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.”


Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 14 min 32 sec ago

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”