After Long Freeze, Israel Again Promoting East Jerusalem Construction for Jews

Once Trump took office, right-wing politicians declared the freeze on construction in East Jerusalem over. And the plans require the eviction of several Palestinian families

The site of planned Jewish housing in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, July 2017.
Emil Salman

Plans to expand Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and build housing for Jews in an Arab neighborhood of the capital – where five Palestinian families would be evicted – will come before the Jerusalem District Planning Commission in the next two weeks.

The plans expected to be approved include 2,000 homes in large Jewish neighborhoods and four plans for Jewish housing in Sheikh Jarrah, two of which would involve evacuating Palestinians who live there.

During the two terms of U.S. President Barack Obama and especially during the past six years, there was a marked slowdown in construction for Jews beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem. Diplomatically sensitive plans were repeatedly delayed by orders from above or removed from the planning committees’ agenda with no explanation.

Right-wing Jerusalem settlement activist Aryeh King (left) talks with members of the later-to-be-evicted Shamasneh family in Sheikh Jarrah, March 2, 2015.
Emil Salman

Once Donald Trump entered the White House, and especially after his visit to Israel in May, right-wing politicians began to declare that the freeze on construction in East Jerusalem was over. It seems now as if the obstacles have indeed been removed and the planning committees will approve a long list of plans for neighborhoods in the capital over the Green Line.

The most controversial ones are the four plans to building housing for Jews in Sheikh Jarrah, just north of the Old City. The neighborhood was in the news seven years ago when a number of Palestinian families were removed from their homes so that Jews could move in, after Jewish groups proved that the structures had been Jewish property before 1948. Those evacuations generated heated public protest, and ever since there have been almost no Palestinians forced out of the neighborhood.

Nevertheless, right-wing groups and businessmen affiliated with the right continued to advance evacuation-and-construction plans for the area. Among the plans to be discussed by the Jerusalem District Planning Commission is one to evict one family to build a building with three apartments on three floors, and another plan that would require the eviction of four Palestinian families to build a five-story building with 10 apartments.

Planned Israeli construction in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah

Construction eases way for eviction of Palestinians

In both cases the buildings are Jewish-owned property, but the Palestinians have the rights of protected tenants, which makes it more difficult to evacuate them. Jerusalem City Councilman Aryeh King, who has been involved in promoting Jewish settlement in Sheikh Jarrah, explained that approving the construction plans is part of the process of evacuating the Palestinian families. “By law, one acceptable reason for evacuating tenants is when the owner of the property seeks to improve it,” said King. In such a case the Palestinians would be compensated for their homes. King said the two plans have been frozen for six years.

A third plan to be discussed by the planning commission is for a building for the Ohr Somayach yeshiva in an open area of Sheikh Jarrah. The building is slated to go up near the neighborhood’s gas station, even though constructing a public building near a gas station is illegal. The yeshiva building will have eight stories, with an additional two stories devoted to “public institutions for emergency and rescue,” according to the plan. The fourth plan calls for a six-story office building to be constructed by Israeli developers in the middle of the neighborhood.

The planning commission is also expected to approve several plans to expand Jewish neighborhoods over the Green Line that have been held up by the construction freeze. Due to come up this week is a plan for 944 apartments in Pisgat Zeev (on land that has remained empty since the state expropriated it in 1980). Other plans for 800 units in Gilo, 200 apartments in Ramot, 214 homes in Neveh Yaakov and another 116 homes in Pisgat Zeev, will be debated in two weeks.

“The construction of two settlements in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem, alongside the advancing of plans for nearly 2,000 homes across the Green Line, are more proof of the blatant efforts by the government to destroy any chance of a diplomatic solution,” said Lior Amihai, head of the settlement-oversight team at Peace Now. “Especially grave is the fact that establishing the settlements in the heart of Sheikh Jarrah will cause the removal of five Palestinian families that lived in their homes for decades as protected tenants. There’s no limit to the cynicism and shame.”

Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher for the left-wing Ir Amim association, added, “Two thousand housing units across the Green Line are 2,000 unilateral moves. The Israeli public that wants peace has been spat upon in the face by its leadership again.”