The East Jerusalem Hills

It’s been a long day of touring East Jerusalem and getting a crash course on the ongoing silent transfer of Palestinians out of their lands. Our first day began with a tour led by an Israeli guide from The Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD), showing us the “matrix of control” that Israel has installed. Our bus drove from hilltop to hilltop and valley to valley in East Jerusalem, and we stopped in several places where we were shown how a slow strangulation is underway by Israeli settlements which swallow up more and more Palestinian land. Now 20 years old, Israel’s segregation wall snakes through these hills and valleys like an endless anaconda.

We are here as a group of 34 mostly Presbyterians on a trip we are calling Solidarity with the Suffering. As we witnessed the travesty that has become the reality of East Jerusalem, many of us were thinking, “But isn’t Gaza where we need to focus right now?”  With over 2 million people in a catastrophic humanitarian disaster, why are we talking about settlement expansion now? The answer is that, as horrible as this sounds, we heard from our guide from ICAHD today that “Gaza plays a non-significant role in the big picture of the Zionist strategic plan.” The West Bank and Jerusalem are “the key pieces of the puzzle that Israel wants, not Gaza.” And, she continued, “the land grab is happening now under the cover of this war, while world attention is on Gaza; huge changes are taking place in accelerated mode here in Jerusalem and in the West Bank since the war started, so we must look at the bigger picture. Zionism, which began in the 1890s,” she said, “has been in practice since 1947, and it is an ongoing process which has been in overdrive since the 7th of October.”

The solidarity group at Israel’s segregation wall.

We learned that Israel has created such permanent facts on the ground, now alarmingly accelerated, that they cannot be ignored. ICAHD sees an imminent two-state plan that will be forced by and developed by the U.S. without any input from Palestinians, and will incorporate these new facts on the ground, in an ongoing ethnic cleansing process since 1948.

In other words, Israel will get all the settlements it has built illegally beyond the 1967 border and Palestinians will not be able to negotiate for their own rights. Since 1967, the Palestinian population has quadrupled in East Jerusalem to about 350,000 but Israeli authorities have not allowed even one new neighborhood to be developed, so more and more people are living in less and less space since so much of the available land has been taken by Israeli-only settlements.

Palestinian neighborhood in foreground, Nof Tsiyon, yet another new Israeli settlement under construction on hilltop in East Jerusalem. Notice black water tanks on roofs.

In that same period, Israel has developed 144 new settlements in East Jerusalem on Palestinian land with full municipal services from water, garbage collection, sewer services, schools, parks and more. Palestinians pay more taxes than Israeli settlements — Orthodox Jews are tax exempt— and get very little in return; Palestinian communities have no parks, no infrastructure spending, and barely any services from the government they pay taxes to. About 4000 Palestinian children in East Jerusalem are shut out of public schools because there’s just no room for them. The state won’t allow more schools to be built. Garbage collection is so rare that they end up having to burn their garbage, which isn’t good for anyone. The water company will not hook up houses to water, so they have water tanks on the roofs, which often get purposely shot and damaged by soldiers who protect the illegal settlers. The intentional policies are set to push people out, and as ICAHD told us, they are designed to bring about a “silent transfer,” or what is otherwise known today as ethnic cleansing.

It is immediately clear when you move from a Palestinian neighborhood to an Israeli one: all of a sudden there are paved roads, sidewalks, lights, and no more water tanks on roofs. These and many more differences are the tip of the iceberg of an apartheid society, intent on pushing people out based on ethnicity, and rewarding people based on religion. What could go wrong?

Noushin Framke, Presbyterian Elder, New York City. Framke is a part of a coalition sponsored by the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA) who are taking part in a trip of solidarity for our Palestinian siblings in the Gaza and the West Bank. Blog entires on other updates can be found here.

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