As Israel prepares to mark Jerusalem Day this Thursday (May 21), B’Tselem is releasing a new report describing life in the Palestinian neighborhood of al-‘Esawiyah 53 years after East Jerusalem was annexed to Israel. Over the past year, al-‘Esawiyah has become a flashpoint because of a police operation designed primarily to harass residents. In This is Jerusalem: Violence and Dispossession in al- ‘Esawiyah , B'Tselem analyzes Israel’s policy of dispossession, deliberate neglect, lack of planning and police violence in the neighborhood, which is an extreme example of its actions throughout East Jerusalem.
As Jerusalem Day nears, B'Tselem is publishing a new report about the Israeli policy that has shaped the lives of al-’Esawiyah’s 22,000 Palestinian residents, making it one of the city’s poorest and most overcrowded neighborhoods. The report, This is Jerusalem: Violence and Dispossession in al- ‘Esawiyah, reviews the key features of this policy – systemic landgrab and deliberate lack of planning.
- Since 1967, Israel has overtaken about 90% of al-’Esawiyah’s land, which once spanned almost 2,500 acres.
- The landgrab is a key reason for the neighborhood’s poverty, as residents are denied the opportunity to benefit from their land.
- The stolen land serves the Jewish public.
- Al-’Esawiyah residents now have less than 250 acres, which are mostly built up and hemmed in by Israeli institutions (primarily the Hebrew University and Hadassah Mt. Scopus Medical Center) and Jewish neighborhoods.
- The Jerusalem Municipality has yet to draw up a proper outline plan that allows legal residential construction and reflects residents’ needs, including infrastructure development and public buildings. Instead, the only plan approved for the neighborhood, in 1991, was mostly designed to limit construction.
- This has resulted in about half the homes in the neighborhood (some 2,000 units) being built without a permit and countless families living under the constant threat of house demolition and paying hundreds of thousands of shekels in fines.
Institutional violence also takes a more direct form than landgrab and lack of planning, as seen in daily police brutality: For more than a year now, the Jerusalem police has been waging a campaign of abuse and collective punishment in the neighborhood, as part of which Special Patrol Unit and Border Police forces enter al-’Esawiyah for no reason almost daily. The officers, armed from head to toe, enter the neighborhood with vans, jeeps and drones and intentionally create violent “friction” that disrupts routine and makes daily life extremely difficult in the Palestinian neighborhood. Among other things, they randomly close off main streets, creating long traffic jams; use loudspeakers on patrol cars and police vehicles late at night; provoke residents by aiming weapons at them; conduct degrading inspections and search cars and bags (including children’s schoolbags); verbally goad residents; order shops to shut down for no apparent reason, without showing a warrant; use dogs to search shops; raid homes and search them without a warrant; and falsely arrest minors (sometimes in the middle of the night), in severe violation of their rights. According to the community leadership, from the beginning of the operation through January 2020, some 300 neighborhood residents were injured as a result of the violent police activity. Up to the beginning of May, the police arrested 850 neighborhood residents, most of them minors.
Al-‘Esawiyah is one, particularly extreme, example of Israel’s policy in East Jerusalem, which sees Palestinian residents as no more than subjects who can be treated as it wishes. Israel’s policy regarding these neighborhoods is driven by its goal to take over as much land as possible and expand its control as far as it can – utterly ignoring the harsh consequences for residents, which include extreme poverty, unbearably crowded living conditions and planning chaos.
This reality, which is the result of an ongoing policy led by all Israeli governments since 1967, lays bare Israel’s priorities in the only part of the West Bank it has – as yet – taken the trouble to formally annex: no equality, no rights, and not even reasonable municipal services. Instead, state authorities use their power in the annexed territory to cement the supremacy of one group over another.