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From the field

A Policy of Discrimination: Land Expropriation, Planning and Building in East Jerusalem

May 1995, Summary

Jerusalem represents perhaps the most contentious issue in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Palestinians hope to establish their capital in East Jerusalem, while Israel claims that it will not relinquish control over any part of what it considers its eternal, indivisible capital. The process of resolving these conflicting claims will be central to the negotiations on the permanent status of the occupied territories. In the meantime, in the five year interim period between the Declaration of Principles and the permanent status arrangement, both Israel and the PLO agree not to "initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations" (Article XXXI of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip).
Despite this agreement, Israel continues to construct Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. In May, B'Tselem released A Policy of Discrimination: Land Expropriation, Planning and Building in East Jerusalem. This comprehensive report details the systematic and deliberate discrimination against the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem in all matters relating to land, development and housing construction.

Urban development of the city is based on political-national considerations, rather than addressing the needs of all residents of Jerusalem. Since 1967, one central goal has dictated municipal planning policy: strengthening Israeli control throughout the city. This has been accomplished through the construction of Jewish neighborhoods throughout East Jerusalem and the encouragement of Jews to settle in them. The means to attain this objective include the following:

Land expropriations: Most of the lands expropriated since 1967 were privately-owned by Arabs. Some 38,500 housing units were built on this land, all of them for the Jewish population. Not one housing unit was built for Palestinians. Town Planning Schemes: The planning authorities prepared planning schemes which, rather than contributing to the development of Palestinian neighborhoods and easing the housing shortages there, restrict development and limit the area designated for building in Palestinian neighborhoods. At the same time, the Israeli authorities promote extensive building and enormous investment for Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

These policies have increased the housing density in the Arab sector. While the average housing density of the Jewish population in 1993 was 1.1 persons per room, for the Palestinian population the density was 2.2 persons per room. Furthermore, rather than decreasing since Israeli occupation, the gap in housing density is twice as large as that which existed in 1967.

Although the general contours of Israeli policy in East Jerusalem were well-known, B'Tselem used official documents from the Municipality and government offices, minutes from City Council meetings, court decisions and a review of Town Planning schemes to document the policy in detail.

The policies documented by B'Tselem constitute a violation of the internationally-recognized right to non-discrimination. Israel is a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which explicitly prohibits discrimination regarding the right to housing (Article 5 (e) (iii). In addition to the principle of non-discrimination, Israel is in violation of the human right to housing. Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes "the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions." Furthermore, as a signatory to this Covenant, Israel guarantees "that the rights enunciated ... will be exercised without discrimination of any kind" (Article 2(2)).

Furthermore, under international law, the status of East Jerusalem is identical to that of the West Bank: it is occupied territory to which the Fourth Geneva Convention applies. This Convention prohibits the occupying power from making permanent changes to the occupied territory or from settling part of its population there. Israel's land use and building policies in East Jerusalem violate both of these prohibitions.