In the month of January 2020 Staat van Beleg could list 925 human rights violations (and 161 reports/ analyses). (see our archive). This month we write about the Israeli siege of Issawiya in East Jerusalem.
Palestinians living in the occupied territories are subjected to daily violence and restrictions. In each part of the occupied territories the presence of the occupier is noticeable. However, there are some places that are even under a stricter control. Those are the places where Israel has to speed up the eviction process mainly for settlement expansion and infrastructure planning.
A good example is Hebron where settlers can roam freely to make the life of Palestinian citizens unlivable in their attempt to take over Palestinian houses in the old city center. Another example are the Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley that are under constant threat of Israeli demolitions.
It’s striking how Israel has its different techniques to expel Palestinians from their lands and houses. In Hebron we see the cooperation with settlers, in the Jordan Valley the repeated demolitions and attacks on Palestinian people and their property. What we see in the case of Issawiya is an approach that affects the Palestinian citizens every minute of their life, day in day out. Since the start of the operation in May 2019 Issawiya has experienced daily and nightly police raids, searches, arrests and roadblocks.
If we question with which purpose Israel is putting Issawiya under a strict siege the best answer is found by the Israeli police that were caught on camera. Israeli police officers were complaining that there was no purpose to an ongoing police operation in the neighborhood other than deliberately provoking the residents. Now let’s find answers on why Israel is deliberately provoking the residents.
Issawiya is a divided Palestinian village, part of which is in East Jerusalem, located three kilometers northeast of Jerusalem’s center. The village’s dominant harmulas (clans)—Darwish, Abu Hummous, and Aliyyan—can trace their village history back to the 16th century. Prior to 1948, the village was spread over 10,000 dunam*, from modern-day Hadassah Hospital down to the Red Khan on the Jericho Road. Today, Issawiya straddles the Jerusalem border, sitting between Mt. Scopus, French Hill, numerous Jewish settlements, the Ring Road and two Israeli military outposts. It is a graphic example of Israel’s discriminatory land policies towards Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
* In Israel, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Turkey the dunam is 1,000 square metres (10,764 sq ft), which is 1 dedare. Before the end of the Ottoman Empire and during the early years of the Britisch Mandate of Palestine, the size of a dunam was 919.3 square metres (9,895 sq ft), but in 1928, the metric dunam of 1,000 square metres (0.10 ha) was adopted, and this is still used.
Land theft and home demolitions
Immediately after the 1967 war, Israel divided the village by illegally annexing 3,000 dunam to the Municipality of Jerusalem while designating the other 7,000 dunam as outside of the city, including it as part of the occupied West Bank.
In 1968, the Israeli government confiscated four hundred of the 3,000 East Jerusalem dunam of Issawiya to build the settlement known as Givat Shapira (French Hill). This settlement connected Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital, located on Mt. Scopus, with the rest of West Jerusalem. Additionally, the government designated 2,000 of the remaining dunam as “green areas” which are not zoned for legal building. 12,500 Palestinians who live in Issawiya, can legally only inhabit 600 dunam of their land.
The 7,000 dunam fared no better. Today, this land has been designated by the Israeli government as Area C, which means it is under complete control of the Israeli military. Its residents have been physically separated from Issawiya’s remaining 3,000 dunam by the Ring Road, which was built to link Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem to each other and to West Jerusalem.
Over the years Israel took more land of Issawiya. In september 2004 250 dunums land were confiscated, declaring it as a ”State Land.” In 2008 a portion of the 7,000 dunam was illegally slated by the Municipality to be used for construction of the E1 settlement bloc. This project is intended to link annexed East Jerusalem with the mega-settlement of Ma’aleh Adumin, thus finally making the creation of a contiguous Palestinian State impossible. In May, 2014 The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved a new master plan to build a ‘national park’ on the lands of two Palestinian villages, Al-‘Issawiya and At-Tur, in occupied Jerusalem, confiscating approximately 700 dunams from the two villages.
Israeli land theft and home demolitions go hand in hand. In 2019 alone Israel demolished 265 structures in East Jerusalem, including 169 housing units. Additionally, 96 non-residential structures were demolished in East Jerusalem in the past year, 13 of them by the owners and the rest by the city. In April 2019 Israel raided Issawiya and delivered demolition notices for 13 residential structures, under the pretext that they were built without the necessary building permits. Some of the buildings were erected more than 15 years ago. On 8 January of this year Israel delivered at least 12 home demolition notices to Palestinian residents in Issawiya, also under the pretext that the homes were built without a permit.
