Today, the Israeli rightwing daily, Israel Hayom
, published an article
claiming that bodies affiliated with the Israel Land Fund settler organization intend to initiate three settlement building projects in Sheikh Jarrah. The Israel Land Fund is headed by Aryeh King, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor and a member of the Mayor's coalition on the Jerusalem Municipal Council. According to the article, construction is expected to begin in 2023-2024 for approximately 20 housing units as well as an office building. If these projects are indeed carried out, they are expected to double the current number of settlers in Sheikh Jarrah.
However, the article does not mention that the projects include demolition of the existing residential buildings and the eviction of some six Palestinian families from their homes in the Um Haroun section of Sheikh Jarrah.
This area is home to approximately 40 Palestinian families who have been under threat of eviction by state-backed settler organizations and the Israeli General Custodian for years.
It should be noted that the Israeli government likewise recently concluded settlement of land title procedures in this area
, formally registering the title of properties to alleged Jewish owners without the Palestinian residents' knowledge.
Beyond the looming threat of displacement, residents have also been subject to ongoing settler violence and police brutality over the past year. These incidents have significantly increased since February 2022 when the Israeli Enforcement and Collection Agency issued an eviction order against the Salem Family
(the order was contested in court and has so far not been executed
Since then, MK Itamar Ben Gvir from the far rightwing and ultra-nationalist "Jewish Power" party set up a makeshift "parliamentary office" and regularly visits the neighborhood accompanied by violent settler supporters, which generates further friction and hostilities. Just last week, a resident sustained a head injury after being assaulted by Jewish extremists, while standing at the doorstep of his home. Police typically turn a blind eye to Israeli attacks on Palestinians in the neighborhood, while routinely carrying out arrests of Palestinian residents for purported attacks initiated by them.
It should be noted that the Israel HaYom
article was written by Nadav Shragai, who in addition to serving as a columnist for the newspaper is also a researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Policy Affairs, a rightwing thinktank with close ties to members of the Israeli government (i.e. Minister Ze’ev Elkin), former members of the Trump Administration and former US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. In recent years, there have been several instances when Shragai's articles immediately preceded the Israel authorities' advancement of settlements and other strategic plans in the Greater Jerusalem area.
Current Status of the Three Settler Plans in Sheikh Jarrah
While the article only gives a general description of the anticipated settler construction in Sheikh Jarrah, according to Ir Amim’s findings, two of the plans are designated for the heart of Um Haroun, while the third is intended for a plot of land located at the neighborhood’s entrance. All three are situated within a 200-meter area. The approval process as well as the current status of all three plans share similar characteristics. Having been frozen for years, the plans’ approval process resumed in 2017 following the Trump administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and subsequently transfer the US embassy to the city. The plans were advanced swiftly, and all three received final approval by the Jerusalem District Planning Committee in 2019.
Since then, the building permits required for construction were not issued, however actions necessary for obtaining these permits recently began.
A month ago, a building permit request file for construction of the office building was opened. This request can be submitted within weeks to the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee and subsequently approved, thus enabling construction to begin thereafter.
In parallel to this, initial steps for opening a building permit request file for the two other projects likewise began a month ago. These requests can be completed within a few months and thereafter will need to be approved by the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee, which will enable construction to begin. Defined as urban renewal projects (pinui-binui
), these two plans will require the demolition of existing residential buildings and construction of new ones with a total of 20 housing units. As mentioned above, such a process will entail the eviction of some six Palestinian families living in the existing buildings and will likely lead to legal proceedings. See below for further details on each plan.
Possibilities for Intervention
Building permits are issued by the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee and do not require a lengthy approval process through the District Planning Committee. If no intervention occurs to halt the advancement of these projects, building permits for one of the projects can be approved within weeks and the other two within months.
The article in Israel Hayom
makes a point to underscore that Mayor Moshe Leon supports Israeli settlement in Sheikh Jarrah. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister’s office has the power to intervene and demand that the Local Planning Committee freeze the approval of building permits.
During his tenure as Prime Minister, Netanyahu intervened numerous times concerning plans which the Local Planning Committee and the Jerusalem Municipality intended to advance and/or approve. Engagement with the Israeli government to shelve these plans and freeze the approval of all building permit requests is therefore critical.
The Plans' Additional Details
As mentioned above, following the Trump administration's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, a swift approval process was initiated for all three plans in 2017, and they were formally approved in 2019.
TPS 14151 –
This plan is designated for a plot with an existing residential building in the heart of Um Haroun (marked as 1 on the map below
). Defined as an urban renewal plan, this project calls for razing the existing structure and constructing a new building in its place with at least three housing units. Currently, the building is home to a Palestinian family. While they enjoy protected tenancy status, the family can be evicted if a building permit is approved and construction begins.
It should be noted that plan was initiated by an overseas company by the name of Debraly with Chaim Silverstein listed as its representative for the planning process. Silverstein is the head of the "Keep Jerusalem" settler organization and has been involved in settler actions in Um Haroun, including the attempt to take over the yard outside the Salem Family home.
In February 2022, in parallel to the attempt to seize the abovementioned yard, initial steps for opening a building permit request at the Jerusalem Municipality's planning and licensing department were carried out. The next steps will include opening a building permit request and asking the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee to approve it. Construction can then begin thereafter.
TPS 14029 –
This plan is also designated for a plot with an existing residential building in the center of Um Haroun (marked #3 on the map below
). Defined as an urban renewal plan, it will require tearing down the existing residential structure and constructing a new five-story building with at least 10 housing units. Currently several Palestinian families are living in the existing building and enjoy protected tenancy status. As in the above case, despite having protected tenancy, the family could still face eviction if a building permit is approved and construction begins.
In September 2022, initial steps for opening a building permit request at the Jerusalem Municipality's planning and licensing department were initiated. A building permit request file has not yet been opened.
TPS 499699 –
This plan is intended for an empty plot situated at the entrance to Sheikh Jarrah (marked as #2 on the map below
). The plan calls for the construction of a six-story office building.
In September 2022, a building permit request file for construction of the building was opened at the Jerusalem Municipality's planning and licensing department. The file can now be submitted for approval at the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee within weeks and thereafter, construction can begin.
The building permit request was submitted by an Israeli company by the name of Beit Urim, which is also currently registered as the plot’s owner.