Crisis Group report slams Israeli’s $530m plan for occupied East Jerusalem

There are many Palestinian land owners from East Jerusalem who are living abroad, and this plan is aimed at transferring their properties to the Israeli government, says expert. (AFP)
Updated 12 June 2019

Crisis Group report slams Israeli’s $530m plan for occupied East Jerusalem

  • ICG calls on allies of both leaderships to press Israeli govt not to carry out these plans
  • The report concludes that these actions ‘would exacerbate the conflict in and over Jerusalem’

AMMAN: The International Crisis Group (ICG) has called on Israel not to implement controversial parts of a $530 million, five-year plan to develop occupied East Jerusalem without any input from the Palestinian community.

In a 40-page report published on Tuesday, the ICG called on Israel not to separate Palestinian communities in parts of East Jerusalem from the city’s municipality, force schools there to adopt Israel’s curricula, and introduce a land registry.

The report, titled “Reversing Israel’s Deepening Annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem,” concludes that these actions “would exacerbate the conflict in and over Jerusalem.”

Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst with the ICG and the report’s main author, told Arab News that despite settlement construction in East Jerusalem and severe impediments placed on natural growth in Palestinian neighborhoods, Israel has failed to establish a durable and substantial Jewish majority in that part of the city. 

Zalzberg said a former Israeli minister described the dilemma to him as follows: “East Jerusalem remains stuck in our throat: We can’t swallow it and we can’t spit it out.”

Khaled Abu Arafeh, a former Palestinian minister, said Israel is moving fast to Judaize East Jerusalem. 

“It’s very worrisome what’s happening. This large amount of money is being set aside to tackle Palestinian aspirations, especially in the educational field,” he told Arab News. 

Abu Arafeh said the report shows how Israeli authorities operate in East Jerusalem with impunity. 

“This is very dangerous, and requires more than ever (Palestinian) national unity and a position from the Arab and Islamic world,” he added. 

Khalil Assali, a member of the Waqf, which manages Al-Aqsa Mosque, said Israel has been targeting education in East Jerusalem for some time. 

“The Israelis have placed obstacles, closed schools and forced (Palestinian) students to attend Israeli municipal schools,” he told Arab News.

“We have at least 30,000 students whose names aren’t in any registry because they have no school seats.”

Khalil Tufakji, head of the map department at the Arab Studies Center, expressed opposition to the idea of a land registry for East Jerusalem. 

“There are many Palestinian land owners from East Jerusalem who are living abroad, and this idea is aimed at transferring their properties to the Israeli government by means of putting them in the hands of the custodian of absentee properties,” he told Arab News.

The ICG called on Palestinians, Israelis, and allies of both leaderships to press Israel’s government not to carry out these plans. 

“If it wants to reduce poverty and crime in East Jerusalem, Israel should allow Palestinians to establish civic leadership bodies in the city and end its ban on Palestinian Authority activities there,” the ICG wrote.

It urged outside powers “to allocate funds to help Palestinian Jerusalemites establish civic leadership bodies in East Jerusalem to operate both east and west of the separation barrier, in coordination with Israel.”

Aleppo’s scattered business owners have yet to return home

Updated 8 min 15 sec ago

Aleppo’s scattered business owners have yet to return home

  • The recovery of businesses will depend on whether people will return to Syria or not
  • Most of the shop owners travelled to Turkey and Egypt

ALEPPO: In the old khan, a stone courtyard off Aleppo’s medieval souk, most of the 41 cloth shops are deserted. Many of the owners moved elsewhere or went abroad to escape fighting in the historic Syrian city, a major economic center before the war.
“Some started new work outside Syria and won’t return. Some who stayed opened new shops in other parts of the country,” said Mohammed Abu Zeid, one of two cloth merchants still operating.
Syria’s economy has been upturned by eight years of war that partitioned the country between rival forces and displaced millions of people. Hundreds of thousands of workers were conscripted into the army or joined rebel groups and Western powers have imposed sweeping sanctions.
Any recovery will largely depend on whether people return home, including local business owners. The empty stores in Khan Khair Bek show that most have stayed away and it may be some time before business resumes.
Although parts of western Aleppo, which was held by the government through the war, still have busy shopping areas, the city’s factories and wholesale trading businesses have been devastated by war damage and the departure of traders.
Textiles were a mainstay of Aleppo business until the start of the war in 2011. The khan in the Souk Al-Zarb section of the battered Old City was a textile hub. Merchants kept their wares and conducted wholesale business in the shops. When Reuters first visited in early 2017, weeks after the fighting ended, the khan was closed and the domed entranceway was waist-deep in debris including bullet casings and the tail fin of a mortar bomb.
Thirteen shop owners moved abroad, mostly to Egypt or Turkey. Of those still in Syria, six moved to Damascus or other cities, and started new businesses. Another seven who remained in Aleppo have also stopped dealing in cloth, Abu Zeid said.
Ten others are working in the cloth trade from market stalls or rented shops in other parts of Aleppo. Just two, Abu Zeid and Zakariya Azizeh, reopened in the khan earlier this year. They did not know the whereabouts of several other neighbors.
About half Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million were uprooted during the conflict, with more than 5 million seeking refuge abroad.
Some refugees have started returning, but most are unwilling to go back yet, citing a fear of reprisals, the danger of renewed conflict, economic hardship and problems with paperwork.
Economic troubles
Azizeh said he was trying to persuade his former neighbors to come back.
“We cannot export and we have banking problems from sanctions. The system depends on credit, but I haven’t any money,” he said.
President Bashar Assad said Syria now faces an economic war waged through Western sanctions. They make any movement of money in or out of Syria very difficult, paralysing trade even with close allies such as Russia and Iran and making any return to Syria less attractive for business owners.
Abu Zeid believes most of the those who left the khan will eventually return. Many still own their premises.
“This is the best khan for import-export. The others, they tell us ‘one month, two months, we will come back’,” he said.
His cousin, Ahmed Abu Zeid, 63, a cousin of Mohammed Abu Zeid, has continued doing some business from home as it would cost several thousand dollars to replace stock and repair his war-damaged shop, near a mulberry tree.
“We all worked here from when we were children. I used to climb this tree and so did my son,” he said. He hopes his grandson Ahmed, 8, will one day work there too.
The two main centers of Aleppan business — the Old City souk and the industrial zones on the city’s outskirts — were on the front lines and suffered from heavy shellfire and looting.
Shops and warehouses were stripped of their inventories, factories and workshops of their equipment and machinery. Many are pocked with bullet or shell holes and filled with rubble.
Aleppo’s power plant was destroyed and electricity supplies from other parts of government-held Syria are limited. Water provision is patchy. One of the main industrial zones, Belleramoun, is near a front line and has been repeatedly shelled by rebels.
In the souk outside the khan, a group had gathered to chat on plastic chairs. They recited lists of friends and neighbors who had left.
“Some of them have come back to see what the situation is like. When they see it, they go away again,” said Mohammed Fadel, dressed in a suit and waving a lit cigarette as he spoke.
He had two shops in the souk, both now closed, and a textile workshop with four machines and 400 workers running round the clock and exporting across the Middle East, Fadel said.
He now plans to leave Syria and go to live in the Netherlands, where his son is.
“What can I do? I sit here all day doing nothing,” he said.