I’m returning to the initial blog subject area because of concerns about the current violence in Palestine and Israel, all of which is very concerning. This is because the absence of any negotiations ‘on the ground,’ with more police and soldiers on Israeli streets and the Palestinian leadership announcement that ‘Oslo is dead.’
Riad emailed me yesterday, what he wrote was ‘The situation is very complicated and each day has to be more and more worse, with my son Noor being punished by stopping me joining his mother for a family visit on 6 October. His punishment will go on until 30 October because he is on a hunger strike as a protest against occupation in Palestine, with cold blooded killings in cold blood in Jerusalem and on the West bank. ‘
October 1, 2015 Jerusalem: City of ruins John Reed (Financial Times)
The Old City is overcrowded and its buildings suffering, victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Mishriki family — mother, father, five children — live in picturesque decrepitude in four gracefully vaulted, but very small, Ottoman-era rooms. When the winter rains drench the walls of their 300-year-old building in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, water seeps inside too. A deep crack attesting to structural damage runs up the living room wall.
Israel limits access to Old City. The Mishrikis — Christian Arabs who rent their flat — say they might consider moving to roomier accommodation across the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank if it did not mean forfeiting their prized right to live, study and move about freely in Jerusalem and work in Israel’s stronger economy. “If I live outside the wall, I will lose my ID and my rights,” says family patriarch Zakaria, 44, a driver. “People will live in one room, with one bathroom, just to live in Jerusalem.”
The Mishrikis’ flat, in an old house subdivided between two families, is about 55 sq m in size — large by the standards of the Muslim quarter, where entire families are sometimes packed into a single room. It is typical of hundreds of buildings in Jerusalem’s Old City — a UN-recognised World Heritage Site — that are in disrepair. But it is not just bricks and mortar under threat, say historians and restorers. At risk is the cultural heritage of a city that is holy to the three monotheistic faiths, and as such meaningful for about half the world’s population.
Jerusalem’s historic quarter houses too many people in too little space — a direct result of an Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which both peoples lay claim to the city as their capital. As a result, many of historically significant buildings are showing collateral damage from the city’s political and religious divides, and a lack of affordable housing. The main problem is not funds — the city is awash with support from various foreign benefactors — but the strains on ancient buildings from a large population, most of whom have more pressing needs than historic preservation.
Because of overcrowding, distrust of authorities, or practical issues, many residents of the Old City undertake renovations that are not true to their buildings’ character. Hundreds of buildings in Jerusalem’s Old City, a United Nations-Recognized World Heritage Site, are in disrepair, putting the city’s cultural patrimony at risk, historians, restorers, and cultural officials say. About 40,000 people live in the Old City, which is less than a square kilometre in size. The overcrowding has caused Palestinian families to build hasty additions Ð typically without planning permission – onto the courtyards or roofs of centuries-old buildings, altering their character.
“What the Old City requires in order to recover itself is to be depopulated, and you are never going to get it to be depopulated as long as the demographic struggle goes on,” says Daniel Seidemann, a lawyer specialising in Israeli-Palestinian relations in Jerusalem. “You are talking about gangrene; it’s decay.” Alongside world-renowned sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and al-Aqsa mosque — the latter of which suffered damage in recent clashes between young Palestinians and Israeli police — the city has many buildings ranging from the early Islamic period to the days of the British Mandate. Experts say the biggest number of buildings at risk are in the Muslim Quarter, where some of the city’s poorest people live.
“Most of the Palestinian neighbourhoods inside the Old City wall are in a catastrophic situation,” says Nazmi Jubeh, a Palestinian professor of history and archaeology at Birzeit University in the West Bank. He estimates that as much as 25 per cent of the Old City is “at risk” because of neglect, poor maintenance or overcrowding. Narrow streets, a dearth of parking, and limited vehicle eaccess make construction and renovation extremely expensive. The problems with preserving the Old City owe to its unique nature: Israel claims sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, including its Arab east, inside which the Old City lies. However, in practise individual tenants and conservationists often work independently, because of distrust of Israeli officialdom or fear of disturbing delicate relations with neighbours or landlords.
“I don’t ask the Israelis to come and renovate my house because I know what their agenda is,” says one tenant of a century-old house near the Via Dolorosa — one of the Old City’s main arteries — suffering from falling plaster and damp. As with some other Palestinians interviewed he did not want to be named. “I might lose my house,” he says. Restorers say they are making some progress, but need to cut corners on the historical accuracy of buildings to accommodate families. “Jerusalem is built on courtyards,” says Mr Seidemann. “There is such an influx of people, [encouraging] rampant, illegal construction that is haphazard, unplanned and destroying the Old City.”
