Israel land-grabs east Jerusalem area for "national parks"
Published Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Israeli authorities are designating areas in east Jerusalem for national parks in a “political” move that obstructs the much-needed development of Palestinian neighborhoods, two Israeli NGOs said.
In separate reports released on Tuesday, the organizations said the Jerusalem municipality and Israel's Nature and Parks Authority (NPA) are working together to encircle Arab neighborhoods and deprive them of necessary space for housing and schools.
Bimkom, an NGO which works with vulnerable communities on planning and building issues said declaring land to be a national park is effectively a land-grab strategy.
"These national parks, we call them green settlements, because it really works like a settlement," said Efrat Cohen-Bar, an architect with Bimkom.
Palestinians had hoped to build on a large open land in Jerusalem's annexed eastern sector which lies between the neighborhoods of Issawiya and A-Tur.
Badly overcrowded, and with half its homes built without city permits, Issawiya has spent years working with the NGO Bimkom and a city engineer on a plan that would have allowed the construction of new, legal housing.
However, that plan was shattered after Israel declared the land marked for Issawiya's expansion to be used for a national park instead, leaving residents nowhere to build.
The municipality and the NPA say the designation of parks is based on the natural and archaeological significance of the areas.
But Emek Shaveh, an Israeli group that opposes the "politicization" of archaeology, said most of the "national park areas" in east Jerusalem have little historical significance.
The group explained that the national parks "have no more archaeological value than many other places around Jerusalem.”
It said the designation of the park near Issawiya appeared to be "political," and intended to create "territorial contiguity."
"Such contiguity will enable a 'Palestinian-free' connection between Jerusalem and the settlements to the east, and will effectively cut off the southern West Bank from the northern West Bank," the group said.
Under Israeli law, if a private land is designated for a national park, it remains the legal property of its owner, but the owner cannot build on or cultivate the land without obtaining permission from the NPA – which is very rare.
Also, the state is not required to pay out any compensation for the owner because the land is not official expropriated where the owner retains the legal title, Cohen-Bar explained.
"They take all the open areas, that means there can be no new development," she said.
Israel drew strong international criticism after it announced it was speeding up settlement construction in response to a successful Palestinian bid to join the UN's cultural agency, UNESCO last November.
Approximately 310,000 Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank, while another 200,000 live in a dozen settlement neighborhoods in Arab east Jerusalem, which was captured in 1967.
Israel's settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law.
Meanwhile, suspected Jewish extremists carried out another "price tag" attack on Palestinians, this time torching two vehicles in the village of Sharafat in East Jerusalem early Wednesday morning.
The arsons also spray painted Hebrew graffiti, and “price tag” and “revenge” near the burned out cars.
Police have opened an investigation into the incident but have not yet made any arrests, Israeli police spokesman told Ma'an News Agency.
The term "price tag" is used by Jewish settlers to describe a policy to attack Palestinians and their property in retaliation for perceived anti-settler actions by the Israeli government.
Attacks are usually carried out in West Bank villages, but the torching Wednesday is the second incident in Jerusalem in recent weeks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a recommendation to label violent Jewish extremists as "terrorists."
No suspects have been detained over the "price tag" attacks on Palestinians in recent weeks, although Israeli authorities have arrested several Jewish extremists regarding a separate attack on an Israeli army base in the West Bank.
(AFP, Ma'an News Agency)