The following alert has been jointly issued by Ir Amim and Bimkom.
Yesterday (August 10), an article published in the Israeli daily, Israel HaYom, revealed that 16 dunams of land situated in a highly sensitive location in East Jerusalem between the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber and the West Bank city of Abu Dis had been transferred into the hands of the state in a clandestine manner. According to the article, the land had allegedly been purchased by Jews in the 1920s. Following proceedings initiated by the General Custodian, a department within the Ministry of Justice, the land was formally registered under its name, reportedly on a temporary basis until its alleged owners or their heirs are located. The General Custodian is the Israeli body responsible for managing properties in East Jerusalem that were owned by Jews prior to 1948.
The area between Jabal Mukkaber and Abu Dis has long been targeted by the state and settlers due to its strategic location; Israeli construction in this area would serve to create a wedge between East Jerusalem and Abu Dis, further fragmenting Palestinian territorial contiguity necessary for a viable Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem. It will also establish an aggressive settler presence in the heart of East Jerusalem neighborhoods, generating friction and endangering its residents. Some 15 years ago, the Ateret Cohanim settler organization together with the Jerusalem municipality attempted to promote a settlement plan, known as Kidmat Zion, for approximately 200 housing units in this vicinity. However, the plan was not advanced and ultimately shelved. Today, there are two-three settler homes in the area bearing the same name.
Upon investigation, Ir Amim discovered that 12 dunams of land (bloc 31735) situated in the same location referred to in the article were recently registered under the management of the General Custodian in the Land Registration Office. This bloc is found just south of the Kidmat Zion area. See map below.
The majority of bloc 31735 is open land apart from a few olive groves. In its northern section, there are several homes inhabited by Palestinians. Based on the review of land records, the plots of land where the Palestinian homes are located were also recently registered under the management of the General Custodian, which could lead to the initiation of eviction lawsuits against these families in the future.
The General Custodian is one of the state institutions that works in close collaboration with settler groups to facilitate evictions of Palestinians and settler takeovers of their homes in sensitive locations throughout East Jerusalem, such as in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. In an unprecedented move, the same body is likewise behind the recent Givat HaShaked settlement plan designated for land flanking the northwestern side of Beit Safafa (Sharafat). The Givat HaShaked plan is being advanced by the General Custodian based on the claim that the respective land purportedly belonged to Jews prior to 1948, and its claimants have not been located. Therefore, it is possible that the General Custodian intends to initiate a similar move concerning bloc 31735.
In addition to the potential establishment of a new settlement in a highly sensitive area, the Palestinian families whose homes are located on land in the northern portion of block 31735 may also be at risk of displacement should the General Custodian initiate eviction claims.
Formal Land Registration Once Again Used to Seize More Territory in East Jerusalem
According to ongoing research conducted by Ir Amim and Bimkom-Planners for Planning Rights, bloc 31735 recently underwent settlement of land title procedures (formal land registration). Initiated on May 31, 2021, the settlement of land title process was swiftly completed in just over a year with little to no transparency and formally registered in the Tabu (land record) on July 14, 2022. The official order transferring the respective plot of land into the management of the General Custodian was issued on June 8, 2021—a mere days after the announcement of the settlement of title process on the same bloc of land. It should be underscored that the General Custodian is one of the state institutions formally and integrally involved in the settlement of title process. The timing is certainly not coincidental, and it was clearly carried out as a means to assert Jewish ownership claims of the land. In contrast, the process has yet to be initiated on the adjacent thousands of dunams of land owned by Palestinians in the same area.
Such a move constitutes yet another cynical exploitation of the settlement of land title procedures which are being conducted in the framework of Government Decision 3790—a decision aimed at ostensibly improving the well-being of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. As reported previously, an examination of the locations where the procedures have been completed or currently underway reveals the driving rationale: settlement of land title is largely being promoted in areas where the state and/or settlers have a particular interest and have some capacity to lay claim to the land in the framework of the proceedings. As such, these procedures are being used as yet another mechanism to seize more territory in East Jerusalem under the guise of a decision and budgets earmarked for Palestinians.
Planned Highway May Pose an Obstacle for Settlement Advancement
It should be noted that bloc 31735 is included in the central section of the plan for the Eastern Ring Road (TPS 4585/f) and currently zoned for the construction of a highway. As part of the road’s construction, the state would need to expropriate the designated area. Indeed, in March 2022, the state expropriated the land (expropriation order 23/1211) allocated for the northern section of the Eastern Ring Road, which is situated some 100 meters away from bloc 31735. According to information currently available to Bimkom and Ir Amim, the state has yet to expropriate the land designated for the central portion of the road, which includes bloc 31735. If the highway is indeed constructed, it would create a major obstacle for the establishment of a settlement on bloc 31735. Nevertheless, despite this, settler organizations and their allies in the government will likely undertake measures to try and circumvent these barriers in order to advance a plan for a new settlement.