|TWO PALESTINIAN COMMUNITIES
IN JERUSALEM THREATENED BY EVICTION
Jerusalem 1998 - Land Without a People?
THE CASE OF BIR ‘ONA
Until 1967, Bir 'Ona, located on the slope of al Slaiyeb mountain (now Gilo settlement) south of Jerusalem was a small Palestinian community under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Beit Jala. In 1967, Israel annexed this territory to Jerusalem and later began construction of the Gilo settlement on the hill top above Bir 'Ona. The Palestinian residents, some 150 persons at that time, were included in the Israeli census conducted in newly occupied East Jerusalem (Bir 'Ona residents hold census documents dated 4-8-1968). Although those included in the census were to receive blue Jerusalem ID cards, years passed and no such Israeli ID cards were issued to them. Finally, in 1969 - and only after pressure by the residents - orange-colored West Bank ID cards were issued to them by the Israeli military government/civil administration. At that time, Bir 'Ona residents did not object to receiving the status of West Bank residents, because they were not eager to become legal subjects of the occupying state. For the same reason, the community turned down an eventual offer by Israel, in 1983, to provide them with Jerusalem ID cards. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, the community considered itself part and parcel of the 1967 occupied West Bank, just like their neighboring communities of Beit Jala and Bethlehem. They were not aware of the fact that on the maps of the Israeli town planners, Bir 'Ona was part of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.
In the 1980s, more and more
Bir 'Ona residents and newcomers to the neighborhood wished to build new
homes and discovered that this was an impossible task. Applicants for building
permits at the Beit Jala municipality were informed that they did not fall
under the municipality's jurisdiction. When people approached the Jerusalem
municipality, their requests for building permits were rejected, based
on the argument that the area had not yet been zoned (or was zoned as "Green
Land") and that, as West Bank residents, they were not entitled to build
on "Israeli state territory". An attempt by the residents in the 1980s
to take the issue of building permits in Bir 'Ona to the Israeli court
system failed, because the judge stated that he was unable to decide whether
or not they were legal subjects of Israel. The families were trapped and
out of the urgent need for housing, began to build new homes without Israeli
permits. The Israeli response was swift. Starting from the mid-1980s,
demolition orders against the newly built homes were issued by the Jerusalem
municipality. In 1990, Bir 'Ona received official notice from the Israeli
authorities stating that the community was part of the Israeli state territory.
By 1998, two Bir 'Ona homes have been demolished and 17 additional demolition
orders are still pending.
Confronted with house demolition orders, a military closure, the immanent threat of land confiscation for the growing Gilo settlement and the gigantic bridge serving Road no. 60, and - in the meantime - aware of the Israeli policy of evicting the Palestinian population from Jerusalem, the community formed a Residents' Council. In 1996, the Council set out on the long march for a solution demanding a clear-cut decision by the Israeli authorities: "Either we are residents of Jerusalem and thus entitled to Jerusalem ID cards, municipal services, and building permits, or we and our land must be treated like other West Bank communities occupied in 1967 and handed over to the Palestinian Authority", says Council head Na'im Abu Sa'd, "We are not going to let them separate us from our homes and land."
Bir 'Ona: Facts &
Size: 1,000 dunums (200 of
them built up area)
* before 1995, Bir 'Ona was
connected to the water supply system of the Water & Sewage Authority
Bethlehem-Beit Sahour-Beit Jala. This system was consequently dismantled
by the Jerusalem municipality.
Negotiations with the Jerusalem
municipality were re-started in 1996 and have born little result:
On 13 March 1997, the Bir 'Ona Council and their lawyer Atty. Lea Tsemel
met with Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, the Mayor's Advisor on Neighborhood
Affairs, and the Legal Advisor to the Municipality to discuss the practical
implications of the 1967 annexation of Bir 'Ona. In this meeting, Mayor
Olmert stated that he recognized the urban rights of the residents and
the municipality's responsibility for their well-being. He promised the
rapid approval of a zoning plan for Bir 'Ona, the prerequisite for municipal
building permits. Since then, more than one year has passed and the only
practical expression of the municipality's recognition of responsibility
for Bir 'Ona is a wave of Arnona (municipal tax) bills which has newly
reached the community via the Israeli postal service. "Where are the services,
the schools, the kindergartens, the streets, the lights, the garbage disposal,
that they ask as to pay for", ask Bir 'Ona residents understandably. Since
the residents have abstained from paying the bills, the Jerusalem municipality
now issues combined Arnona-water bills so as to step-up the pressure.
Legal efforts aimed at obtaining Jerusalem ID cards for Bir 'Ona residents have brought no more than piecemeal success. Two year's of correspondence with the Israeli Interior Ministry in Jerusalem on behalf of 20 families represented by BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights resulted - in early 1998 - in the issuance of temporary 24-hour Jerusalem entry permits to these families. These permits do not entitle the holder to work in Jerusalem, and the question if and when Bir 'Ona residents will obtain Jerusalem ID cards has remained unresolved.
