Israeli Court Freezes Bid for New Jerusalem Neighborhood Over Palestinian Discrimination Claims

East Jerusalem residents say 90% of Palestinian residents would be unable to buy homes in a swathe of new neighborhood because they are ineligible for government programs

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Part of the Givat Hamatos area of Jerusalem, November 2020.
Part of the Givat Hamatos area of Jerusalem, November 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The tender for the construction of a new neighborhood in Jerusalem was frozen by a court on Friday following a petition by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, who claimed that the regulations would render them unable to purchase homes in a large part of the neighborhood.

Judge Einat Avman-Muller of the Jerusalem District Court froze the closing of the tender until another hearing is held on the objections to it.

The Israel Lands Authority issued a call for tenders in November for construction of the new neighborhood in Jerusalem beyond the pre-1967 border after the plans were suspended for years, with the deadline for the bids being December 18.

A petition was filed on Thursday by 25 residents of East Jerusalem together with the Ir Amim nonprofit against the tender, arguing that about 40 percent of the planned homes were part of the government’s “Buyers’ Price” subsidized housing program. Under this program, the state sells the land to developers at a significantly lower price in return for a commitment to sell the new apartments to people entitled to discounted housing.

The plans for the neighborhood in the Givat Hamatos area, which would cut off the Palestinian town of Beit Safafa from surrounding towns, were drawn up several years ago, but were frozen following international opposition.

But according to Housing Ministry and Lands Authority regulations, non-citizens are not entitled to discounted housing from the government under this program. That means that even though the new neighborhood is beyond the pre-1967 border, in an area bordering on the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa – one of the last open areas in East Jerusalem – the vast majority of Palestinian residents of the capital, over 90 percent, would not be eligible to purchase many of the new apartments. They would be allowed to buy new homes in the neighborhood that are not part of the government’s subsidized program, which are more expensive, at regular prices. According to the terms of the tender, they also would not be able to buy apartments that are included in the program at full price, because the Housing Ministry forbids the developers who win the tender from selling such apartments at the market price.

“I have six children, my son is married and lives with us in a room, he and his wife, [and] the house is small and crowded,” one of the petitioners, Samar Abu Nimer, a resident of the Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem and the owner of a bus company, told Haaretz. “My dream is to buy an apartment and I heard this story of Givat Hamatos and there are convenient payments there that it is possible to meet, so why not?” Another petitioner, Dr. Ahmad Badira, an oncologist at Hadassah Hospital, said he lives with his wife and two daughters in a tiny apartment in Jerusalem’s Old City. “I thought about having another child, but where will I put him?” he said. "The prices in Jerusalem are very high, except in the Shoafat refugee camp, beyond the fence, but those are unorganized areas and there is no security there. I want to live in peace, something normal. I’m not asking for a free apartment, but let me enter the lottery. if I win, I’ll pay.”

The Prime Minister’s Office delayed the advancement of the plan for construction in Givat Hamatos because of pressure fro former U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration. After President Donald Trump took office in 2017, U.S. pressure against construction in Givat Hamatos ceased and plans for the new neighborhood moved ahead.

The European Union has opposed the plan, with the EU and NGOs saying that the plan will make it impossible to divide Jerusalem as part of a diplomatic agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, as because Givat Hamatos would complete a Jewish continuity of construction around Beit Safafa and cut it off from East Jerusalem.

Although Israel annexed East Jerusalem in June 1967, it did not make its Arab residents Israeli citizens. The vast majority, over 90 percent, of East Jerusalem residents are permanent residents of Israel, and not citizens. This grants them equal rights, but though they can vote in local elections, they cannot vote in Knesset elections. Permanent resident status is also easily rescinded.

The petitioners said housing problems are much more acute in East Jerusalem than in the western part of the city. According to official statistics, Palestinian residents comprise some 40 percent of the city’s residents, but live in only 26 percent of its homes. More than half of homes in Palestinian neighborhoods house more than six people, compared to around 15 percent in Jewish parts of the city.

“Giving the opportunity to buy apartments at a reduced price for citizens only in this tender, which is the subject of the petition, is a violation of East Jerusalem’s permanent residents right to equality, and in particular their right to equally regarding the social benefits intended to bring about the realization of the right to housing,” states the petition.

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