A number of legal mechanisms have facilitated the establishment of East Jerusalem settlements. The most prominent of these are (a) land expropriations, (b) the abuse of Absentee Property Legislation, and (c) the “recovery” of property that had belonged to Jews prior to 1948.
Israeli authorities long ago exhausted the first of these mechanisms, expropriating (as “state land” or “green areas” or the like) virtually all the land it could find a way to legally expropriate in East Jerusalem. And virtually all of this land has been used for the exclusive benefit of the settlers, forming the basis for the establishment of all of the large settlements in East Jerusalem (Har Homa, Gilo, Pisgat Zeev, Neve Yaacov, Ramat Shlomo, etc…)
Israeli authorities likewise are today far more limited in their ability to use of the Absentee Property Law to take over Palestinian properties in East Jerusalem, based on a Supreme Court ruling. During the 1980 and early 1990s, when this mechanism was at its peak, it provided the foundation for the establishment of the settler enclaves deep inside Palestinian neighborhoods, most notably in Silwan and the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City.
As a result, in recent years the Israeli Authorities’ “the weapon of choice” in creating or expanding settlement in East Jerusalem, and especially in the heart of Palestinian communities, has become the “recovery” of properties by virtue of the Law and Administration Procedure Law [Consolidated Version], 5730-1970, which enables Jews to recover properties in East Jerusalem lost in the 1948 War– that is, enforcing a Jewish “right of return” in East Jerusalem, at the expense of the area’s contemporary Palestinian residents (many of whom originally come from areas that today are located inside sovereign Israel, but to which they are denied any parallel right to recover property in Israel which was lost in the same 1948 War.
While the number of properties threatened by this Jewish “right of return” are finite, the impact of evictions based on the “recovery” process is devastating for the affected Palestinian residents and communities. Entire extended families have lost their homes, and these homes have become the anchors for extremist settlers whose presence brings along with it armed Israeli government-backed private security (militias). The result is a profound change in the character and dynamics of entire neighborhoods, with the security and often deliberately destabilizing activities of the settlers becoming the overarching element defining the life of all the residents.
In the past, no accurate assessment existed as to the number, locations and identities of the Palestinian families at risk of displacement based on the possible efforts to “recover” Jewish property in East Jerusalem.
Now, such an assessment exists, and its conclusions are alarming. In a groundbreaking study, OCHA has compiled comprehensive data mapping Palestinian households at risk. OCHA explains:
A mapping exercise carried out by OCHA indicates that at least 180 Palestinian households in East Jerusalem have eviction cases filed against them. Most of these cases were initiated by Israeli settler organizations, based on ownership claims [i.e., “recovery” of Jewish property], as well as claims that the residents are no longer ‘protected tenants’. As a result, 818 Palestinians, including 372 children, are at risk of displacement. This mapping aims at filling a longstanding information gap and to improve preparedness and targeted responses, both in preventive legal aid and post-eviction assistance.
Not surprisingly, most of the properties in question are located in those areas targeted by the Elad and the Ateret Cohanim settler organizations (the Old City and its visual basin, Silwan etc). A small number of properties are located in the outlying neighborhoods (such as Beit Hanina and Beit Safafa).
Most importantly, this is the mechanism being used to devastating effect in the emerging new settlement enclave in Batan al Hawa – the most significant and far-reaching development in East Jerusalem settlement enclaves for many years. In recent days, eviction proceedings have been instituted against nine Palestinian families, with possible proceedings against as many as 63 additional families anticipated. Batan al Hawa is a community at risk, currently more vulnerable than any other neighborhood in Jerusalem.