Jerusalem 1998 - Land Without a People?



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.
 With the imposition of the permanent military closure of Jerusalem in 1993, the situation of Bir 'Ona became completely absurd: Bir 'Ona residents were suddenly obliged to obtain Jerusalem entry permits although they live in an area which - in Israeli terms - is part of the city. Since applications for these entry permits were usually turned down, Bir 'Ona residents found themselves living "illegally" in their homes. Israeli soldiers frequently erected checkpoints in the neighborhood and stopped people, residents and visitors, walking in the streets. When they saw their orange West Bank ID cards, they took them away and fined the holder US $150 for illegally entering Jerusalem.

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 & Figures 
(Estimates by the Bir 'Ona Council)

Size: 1,000 dunums (200 of them built up area)
Number of residents in 1998: 900
Number of residents without Jerusalem ID cards: 500 (70 families)
Number of houses: 60-70 (116 housing units)
Total Number of demolition orders issued: 19
Number of homes demolished: 2
Source of water supply: Jerusalem Municipality (since 1995)*
Source of electricity supply: Jerusalem Electricity Company**
Number of schools: 0
Number of kindergartens: 0
Number of health clinics: 0
Sewage & garbage services, street lightening: 0

* 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.
** This company is a formerly Jordanian, now Palestinian company which supplies electricity to Jerusalem (including Israeli areas) and to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Expenses for the installation of the electric grid were covered by the community and not by the Jerusalem municipality.urrent Developments

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.
On 28 June 1998, Sharon Goldstein, the Advisor on Political Affairs for the Mayor of Jerusalem, arranged a meeting between the Department of Health and Sanitation, a sewage company and the council of Bir 'Ona, to discuss the possibilities of establishing a municipal sanitation and sewage system in the Palestinian neighborhood. According to the proposal, Bir 'Ona would be included in the Jerusalem sanitation routes and be connected to the city's sewage system. Connection to the Jerusalem sewage system will cost each household approximately NIS 11,000 (US $3,000). When the Council asked why the garbage could go to Jerusalem while they themselves could not, the question was dismissed by the municipal officials as being a "political question." When Goldstein was asked how the houses with demolition orders will be connected to the municipal sewage system, Goldstein refused to give an explicit answer. Thus the Bir 'Ona Council decided to refuse the municipal plan for the new infrastructure until their basic human rights are secured.

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:, website:

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.
Before 1948, the Halif, Hamidan, Siam, and two Akel families lived in the village of Lifta - still to be seen in ruins when entering Jerusalem from the Tel Aviv road. Terrified by the military operations of the Jewish fighting units, they fled to Ramallah and remained there until 1957. As a result of the 1948 war, their village remained under Israeli control and return to it was impossible. Thus the families built new homes on a parcel of their Lifta land which was located in East Jerusalem, i.e. on the Jordanian ruled side of the cease-fire line. 

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".

issue no. 25