At a time when the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or Isis, is shocking the world by detonating priceless cultural monuments, it might seem disproportionate to focus on a few rundown buildings in Jerusalem. But with the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians receding, Jerusalem’s neglected structures are increasingly being seen as a cultural casualty of the conflict. Preservation of the city, like most other issues in Jerusalem, is politically divisive and sensitive. Delays are deepening ingrained problems, and misunderstandings are exacerbating long-term damage.
While Israel, as the occupying power in East Jerusalem, bears ultimate responsibility for the Old City, the causes of neglect are complex because of its unique multicultural status and complicated property rights. About half of its properties are administered by Muslim or various Christian religious trusts. Groups funded by overseas and local donors representing interests as different as Muslim welfare societies or Jewish settlers take on individual projects.The Israel Antiquities Authority, a state body, claims responsibility for preserving the Old City. Along with the Jerusalem municipality it oversees all renovation projects. Under Israeli law schemes involving digging — or lifting a floor — require an archaeological excavation, a prospect many Palestinian Old City dwellers dread.
Archaeology as a ‘political tool’
The science itself is subsumed by the conflict, as archaeologists digging in and around the Old City look for — and often find — signs of an ancient Jewish presence, ranging from coins with Jewish inscriptions to ruins from the Temple period. Palestinians have, in turn, accused Israel of using archaeology as a political tool, and blamed tunnelling works for the cracks and faults appearing in some of their buildings. “Different bodies do preservation works, but nobody co-ordinates the different bodies,” says Yonathan Mizrachi, executive director of Emek Shaveh or Common Ground, an Israeli group focused on the role of archaeology in the conflict. “That’s the biggest problem.”
Long before Israel’s founding in 1948, others struggled with the challenge of how to preserve Jerusalem’s heritage while accommodating the city’s Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Armenian and other residents, who live at close quarters but as quite separate communities. In 1917, when the British captured Palestine from the Turks, the archaeologist Flinders Petrie suggested moving most of Jerusalem’s inhabitants to a new “business town”. “The first thing to be done is to get it as clear as we can of human habitation, and preserve it as a sanctuary of the three faiths,” he proposed. The suggestion, to Jerusalem’s lasting benefit, was never carried out.
Today the IAA claims control over management of heritage issues in the Old City including the walls. “[Jerusalem] is the most complicated site for conservation in all the land of Israel because it’s a living city,” says Yuval Baruch, the IAA regional archaeologist for the city. Mr Baruch says that his organisation works with the various communities, including Christian bodies and the Muslim Waqf — the religious trust that manages the city’s Islamic sites. He describes the people living in historic buildings as part of “the ancient fabric of the Old City”, saying: “We are not dealing with politics, we are not part of the conflict.”
However, there is no denying that the conflict has altered the city’s face. Jerusalem’s Old City saw a large influx of Palestinian residents after the signing of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s, when the creation of the Palestinian Authority and erection of checkpoints in the West Bank caused many to rush to secure blue Jerusalem IDs. The growth in numbers — up more than 50 per cent since 1967 to 27,000 — has made what was already a problem even more acute. Large families are now crowded into flats carved out of what used to be single-family houses, including Ottoman or Mamluk buildings. To make room, many families built kitchens, bathrooms, spare rooms or garrets on to roofs or into courtyards. Areas that were once awash with light were covered up.
Much of that building took place without permission from Israeli or municipal authorities because Palestinians feared they would be refused — as they often are for building permits in East Jerusalem — or did not want to invite officials into their homes. Israeli security cameras keep tabs on the flow of construction materials through the city walls and debris being hauled out, so some families deposited rubble into their buildings’ courtyards, clogging ancient water wells.
“Even if we renovated the Old City totally, the people in these buildings are not cultural heritage-oriented,” says Mr Jubeh. “Their interest is in securing their bread, not in preserving the building.” In some privately owned properties, there is the additional problem of absentee owners. Palestinian families, who owned houses in the Old City, began moving to Jerusalem’s suburbs in the late 19th century, renting out their flats. After Israel’s creation in 1948, then occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, some fled into exile. Today, many of their tenants are reluctant to open up the flats to restorers for fear they might be forced to pay more or be evicted. “It’s an absolute slum,” George Hintlian, an Armenian historian, says of the neglected parts of the Muslim Quarter. “The owners are not investing because they’re not getting a return.”
Yusuf Natsheh, head of tourism and archaeology at the Waqf, describes the challenges of working with residents on restoration projects. “There are poor people living in buildings from the 13th or 14th century who want to widen an arch to have space for a cupboard, or to get rid of old pavement floors because they are tired of cleaning them,” he says. “What sort of law do I have to say no?” Outside interventions have had little effect, in part because of Israel’s sensitivity over the city’s status and the political disputes such discussions trigger.
