by the international community or the Palestinians.
A brief history of the confiscation of Jerusalem’s land
The 1949 Armistice Agreement - Jerusalem was divided between Israel in the West and the Jordanian East Jerusalem. The 1950 Israeli Absentee Property Law transferred all property considered ‘abandoned’ during the war, to the Israeli state. In the late 1980s a number of properties in Sheikh Jarrah and the Muslim Quarter in the Old City were turned over to the Custodian for Absentee Property, and then to a Jewish settler organisation.
UN General Assembly resolution 2253 (1967) ordered Israel “to desist forthwith from taking any action which would alter the status of Jerusalem. However Israel, in the first three years of occupation, confiscated 18270 dunums (18,27 sq kms) of Palestinian land and by 1991 that number had reached 23378 dunums (23,4 sq kms).
By 2007 the Seperation Wall had been used to confiscate land belonging to 19.2% of Palestinian families in Jerusalem. Over the course of the occupation, Israel has expropriated over 60,000 dunums (60 sq kms) of Palestinian land in occupied East Jerusalem, all of which have been converted exclusively to Jewish use. This amounts to roughly 86,5% of the total land area of occupied East Jerusalem.
Under the Fourth Geneva Convention (Israel is a signatory) - an Occupying Power is prohibited from destroying property or making use of collective punishment.
Under international law East Jerusalem is occupied territory, therefore, the Israeli practice of demolishing Palestinian houses is illegal.
Israeli law differs. Construction without an Israeli permit is illegal. In large parts of East Jerusalem no building permits are obtainable due to the difficulty of meeting the required conditions. The cost of obtaining permits can be as much as the cost of construction of the actual building. Consequently many Palestinian Jersusalemites choose to construct buildings without permits, providing the Ministry of Interior and the Jerusalem Municipality the judicial pretext to demolish their homes. From 1967 until the end of 2006, Israel had revoked the residency rights of over 8000 Palestinian Jerusalemites. Losing residency means losing the right to live in Jerusalem, access to social services and the right to travel within and out of Israel.
Since 1967, around 2,000 homes have been demolished in East Jerusalem. According to official statistics, from 2000 – 2008 the Israeli authorities demolished more than 670 East Jerusalem homes. The number of outstanding demolition orders is estimated at up to 20,000.
Administrative Demolitions account for the vast majority of home demolitions in East Jerusalem. The absence of a building permit can lead to an administrative or court decision to demolish a home. Such demolitions are ordered both by the Jerusalem Municipality (in areas with zoning plans), or by the Ministry of Interior (in areas unzoned).
Illegal Settlement building in East Jerusalem
From 1967 – 2003, 90,000 housing units were built in East Jerusalem settlements for Jews, most with government subsidies. None were built for Palestinians with public funding. Despite a shortage of 25,000 housing units in the Palestinian sector, the Jerusalem Municipality grants just 50-100 building permits each year for Palestinian housing.
In October 2010 Israel announced plans for building 238 new homes for Jewish settlers in occupied East Jerusalem.
The Israeli plans for 150 homes in the Pisgat Zeev settlement and another 80 in Ramot were included in a building plan released by the housing ministry.
Under International Law Pisgat Zeev and neighbourhoods like it are illegal settlements, and Israel is seen by many to use them strategically to increase the Jewish presence in the mainly Arab east of the city.
The international community considers East Jerusalem occupied territory, and building on occupied land is illegal under international law.
Residency & ID
Jerusalem IDs were issued to Palestinian Jerusalemites in 1967 when they refused to accept Israeli citizenship following the occupation of East Jerusalem. This would have required them to take an oath of allegiance to the Israeli state and would have meant the de facto acceptance of the occupation.
Jerusalem IDs entitle Palestinian Jerusalemites to all the social and economic rights granted to Israeli citizens. They are allowed to work, travel and reside anywhere in Israel. However, Palestinian ‘permanent residents’ of Jerusalem are not entitled to an Israeli passport and they are not allowed to participate in Israeli national elections or Jerusalem municipal elections.
Jerusalem under International Law
Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem in June 1967 and extended Israeli law, jurisdiction, and administration to this part of the city. In 1980, the Knesset passed the Basic Law, which declared Jerusalem the Capital of Israel, including East Jerusalem. In response to Israel’s expansion of the Jerusalem borders, UN Security Council Resolution 252 of 1968 states that the Security Council “Considers that all legislative measures by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status”.
In response to Israel’s annexing of occupied East Jerusalem, UN Security Council Resolution 476 of 1980 states that the Security Council “Reconfirms that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which purport to alter the character and status of Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East”.
Furthermore, West Jerusalem was declared Israel’s capital in 1949 in contravention of UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which stated that; “The City of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and shall be administered by the United Nations”.
This point was further restated in UN General Assembly Resolution 303 of 1949. Despite these resolutions, the Judaization of Jerusalem and the oppression of the remaining Palestinians continue.
Impact on Peace Talks
Boosted by US President Barak Obama’s 2009 claim that "America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements" Palestinian negotiators publicly threatened to walk away from peace talks unless Israel renews its partial ban on West Bank settlements.
In March 2010 Israel gave the green light to plans for the construction of 1,600 new settler homes in Occupied East Jerusalem during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden, prompting a crisis with Washington.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came under pressure from Washington to extend a 10-month slowdown on the building of settler homes on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank. Netanyahu offered to renew the West Bank freeze if the Palestinians recognised Israel as a Jewish state, but the Palestinian leadership publicly dismissed the proposal as unfair and unnecessary.
Israel has occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 1967, settling close to 500,000 Jews in more than 100 settlements. They are all illegal under international law.
The Palestinians - backed by the Arab League - publicly pledged not to return to direct talks without a full settlement construction freeze.
Jerusalem in the Peace Process
Despite its clarity in international law and UN resolutions, the issue of East Jerusalem was deemed too controversial to be addressed in the Oslo Accords (1993) and left to be decided at a later stage. Since then Palestinians have suffered the continued expansion of settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the construction of the separation Wall, which encloses and divides Palestinian communities while incorporating illegal Israeli settlements.
Again in 2010 the issue of East Jerusalem was left for ‘Final status’ talks as it was still deemed too controversial.
In 2011, the ‘Palestine papers’ revealed huge concessions on Jerusalem offered by the Palestinian Authority (PA), but spurned by Israel. The papers reveal that in 2008 the PA were willing to give up nearly all of East Jerusalem without securing any concessions in return.
Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat is quoted as saying “We are offering you the biggest Yerushalayim, the Hebrew word for Jerusalem, in Jewish history” to which the then Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni replied “We do not like this suggestion because it does not meet our demands”.