Sunday, September 27, 2020

Jerusalem Planning Committee approves construction of nine-story yeshiva in Sheikh Jarrah

By Jan Walraven - February 20, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [Sheikh Jarrah] [Displacement] [Jerusalem]

Palestinian, Israeli and international activists march down the main road in Sheikh Jarrah on Friday 14 February, protesting against the construciton of a Yeshiva in the majority Palestinian neighborhood. Photo by Jan Walraven
Just after the call to prayer, people start to arrive near the gas station of Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighbourhood in Jerusalem. It’s Friday 14 February, two days after the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee approved, in a 4 to 3 vote, the construction of a nine-story yeshiva, a Jewish school for boys, in the Sheikh Jarrah.
About 50 people have gathered in Sheikh Jarrah to protest against this decision. From the gas station they march to the site of the planned yeshiva, holding banners reading: “No to the occupation” or “Stop the settlements in East-Jerusalem”. The demonstration is jointly organised by Sheikh Jarrah residents and by the Israeli social democrats of Meretz. The majority of the crowd is made up of Israeli protesters. 
Salah Diab, a resident of Sheikh Jarrah, leads the protest, holding two Palestinian flags. He told The Palestine Monitor that he's going to fight the decision in court. 
"That's one thing we can do, although I don't believe in the neutrality of the Israeli judiciary," said Diab. He stated that the decision to build in Sheikh Jarrah again shows what the Israeli government is aiming for: "They want to push the Palestinians out of Sheikh Jarrah. But we won't let that happen so easily."
“Outrageous decision”
The Palestine Monitor also spoke with Pepe Alalu and Laura Wharton, members of the Jerusalem City Council for Meretz. Wharton called the decision to build a yeshiva school in Sheikh Jarrah “outrageous, from every point of view.” To her it’s clear that the mayor and the municipality of Jerusalem aren’t considering the needs and interests, nor the Palestinian character of the neighbourhood. 
She noted that the planning division within the municipality council advised against the plans. “This shows that this is a political decision, pushed by right-wing and religious parties, who are trying to implant groups of ultra-nationalists in Sheikh Jarrah,” said Wharton. She expressed the hope that the Regional Planning Committee will vote against the plans, as she labeled it “an unwise decision, not taking into account the upset it will cause with Palestinians and all people with a sense of justice.” 
Alulu added that the residents will have time to officially voice their concerns or opposition to the plans, hoping that not only the Palestinian residents will vote against. “The secular people living in the settlements in Sheikh Jarrah might realize that this yeshiva will also affect their daily lives. For example, on Saturdays the main road will have to be closed off because of the Shabbat,” Alulu said.
Furthermore, Wharton pointed out the “counter-productive impact” these kind of decisions might have on the ongoing peace process. 
“No provocation”
Brachie Sprung, spokesperson for Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, denied in an interview with  The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday 12 February that the decision was a provocation. According to her there was only one criterion for approval, and that was meeting the regulatory standards, “not if it is for an Arab or a Jew. We do not discriminate when we build.” 
This statement is contrary to findings by OCHA from December 2012. In a 2012 report, the UN organisation, states that “only 13% of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian construction, much of which is already built-up,” and that “at least 33% of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack Israeli-issued building permits, which are difficult to obtain, potentially placing at least 93,100 residents at risk of displacement.”
Lior Amihai, spokesperson for Peace Now, an Israeli peace group known for its opposition against settlements, specified to The Palestine Monitor that the yeshiva will consist of 12 floors, with three of them underground. “Considering the location of the school and the history of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, this is to be seen as a very symbolic decision.” 
The recent history of the neighbourhood can at the very least be described as turbulent. Sheikh Jarrah has been one of the major symbols of the Israeli annexation of East-Jerusalem. After the Six Day War of 1967, Israel annexed East-Jerusalem and since 1980 has considered it to be an indivisible part of its capital. Both decisions have never been recognized by the international community. Israel has been building illegal settlements and demolishing Palestinian buildings in East-Jerusalem since.
In recent years, several Palestinian families were evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, and were immediately replaced by Jewish Israeli families. The targeted families had been living in Sheikh Jarrah since 1956, when UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, together with Jordan, assigned them to these new homes in East-Jerusalem. 
The evictions of these families were backed by a decision of an Israeli court based on several pre-1948 ownerships claims by the Sephardic Community Committee and the Knesset Israel Committee. These court decisions were made according to Israeli law, but exposed an inherent injustice in Israeli law, as Palestinians aren’t allowed to make similar, pre-1948 claims to properties in Jerusalem.
"But Sheikh Jarrah isn't the only neighbourhood suffering from these evictions," said Salah Diab. "In Silwan, Beit Hanina, in the Old City, it's happening everywhere. The Israeli government wants to push most of the Palestinians out of Jerusalem and they want to do it fast, even before Secretary of State Kerry brokers a final peace agreement."
Following the initial set of evictions in 2009, a joint Israeli-Palestinian solidarity movement arose in Sheikh Jarrah, organising weekly Friday protests in opposition of the discriminatory policies faced by Palestinians in the area and throughout Jerusalem on a daily basis. 

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