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Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war

Nora Sub Laban is comforted by family as she reacts to their eviction from their home to make way for Israeli settlers in Jerusalem’s Old City, Tuesday, July 11, 2023. (AP)
Nora Sub Laban is comforted by family as she reacts to their eviction from their home to make way for Israeli settlers in Jerusalem’s Old City, Tuesday, July 11, 2023. (AP)
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18 Apr 2024 01:04:47 GMT9
18 Apr 2024 01:04:47 GMT9
  • Building plans in East Jerusalem being fast-tracked at ‘unprecedented speed,’ rights organization says

Arab News

LONDON: Israel’s government has stepped up the building of settlements across East Jerusalem, with over 20 projects involving thousands of housing units advanced since it launched its war on Gaza six months ago, according to planning documents seen by the Guardian.

While many government bodies were shuttered or had limited operation following Oct. 7, planning authorities continued to advance plans at “unprecedented speed,” Sari Kronish, from the Israeli rights organization Bimkom — Planners for Planning Rights, told the Guardian.

“The fast-tracking of these plans has been unparalleled in the last six months,” Kronish added

Significantly, two new settlements were approved in East Jerusalem, the first such approvals in over a decade. One development involves the expansion of Kidmat Zion, a high-security settlement in the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras Al-Amud, which was decided on two days after the Oct. 7 attacks.

In the Palestinian community of Beit Safafa, encircled by these developments, work has also resumed on the Givat Hamatos and new Givat Shaked projects.

Givat Hamatos was shut down for a decade after international opposition. Work resumed in 2020, and last month the site was bustling with workers, heavy machinery, and trucks.

Givat Shaked, which received full planning permission on Jan. 4, will be built on the northwestern side of Beit Safafa.

It entails high-rise buildings with 700 housing units on the only land in Beit Safafa where the 17,000-strong Muslim majority could expand to accommodate young people. Palestinians are unable to build larger homes in the neighborhood, as well as elsewhere, due to bureaucratic and other restrictions.

The Givat Shaked project has faced significant opposition due to potential threats to the Oslo peace accords, leading to international criticism and a temporary halt urged by the US.

Despite this, the project gained momentum two years ago, endorsed by then Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.

He rejected any claims of Palestinian control over Jerusalem’s east, and said it was “unthinkable to prevent development and construction in this area, or anywhere else in the city.”

“Our family has been here for 250 years … Now I have a black hole in my heart because I can’t see how my children and grandchildren can spend their lives here,” Ahmed Salman, the chair of Beit Safafa’s community council, told the Guardian.

“We had good relations with the municipality once, but not in recent years. Since the war, life goes on, but they approved the plan and dismissed all our objections. We are appealing, but I’m not optimistic,” the 71-year-old said.

Another contentious project, the Lower Aqueduct, was fully approved on Dec. 29. This settlement is planned adjacent to a Palestinian neighborhood, further complicating the demographic and political landscape.

“Many of the settlement plans are strategically designated for areas along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem,” Amy Cohen, of Israeli human rights NGO Ir Amim, said.

Cohen added: “If constructed, they would further fracture the Palestinian space … and create a ‘sealing-off’ effect of East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and the southern West Bank.

“Such moves directly undermine conditions necessary for a viable independent Palestinian state with a contiguous capital in East Jerusalem. All this while bringing planning and building for Palestinians in the city to a complete stop.”

The surge in settlement activity aligns with the goals of the Israeli settler movement, supported by Israel’s current government, which is described by a UN report as the most right-wing in the nation’s history.

Palestinians account for roughly 40 percent of Jerusalem’s population of around 1 million. Successive Israeli governments have sought to maintain the city’s Jewish majority.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move that was not recognized by the majority of the international community. International law prohibits the permanent settlement of militarily occupied territory.

This expansion challenges the possibility of a Palestinian state and strains Israel’s relations with the international community, including the Biden administration.

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