Unesco, the UN agency that lists the Old City on its “in danger” list of World Heritage Sites, has expressed “deep concern” over Israeli excavation works and criticised individual projects, including the controversial Jerusalem tram line that runs close to the city walls. Israel’s government accuses Unesco of ignoring Jewish and Christian ties to the city. In July, when Arab states criticised Israel for conducting excavation work and other projects, the government dismissed it as “completely one-sided”.
On the ground in Jerusalem the IAA has begun a pilot project involving five blocks of private houses in a neighbourhood bordering the Christian and Muslim quarters. The aim is to begin renovating streets, electricity, water and other infrastructure, then deal with the restoration needs of private houses. “We said, ‘let’s start with public areas and then maybe slowly get into private properties’,” says Mr Baruch. “It’s a process and it’s a matter of time.” However, others in Jerusalem say the city’s heritage will only be secured by resolving the broader political conflict. “There must be some kind of international committee including the different players — Israeli, Palestinian and other stakeholders,” says Mr Mizrachi. “If the archaeology is exclusively in the hands of the Israelis or the Palestinians, it won’t solve anything.”
October 14, 2015 6:03 pm Israel seals off Palestinian neighbourhoods after killings John Reed in Jerusalem
Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli security forces next to the border fence with Israel on October 13, 2015 at the Eretz crossing in the northern Gaza strip. A wave of stabbings that hit Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank this month along with violent protests in annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, has led to warnings that a full-scale Palestinian uprising, or third intifada, could erupt. The unrest has also spread to the Gaza Strip, with clashes along the border in recent days leaving nine Palestinians dead from Israeli fire.
Israel began erecting roadblocks in Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem and deploying soldiers around the country on yesterday in its first concerted response to a wave of deadly violence in which seven Israelis and about 30 Palestinians have died. The move came after Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet met overnight on Tuesday and approved a series of measures, aimed at quelling a fortnight of unrest that has rattled residents of Jerusalem and surrounding areas and brought criticism from his right wing government’s political opponents.The ministers decided to seal off Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem and to place armed guards on public transport, vowing to confiscate attackers’ property and strip them of residency rights. This last measure appears to be aimed at Arab residents of East Jerusalem, who have Israeli documents that allow them to travel freely inside the country and have been behind many of the recent attacks.
“We must vomit the bloodthirsty murderers from among us,” Silvan Shalom, interior minister, told a Knesset committee in remarks, quoted by the Jerusalem Post, that justified the stripping of rights and benefits from East Jerusalem attackers. Israel’s military was instructed to deploy troops to reinforce police in cities, along roads and the border with the Gaza Strip. Israeli paramilitary border police positioned their vehicles at the main entrance of Jabal Mukaber, a Palestinian neighbourhood in Jerusalem and human rights campaigners as collective punishment that fuels future violence. Israel’s government argues such measures will instead deter future attacks.
The steps were announced hours before a Palestinian man lunged at an Israeli soldier with a knife at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate on yesterday, and was shot dead. A second knife attack at the city’s central bus station left a woman injured. Palestinian officials condemned the security crackdown’s measures, and human rights groups questioned whether they were in keeping with Israeli law. Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said the crackdown “has little to do with security and a lot to do with strengthening Israel’s colonial enterprise in our occupied capital”. Sari Bashi, a campaigner with Human Rights Watch said that the spate of attacks against Israelis “would present a challenge for any police force”, but added that the measures approved by Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet — including the erection of checkpoints- “deviate from law enforcement measures”. The measures could in theory be challenged by Israel’s Supreme Court, which has in the past overturned some government decisions on security.
The ‘Jerusalem intifada’ caught Israeli security services off guard. In Hebron on Palestinian protesters threw molotov cocktails during clashes with members of the Israeli armed forces in the West Bank city of Hebron. On 9 October 2015 Israeli soldiers killed four Palestinians in clashes on the border with the Gaza Strip, while there were four stabbing incidents inside Israel targeting both Jews and Palestinians. Violence has been on-going for weeks, focused on Jerusalem and nearby Area I on the West Bank amid rising concerns the situation could lead to an even greater escalation if not scaled back soon.
Yuval Steinitz, energy minister and a member of the security cabinet, defended the government’s moves, saying that it was “taking legal advice on almost every step it is taking”. “Israel will adopt the measures needed to achieve quiet,” Mr Steinitz said at a news briefing for foreign reporters. The press conference was aimed at highlighting statements made by Palestinian political and religious leaders — including President Mahmoud Abbas — whom Israel blames for inciting violence against Jews. Mr Abu Eid, the PLO spokesman, rejected Israeli accusations of “so-called ‘incitement”, saying they were excuses made by Israel for “decades of systematic denial of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people”.