Settlers are taking over East Jerusalem one house at a time

This girl is telling me about a moment when someone
threw a Molotov cocktail, which she’s calling hot paint, over that wall into
her apartment complex, but the casual nature with which this little girl is
telling me this story is a clue that this isn’t your typical apartment
complex. I’m in East Jerusalem in a Palestinian neighborhood, but I’m in a
compound where a number of Jewish families live
surrounded by fortified walls and private security. This girl’s school bus
has bulletproof glass. I got into this compound to ask them why they’re living
here. One component of this buildin,g these buildings, these six buildings is
that they are a physical structure in eastern Jerusalem with a flag on top and
says the Jews are here Israel’s here. She is one of about 2,600 hard-line
religious Jews, who buy up homes from Palestinian families in Palestinian
neighborhoods, often clandestinely and with huge sums of money from
international donors. I visited some of these families to better understand the
motivations at play here and to see what life is like at the
ideological epicenter of this conflict. In 1948 the newly declared State of
Israel was fighting a war with its Arab neighbors. That war ended with a
ceasefire line called the Green Line. If you zoom in to the Green Line you’ll see
that it goes right through Jerusalem with Israel controlling the West and
Jordan controlling the East. And Jerusalem’s Old City, which is this tiny
piece of land where Jews Christians and Muslims all have holy sites, was right on
the Green Line, but it was on the east side controlled by Jordan. And during
that time Jews were not permitted to visit the Western Wall, which is the
holiest site in Judaism. Then in 1967 Israel seized control of the entire West
Bank, including East Jerusalem. Israel then pulled a highly controversial move:
they declared that the eastern part of Jerusalem as well as 27 Palestinian
villages surrounding it, were now a part of Israel. They erased the Green Line
that separated the city and drew a new municipal border, announcing that it was
now unified Jerusalem the capital of Israel. On paper this map does look
unified, but in reality the city remained completely divided. The Palestinians in
the East didn’t want to be a part of this new country that they had just been
annexed into, so in order to cement their claim and establish a Jewish presence in
Eastern Jerusalem Israel built 12 huge neighbourhood blocks adjacent to
Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, while simultaneously creating
policies that limited Palestinian urban development in the east. The world saw
this as illegal and refused to recognize Israel’s new definition of Jerusalem, but
that didn’t stop Israel from building these neighborhoods. But there’s a difference between the 200,000 Israelis that are living in these 12 big
neighborhood blocks and the Israelis who buy up individual properties in
Palestinian neighborhoods. The big neighborhoods serve as a way to
establish a large Jewish presence in East Jerusalem. It’s part of a political
strategy to claim large sections of land, preventing any future division of the
city, but the Israelis that are buying individual Palestinian homes have a
mission that is different. Their objective is based
more on the biblical significance of tiny pieces of land throughout the city.
The settlers of East Jerusalem have a thermal map. Not everything glows with
the same intensity. They settle areas that resonate with biblical history and
have a proximity to the Temple Mount or at the very least are within the visual
basin of the Temple Mount. That is their homeland. There are two right-wing
organizations that are dedicated to this aggressive settlement project. They have
targeted a handful of spots in the city that they want to occupy, but that are in
Palestinian neighborhoods these organizations raise large amounts of
money from international donors and they use this money to buy properties from
Palestinians for a price that is well above market value. The settlers are
perseverant and they will spend years chipping away to try and get one
property. Once they’ve secured a property they will move a Jewish family in,
sometimes under the cover of night and escorted by soldiers. The families are
then protected by 24-hour private security that is provided by the Israeli
government costing about $25 million per year to the Israeli
taxpayers for these 2,600 Israelis living in Palestinian neighborhoods.
Needless to say Palestinian neighbors are not thrilled about these secret
militarized move-ins into their neighborhoods. I spent a Friday evening with several of
these people to better understand their motives. We walked up from one compound
up the Mount of Olives to another compound for Sabbath prayers. This one
was purchased from a Palestinian man who was in debt from a gambling problem. And they bought the house from them. And they bought the house from them for a very good price. I watched these settlers pray as they look down over the city and as I talked to them, I began to
realize that in order to understand why they do this you have to understand the
internal logic that they adhere to. The whole project of the State of Israel is
a Jewish project the State of Israel is the biggest Jewish organization. If
you want to vote in the Jewish country there’s an easy way: become a Jew. We have
a way in. And then you can you can have an effect country if you so wish, but if
you’re another minority then god bless you. You have a huge region. Allah loves
you. These hardliners believe that Israel
exists primarily for Jews and thus they’re entitled to rights and benefits
that others are not. We like democracy, but it’s not a god. All
it is is an operating system. If it needs to change, if it needs an update, you know
if you need to download the latest version, it needs to change for your
particular environment. To them, going out and buying Palestinian homes isn’t a
politically dubious land grab. In fact it’s a noble spiritual mission, one that
has been prophesied about for thousands of years. When I’m living in this
place give me a purpose it gives me a reason. Even if I’m not doing
something ideological that at that moment, I’m living in a place that’s ideological. It gives my life, every second a meaning. And thanks to effective
lobbying by these groups, the Messianic paradigm has seeped into government
policy as well, aiding the settlers on their mission to sink roots into the
eastern part of the city. An example of this is a law that says only Jews can
buy property in the Jewish quarter of the Old City, but that anyone can buy property in the other quarters. The settler organizations
have targeted the Muslim quarter for their purchases due to its proximity to
the Temple Mount and they now have dozens of holdings there. The government
has also granted these two organizations jurisdiction over many of the public
spaces in the city that have been deemed archaeological sites, or national
parks. Some of these sites are situated in Palestinian neighborhoods that are at
the top of the list for the Jewish home purchases. Places like Silwan in the City
of David. These right-wing organizations are using their jurisdiction to shape
the public realm of Palestinian neighborhoods, to reflect their agenda of
a Jewish Jerusalem. The result is a government supported, militarized,
ideological gentrification of Jerusalem. One house at a time. As we zoom out, you
can see that between the national parks and the individual properties, these
organizations have amassed a strong influence both public and private in and
around the old city, where their holiest religious sites are. Meanwhile the
Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem are in this weird legal limbo, where they
live in the municipal borders of the annexed city of Jerusalem, but they don’t
have Israeli citizenship. They can’t vote in national elections. This leads to
severe neglect from public investment. The reason for that is politicians never
allocate resources, funds, time, entitlements, to people who don’t vote or
can’t vote. Almost 90% of the sewage pipes, roads, and
sidewalks in Jerusalem are found in the West. And you can see that the
proportions of public resources are heavily skewed towards West Jerusalem,
even though a third of the population lives in the East. Last week the municipality said we will renovate the schools in East Jerusalem that are
in desperate need, they’re dilapidated and overcrowded, but you have to adopt the
Israeli curriculum, something that the Palestinians have refused to do since
1967. So your kids can study in a decent physical environment, provided that you
peddle your national identity in exchange for that. That’s the kind of
Faustian deal that the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are not going to
accept. It’s hard to imagine when or how this situation will ever be resolved.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem don’t want Israeli citizenship. They were
annexed against their will into a country that doesn’t recognize their
full rights. And as Jewish neighborhoods grow in East Jerusalem, Israel’s grasp over
the city becomes tighter and tighter.

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