Illegal Arab construction in Qalandiya (WND Photo)
JERUSALEM – In what some are pointing to as a sign the Israeli government plans to forfeit parts of Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly has suspended all construction in eastern sections of the city unless specifically approved by the prime minister himself.
“All construction beyond the Green Line, even in Jerusalem, requires the housing minister and prime minister’s approval,” Sara Zimmerman, an official in Israel’s Housing Ministry, revealed to the Knesset yesterday.
The Housing Ministry ordinarily regulates construction in the Jewish state, but Zimmerman informed the Knesset that Olmert’s office took over the approval process for issuing tenders to build in the Jewish neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem, including even for kindergartens or health clinics.
Israel recaptured eastern Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount – Judaism’s holiest site – during the 1967 Six Day War. The Palestinians have claimed eastern Jerusalem as a future capital; the area has large Arab neighborhoods, a significant Jewish population and sites holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
About 231,000 Arabs live in Jerusalem, mostly in eastern neighborhoods. The city has an estimated total population of 724,000.
Following the Knesset session, Olmert’s office quickly released a statement denying it is restricting eastern Jerusalem construction, while the Housing Ministry has returned phone calls to WND for clarification on the issue.
“We have made it very clear to all international bodies, including U.S. President George W. Bush during his visit. We have no intention of freezing the construction in Jerusalem. All such claims are baseless and unfounded,” Olmert’s office said.
But Zimmerman did not testify Olmert froze construction in eastern Jerusalem, only that the prime minister has stipulated his approval was necessary for any building there.
Reuven Rivlin, a lawmaker in Israel’s opposition Likud party, slammed Olmert’s reported decision to halt Jerusalem construction.
“The whole wretched truth is out,” said Rivlin.
Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski commented, “Israel cannot be the first nation in the world which turns its capital into an illegal outpost.”
The reported move to restrict Jewish construction in Jerusalem follows statements last month by Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon, a top Olmert deputy, that Israel “must” give up sections of Jerusalem for a future Palestinian state, even conceding the Palestinians can rename Jerusalem “to whatever they want.”
“We must come today and say, friends, the Jewish neighborhoods, including Har Homa, will remain under Israeli sovereignty, and the Arab neighborhoods will be the Palestinian capital, which they will call Jerusalem or whatever they want,” said Ramon during an interview.
Positions held by Ramon, a ranking member of Olmert’s Kadima party, are largely considered to be reflective of Israeli government policy.
Ramon’s statements came after November’s U.S.-sponsored Annapolis summit at which Olmert committed to aim at completing negotiations by the end of this year to create a Palestinian state, with Israel expected to evacuate swaths of Jerusalem and the strategic West Bank.
Ramon said due to the city’s demographics, Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem “should not be under Israeli sovereignty, because they pose a threat to Jerusalem being the capital of a Jewish Israel.”
Olmert to blame for dividing Jerusalem?
Ramon listed population statistics as the reason Olmert’s government finds it necessary to split Jerusalem.
But WND broke the story last month that according to Jerusalem municipal employees, during 10 years as mayor of Jerusalem, Olmert instructed city workers not to take action against hundreds of illicit Arab building projects throughout eastern sections of Jerusalem housing over 100,000 Arabs squatting in the city illegally.
The workers and some former employees claim Olmert even instructed city officials to delete files documenting illegal Arab construction of housing units in eastern Jerusalem.
Olmert was Jerusalem mayor from 1993 to 2003. As mayor he made repeated public statements calling Jerusalem the “eternal and undivided capital” of Israel. Jerusalem municipal employees and former workers, though, paint a starkly contrasting picture of the prime minister.
“He did nothing about rampant illegal Arab construction in Jerusalem while the government cracked down on illegal Jewish construction in the West Bank,” said one municipal employee who worked under Olmert.
,p>She spoke on condition of anonymity because she still works for the municipality.
One former municipal worker during Olmert’s mayoral tenure told WND he was moved in 1999 to a new government posting after he tried to highlight the illegal Arab construction in Jerusalem. He also spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for his current job.
