It appears from the sheer numbers and emerging pattern of illegal Arab building in
Jerusalem that the Palestinian Authority is pursuing its own municipal growth plan as the
primary means for staking its future claim to the Israeli capital. And despite limited success
in blocking the PA's recent census in east Jerusalem, Israel seems to have been unable to
curb this rampant unauthorized construction since the signing of the Oslo accords.
FOUR months ago, an aerial survey by the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea-Samaria and Gaza (Yesha) revealed an estimated 19,000 illegally built new Arab homes in the Jerusalem area, ready to house some 100,000 occupants. The rapid growth can be seen in A-Ram, north of Jerusalem, where a community of 4,000 Arab residents in 1989 has swelled to 40,000. Yesha spokesperson Yehudit Tayar cited this as part of a plan trumpeted three years ago by PA Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Faisal Husseini to attract more Arabs to the city and to complete the connection of Arab areas on a north-south axis, from Bethlehem to Ram'Allah
According to a spokesman for the mayor's office, Arabs in east Jerusalem submitted 1,093 applications for building permits since 1994, with 680 permits being issued (an approval ratio comparable to west Jerusalem). Yet the municipality acknowledges the existence of thousands of known illegally built houses, and many more the city does not know about due to a shortage of manpower needed to survey all Arab neighbourhoods. Most of these building violations are in "green" or open spaces set aside for public enjoyment.
A report by Israeli security services in September warned that the PA had declared "a limited war" in the city by increasing illegal construction, purchasing properties (particularly in the Old City), establishing alternative educational, legal and police services for Arabs, and enlisting outside Arab/Muslim investors. (The Jerusalem Post, September 17, 1997) PA officials in Jerusalem confirmed the report, indicating PLO chairman Yasser Arafat has made control of Jerusalem a top priority.
City officials cite two major sources of funding for this illegal building: Muslim charities and the PA Housing Council, which provides assistance and grants to Arabs in Jerusalem. Recurring advertisements in Arab papers announce these construction funds as readily available from the PA on easy terms. New mosques are popping up everywhere to clearly demarcate Islamic territorial claims in expanding Arab neighbourhoods. Over the next two years, an estimated US$500 million is expected to be pumped in to bolster the Arab/Islamic presence in Jerusalem. Morocco hopes to raise an eventual $500 million under the patronage of King Hassan and a Jordanian/Palestinian fund has set a goal of $200 million. Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other states also have pledged millions of dollars to Faisal Husseini. (For years, Husseini has managed over $30 million annually from foreign sources to maintain Islamic institutions in Jerusalem.)
"Instead of throwing stones, they are now building houses," concludes Evyatar Cohen, who has monitored recent Arab building in Siloam (Silwan). Cohen, who manages the visitor's centre for the ancient City of David and Gihon Spring, estimates that in the past five years, 60 per cent of the new homes in the area have been built without permits. This represents hundreds of residences, many of which have been built on Jewish graveyards, ancient burial caves, and other sites of historic or religious significance.
Cohen is also troubled by construction of PA ministerial offices, including a new parliament building for the PA's Legislative Council, in Abu Dis, little more than a mile from Jerusalem's Old City. Under Oslo, this village lies in Area B, meaning the PA has civil control over housing. Cohen fears this suburb will serve as the seat of government in a future PA capital in Jerusalem.
Like Cohen, Oren Givati has witnessed the pattern of Arab expansion in Jerusalem with concern and frustration. A resident of Ma'ale Adumim, he believes his city's expectations to be annexed by Jerusalem are being rendered impossible by the PA's deliberate connection of Arab neighbourhoods from Ram'Allah in the north through to Bethlehem in the south, creating a contiguous Arab polis and isolating Jewish communities east of Jerusalem. He has observed and recorded illegal construction at night, under armed guard, as vacant lands on the back side of the Mount of Olives are claimed piecemeal to complete one of the last links in this north-south axis. Givati reasons the Har Homa project met such stiff PA opposition due to its location in one of the last gaps to be filled under the PA plan.
The PA effort to exert control in Jerusalem's Arab neighbourhoods has included intimidation of Arab residents not to sell land to Jews under penalty of death. PA security forces have operated illegally in Jerusalem since PA "preventive security" chief Jabril Rajoub entered Jericho in 1994. PA courts are functioning in the Jerusalem vicinity. Recently, Arab schools in Jerusalem used PA matriculation exams, instead of standard Israeli tests given when completing high school. The PA also is reportedly replacing managers of Arab hospitals in the city.
Cohen notes that in 1996 approximately 50,000 Arabs identifying themselves as Palestinians came through Israeli border crossings to "visit" relatives in Israel and the territories. Most have never left, remaining in areas outside Israeli control. A large number are believed to have married Arabs in Jerusalem or in other parts of Israel itself, resulting in a significant return of Arab refugees to Jerusalem, Nazareth, Ramle and other parts of Israel.