Bir 'Ona residents also report that Israelis frequently come to their doors offering to buy their homes and property. As Bir 'Ona is situated directly under the new settler bypass road, Route 60, as well as being in the path of another bypass road that will connect the Etzion settlement block with the prospective and illegal Har Homa settlement on Abu Ghneim hill, the property is strategically very important. Fearing for their future and trapped in an impossible situation, the Bir 'Ona Council has conducted a series of meetings with Palestinian authorities to clarify ways for their support. The Council, assisted by BADIL Resource Center, will continue the media and support campaign launched in spring of 1998. "We are not going to sit with our hands folded and wait for our eviction", says Na'im Abu Sa'd, "we want to see our case raised now!"
For further details and visits to Bir 'Ona contact: BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights, tel/fax. 02-2747346, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: www.badil.org
From al Nakba 1948 to
Eviction in 1998
For five Palestinian families
living on what is now the compound of the Hebrew University in the Israeli
French Hill settlement in East Jerusalem, the continuity of the Palestinian
Nakba of 1948 is obvious. The families, refugees of 1948, have been
living - surrounded by University dormitories - on land which belongs to
them. Now, the University has renewed its efforts to force them to leave
so as to expand its dormitory section.
In 1967, only ten years after they had moved into their new homes, Israel occupied also this part of the city. Soon afterwards, the Israeli authorities allocated these families' remaining lands to the Hebrew University. This step was "legalized" by an official expropriation order issued on 11 January 1968. It was then that the families learned that also the Knesset, the Israeli parliament building, had been built on land belonging to the Akel family. In the course of the 31 years of Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem, both the Hebrew University and the Israeli government have never stopped trying to evict these families, despite the assurances given by the University Spokesman Office that a removal would occur only when there would be a real need for this space.
A 1972 letter addressed to the Akel family by a lawyer of the Israeli Land Administration reads: "In light of the expropriation notice based on Paragraph 5 and 7 of the Land Ordinance of 1943 (i.e. requisition for public need) ... you and your family are asked to vacate the house and plot occupied by you within 15 days of the date of this letter. Custody of your house and land must be transferred to the State of Israel within the aforementioned period. You must leave the house clear of all objects and occupants. Should you fail to comply within the said period, we will be obliged to start legal procedures. As regards to compensation, your are entitled to present your claims in accordance with the Ordinance mentioned above, if you can establish proof of your rights" (quoted from Haaretz, The Case of French Hill, Amira Hass, 10 May 1998). The families did not comply. Consequently the case was taken to the Jerusalem District Court in 1972 (file no. 1531/72). In 1973, the latter ruled in favor of the University and the state. The court decided that the families must evacuate their homes and be offered alternative housing.
No further legal procedures occurred between 1973 and 1998. However, construction was started everywhere around the Palestinian families' homes, while they were not permitted to enlarge their houses. Today they are surrounded by huge student dormitories, the luxurious Hyatt Hotel - all built on their land - and "living in the heart of the dormitory area" (Hebrew University public relations statement).
In 1998, the old District Court eviction order, valid for a period of 25 years, was about to expire. Thus, the University launched a new attempt at driving out the families, arguing that additional urgently needed dormitories are to be built on the land. On 23 April 1998, the families received a letter sent by the Asher Rogel & Co. Law Office, the University's legal representative. This letter states that the University is interested in reaching a settlement with the families. The approximately 35 family members should vacate their homes, while the University will send experts to estimate the value of their property as a basis for adequate compensation. Paragraph 8 of this letter emphasizes that the University will enforce the court ruling, if the families are unwilling to cooperate. The Palestinian families were given 7 days to respond to this offer. However, nothing happened after the expiration of this one-week deadline.
The families, assuming that they are confronted with yet another trial-balloon launched by the University so as to test their reaction, have not remained idle. They contacted the media, Palestinian Knesset member Azmi Beshara, and universities abroad. University students, especially Palestinian students, and peace activists from Israel, Europe and the USA responded to their call for support, several University teachers joined in opposing the University's plans.
The Hebrew University, on the other hand, has remained persistent. According to Jerry Barash, University Spokesman Office, construction on the families' plot will not start immediately, but "they will have to move in the near future and the university will enforce this". He also explains that the families turned down an offer for alternative housing in a plot just 800 meters away from their current location. At the same time, the University felt obliged to repair its image by issuing an official statement (18 May 1998) clarifying that, "While protecting the interests of the students in the university, the Hebrew University has no intention to evacuate the families living in this area prior to reaching an agreement which will respect their rights." The case remains unresolved. In the meantime, the families received a letter issued by the Jerusalem District Court on 11 May 1998. The letter reminds the families of their obligation to pay NIS 304 (approximately US$80) for the court fees of 1972/3. "Of course we will not pay", say the families, "because we don't recognize this court and its decisions".