Aryeh King, chairman of the Jerusalem Forum, which promotes Jewish construction in Jerusalem, told WND an investigation by his group found Olmert’s city hall deleted files documenting hundreds of illegal Arab building projects throughout eastern sections of Jerusalem. He said he forwarded his findings to Israel’s state comptroller for investigation.
King also claims Olmert told senior municipal workers not to enforce a ban on illegal Arab buildings.
“Ehud Olmert gave the order not to deal with the problem and not to put Israeli security forces to the duty of taking down the illegal Arab complexes,” said King. “Senior municipal workers told me Olmert said not to bother with the illegal Arab homes because eventually eastern Jerusalem would be given to the Palestinian Authority.”
King’s report alleges Jerusalem municipal officials erased the files, which detail over 300 cases of Arab construction in eastern Jerusalem deemed illegal starting from 1999. The illegal buildings reportedly were constructed without permits and are still standing. According to law, they must be demolished.
Local media reports investigating King’s charges alleged the files were erased by Ofir May, the head of Jerusalem’s Department of Building Permits, with the specific intention of allowing the statute of limitation on enforcing the demolition of the illegal construction to run out.
The Jerusalem municipality released a statement in response to the allegations claiming the threat of Arab violence kept it from bulldozing the illegal Arab homes.
“During the years of the intifada, the municipality had difficulty carrying out the necessary level of enforcement in the neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem due to security constraints,” the statement read.
King said the hundreds of buildings allegedly detailed in the deleted municipal files house more than 20,000 illegal units.
“We’re talking about perhaps 100,000 or more Arabs in eastern Jerusalem living in illegal homes with the government doing nothing about it,” King said.
Arabs squat illegally on Jewish-owned land
WND’s own investigation last year found hundreds of acres of key properties in Jerusalem purchased by a Jewish group for the stated purpose of Jewish settlement instead were utilized for U.N. facilities and the illegal construction of dozens of Arab apartment buildings housing thousands.
The lands, purchased by the Jewish National Fund, or JNF, are under the management of the Israeli government.
The properties in question include over 200 acres in the northern Jerusalem neighborhoods of Qalandiya and Kfar Akev, located near an old Israeli airport, and about 50 acres in a north Jerusalem suburb known as Shoafat, which is adjacent to the Jewish neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev.
The two neighborhoods were specifically mentioned by Olmert last month as up for possible Israeli evacuation.
The lands were legally purchased on behalf of JNF using Jewish donations in the early 1900s, immediately after the organization was founded in 1901 with the specific charge of repurchasing and developing the land of Israel for Jewish settlement.
A tour of Qalandiya and Kfar Akev found dozens of Arab apartment complexes, a Palestinian refugee camp and a U.N. school for Palestinians constructed on the land.
According to officials in Israel’s Housing Ministry, Arabs first constructed facilities illegally in Qalandiya and Kfar Akev between 1948 and 1967, prior to the 1967 Six-Day War during which Israel retook control of the entire city of Jerusalem.
Qalandiya, still owned by JNF, came under the management of the Israeli government’s Land Authority in the late 1960s.
Ministry officials say the bulk of illegal Arab construction in Qalandiya took place during Olmert’s tenure as mayor, with construction of several new Arab apartment complexes still taking place this year.
Neither the Olmert municipality nor JNF took any concrete measures to stop the illegal building, which continues today with at least one apartment complex in Qalandiya under construction.
Jerusalem’s Shoafat neighborhood, which has an estimated value of $3 million, also was purchased by JNF in the early 1900s and fell under the management of the Israel Land Authority about 40 years ago. Much of the illegal Arab construction in Shoafat took place in the past 15 years, with some apartment complexes built as late as 2004.
In Qalandiya, Kfar Akev and Shoafat, Israel’s security fence cordons off the Arab sections of the JNF lands from the rest of Jewish Jerusalem.
Internal JNF documents obtained by WND outline illegal Arab construction on the Jewish-owned land. A survey of Qalandiya summarized on JNF stationery conducted in December 2000 and signed by a JNF worker states, “In a lot of the plots I find Arabs are living and building illegally and also working the JNF land without permission.”
The JNF survey goes on to document illegal construction of Arab apartment complexes and the U.N. school under the property management of Israel’s Land Authority.
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