Israel's illegal settlements expanded

Saturday, July 25, 2009 - 10:00

An East Jerusalem community has called on US President Barack Obama to pressure Israel to stop its illegal "Jewish-only" settlement program that will evict them from their homes.

Twenty-seven families in Sheikh Jarrah are facing home evictions to further the growth of Israeli settlements in the area. The Palestinian families have lived in the houses since 1956.

In a letter to Obama, Sheikh Jarrah resident Maher Hannoun said: "After 37 years of suffering for the right to stay at our home, we now have a candle at the end of the tunnel. You are our candle, you are our hope.

"We believe in your vision and your honesty, and we ask you to support us in our time of need. Our future depends on your support."

After weeks of talk about Obama pushing forward with peace plans for the region, the US has shown a complete unwillingness to pressure Israel to stop flouting international law.

The United Nations has repeatedly passed resolutions condemning Israel's program of Jewish-only settlements built on occupied Palestinian land. For instance, the 1979 UN Security Council's Resolution 446 said Israeli settlements "have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East".

The US is set to contribute more than US$2 billion in aid to Israel over the 2009 fiscal year, a February 3 Congressional Research Service report said. A November Washington Report on Middle East Affairs article said the US had contributed at least $114 billion in direct aid to Israel since 1949.

Questioned about imposing sanctions on Israel over its violation of international law, US spokesperson Robert Wood was quoted in a July 22 Ma'an article as saying: "It's premature to talk about that.

"What we are trying to do, as I said right now, is to create an environment which makes it conducive for talks to go forward."

Since 1978, when settlers illegally registered the land with Israeli authorities, members of the Sheikh Jarrah community have faced intimidation and long legal battles to stay in their homes.

Israeli settler organisation Nahalat Shimon International planned to demolish the neighborhood in order to build 200 units, Israeli NGO Ir Amim said. Similar battles are being fought in nearby East Jerusalem neighbourhoods Silwan, Ras Khamiis, Al Tur and Sur Beher.

Last November in Sheikh Jarrah, the Al Kurds family were evicted from their home, half of which had been taken over by settlers. The Israeli military forcibly evicted them from the house during the early hours of the morning.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Israelis were discriminated against for not being able to move to East Jerusalem. He compared the situation to the international outcry that would ensue if Jews were prohibited from buying property in New York, London, Paris or Rome.

Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting on July 19: "I would like to reemphasise that united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and of the state of Israel.

"Our sovereignty over it cannot be challenged; this means that residents of Jerusalem may purchase apartments in all parts of the city.

"We cannot accept the idea that Jews will not have the right to live and purchase in all parts of Jerusalem."

But as Israeli Attorney Yael Azoulay told Ha'aretz on July 21, Palestinians are unable to buy properties in most of Jerusalem. "Non-Jewish foreigners cannot purchase apartments.

"This group includes Palestinians from the east of the city, who have Israeli identity cards but are residents rather than citizens of Israel."

Building permits were almost impossible to obtain for Palestinians and they faced the constant threat of house demolition, some being threatened to destroy their own houses before the government charged the occupants to destroy it themselves, Ir Amim said.

During Netanyahu's first term as prime minister in 1996-99, he approved the building of 20,000 settlement homes in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Post said on July 19.

Israeli settlements within the occupied Palestinian territories contain a population of about 500,000 and infrastructure consumes more than 42% of the land. A July 9 Jerusalem Post report said more than 2500 houses were now being constructed in the West Bank's settlements.

A study by the Israel-based Macro Center for Political Economy has revealed that 57% of settlement funding comes directly from the Israeli government, Reuters said on July 21.

The latest plan being touted by Obama calls for a settlement freeze in the West Bank and Jerusalem, a plan that rehashes the earlier "Roadmap to Peace".

That agreement was struck by former US president George Bush in 2003. In return, Palestinians were to give up their right to self-defence by agreeing to end all "violence" — regardless of Israeli attacks.

The plan also demanded that Arab states normalise ties with Israel, including opening diplomatic missions and allowing flyovers by military aircraft.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem, known as Al Quds to the Palestinians, from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War. East Jerusalem has long been seen as the potential capital of an independent Palestinian state based on the territories Israel occupied in 1967.

The growth of these settlements further undermines the potential for a two-state solution to the Palestinian question.

Time.com said on July 20: "The expansion of the Israeli presence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in recent years has eroded faith in the prospects for a territorially viable Palestinian state; the idea of resolving the conflict on the basis of creating two states — a concept that entered the political mainstream almost two decades ago — may have reached its expiration date."

[For more information, and to sign a petition in support of the Sheikh Jarrah families, visit

From GLW issue 804