IR AMIM researcher Aviv Tatarsky guides journalists .
(photo credit: DANIEL K. EISENBUD)
“Israel has a long-term policy – that goes back to 1967 – of consolidating its control of east Jerusalem,” Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at the left-wing NGO Ir Amim, said during a Wednesday morning press tour of Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Beginning at the periphery of southern Jerusalem, with clear vistas of Har Homa and Gilo, Tatarsky pointed to them as key examples of strategically built neighborhoods intended to block a contiguous Palestinian state from Ramallah to east Jerusalem.
“We can see how settlement construction actually creates borders and boundaries and brings together areas and separates areas,” he said. “And as far as Israeli right-wing policy- makers are concerned, this guarantees Israeli control of Jerusalem.”
If a Palestinian state is created, he said, “these facts on the ground are detrimental.”
“For east Jerusalem to be a capital of Palestine, you need to have contiguity between it and the rest of the West Bank, and you have a very simple connection between Bethlehem and east Jerusalem, but building Har Homa right between the two blocks the connection,” he said.
“Right next to Har Homa you have Gilo, and if you look to the east, the plans for E1 outside of Jerusalem would disconnect Ramallah from Bethlehem. If you look at the north of Jerusalem, then Pisgat Ze’ev and Neveh Ya’acov are close to Beit Hanina, and Ramat Shlomo is near Shuafat, making it difficult to separate [two states].”
Moreover, Tatarsky said, efforts by right-wing groups have long been under way in the heart of Jerusalem to change facts on the ground there.
“In the center of east Jerusalem, around the Old City, it’s densely populated by Palestinians,” he said. “And what the settler organizations are trying to do is get control of homes there, either by buying them or through various laws that allow Jews to obtain property, whereas they don’t allow Palestinians to do the same.”
“There was Jewish property in east Jerusalem prior to 1948 because, of course, it was one city,” he said. “However, after 1948 Jews lost that property in the same way that Palestinians lost property in west Jerusalem.”
After 1967’s Six Day War, Tatarsky claimed, the government made a law allowing Israelis to reacquire property, whereas Palestinians were not given the same right.
“So today one of the significant ways Elad [The Ir David Foundation] and other settler organizations obtain property is that they contact Jews who owned the property before 1948 and convince them to hand over property rights to them,” he said.
“And then they go to the Israel General Custodian and say, ‘Look, we have ownership of this property; this used to be Jewish property, and even if Palestinians are living there, we demand to get it.’ And the general custodian complies, while denying Palestinians the same rights.”
Ultimately, Tatarsky said, such discrepancies in policy – compounded by a foundering east Jerusalem infrastructure, 80 percent poverty rate, high crime and school dropout rates – will only result in a collectively weakened city.
“If Palestinians are poor, then Jerusalem will remain a poor city, and Israelis will pay for it,” he said. “If there is a high crime rate in Palestinian neighborhoods, it also reaches the Israeli neighborhoods. If Palestinians feel they are neglected and discriminated against, then they retaliate violently, and of course we pay for it.”
Despite Tatarsky’s claims of municipality negligence with respect to east Jerusalem, Mayor Nir Barkat has repeatedly stated that the municipal budget is allocated equitably throughout the capital in Arab and Jewish neighborhoods.
Additionally, Barkat said hundreds of millions of shekels of the municipality’s annual budget has been earmarked exclusively to improve east Jerusalem’s foundering infrastructure by building more classrooms, creating job-training programs and improving living conditions.