Only 21 of 1,485 applications from Palestinians for construction permits in Area C of the West Bank were approved by the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank between 2016 and 2018. Civil Administration data shows that over 2,000 demolition orders were issued in Area C for “violations” by Palestinians of planning and construction regulations during the same period.
Issawiya, a Palestinian village under Israeli military siege
Israel is pouring hundreds of millions of shekels into projects that will take over large parts of the the Old City of Jerusalem and its surrounding neighborhoods, while fragmenting Palestinian territory and jeopardizing the Palestinian population. It’s evident that Israel also wants to evict Palestinians from Issawiya. To achieve this goal Israel is making life miserable for the Palestinian residents. And how do they do that?
In one night only, on 23 September 2019, the Israeli Police arrested 25 Palestinians, including minors.
Those who were arrested were most of the time being released within 24 hours, sometimes faster. In many cases the Israeli police was using excessive force during arrests. The word “police” is misleading here. Some of them are soldiers belonging to a Border Police unit, while others belong to the special police squad which is designed to put down riots and stop terrorism.
It is not the first time Issawiya came under an Israeli military siege. In November 2010 Israeli authorities increased the number of house demolitions, set up barricades and roadblocks and repeatedly entered the area to patrol and issue fines for minor vehicular defects. Earlier in that year, in September, the Palestinian baby Ahmed Abu Sarah from Issawiya died due to excessive use of teargas by Israeli forces.
On 27 June 2019 Mohammad Samir Obeid, a 21-year-old Palestinian from Issawiya, was shot and killed by Israeli border police. Since Obeid’s death, Israeli activists have been doing shifts in Issawiya every night with the goal of documenting and mitigating the violence. Olivia Robbins, one of the activists, wrote two pieces on the Israeli violence in Issawiya. She claims that every night Issawiya is being transformed from a residential neighborhood into a war zone. Here we can get a good impression of the daily Israeli violence used on the Palestinian residents of Issawiya.
According to news agency Silwanic The occupation forces used live bullets, rubber bullets, sound and gas grenades, and pepper gas. The agency explained that the bullets penetrated the windows of several residential houses, causing damage to internal walls and furniture. Medical personnel were also part of the assault. One of the paramedics of the Red Crescent was hit with a rubber bullet in the abdomen, while he was trying to transport one of the injured in the village, not to mention obstructing their work and their field movements inside.
“My eight-year-old daughter was playing with other children at the entrance of our home, when a sound bomb landed nearby and a fragment injured her eye”
Alaa Obeid, resident of Issawiya
By restrictions and intimidation
Israeli police and special forces established checkpoints at the entrances to the village and inside the streets, checking and inspecting vehicles, issuing violations and suspending the license of the vehicle or the bus for random reasons, storming and searching residential homes, and blowing their doors to implement arrests, the delivery of summonses, or to check if a certain person is in compliance with the house-arrest conditions imposed on him/her.
The occupation authorities also targeted the shops with daily raids, searches and imposing various taxes, in addition to being stationed on their doors and harassing customers.
The health centers were not spared from storming or stationing their doors and blocking entry and exit from them, and the schools in the village were included in the punishment campaign, by storming them, arresting one of the students, and attacking the administrative and teaching staff in addition to the almost daily presence in the morning and afternoon in Al-Madares Street (Schools Street). In one incident, police raided a local high school on 2 November, including deploying stun grenades. In response, the parents’ committee declared a school strike – to which police have responded by arresting two committee members who were banned for a week from their neighborhood.
Palestinian flags and banners of the factions were removed and as well as the slogans and names of martyrs and prisoners. The memorial that was placed in the location where Martyr Mohammad Samir Obeid was shot several times was destroyed.
In the beginning of January Israeli forces handed six Palestinian young men warrants placing them under nighttime house arrest for different months.
When will this nightmare end?
That’s a good question! Relying on the goodwill of the mainstream media to report on this ongoing nightmare would be naïve. Over all the years of inexhaustible local reporting most of the people are still unaware of the very existence of a place called Issawiya. And what about the international community? Most UN member states still hold on to their vision that annexing land and building settlements on occupied land is illegal under international law. However, with the United States currently working aggressively on normalizing the legality of annexing the West Bank things can easily change.
With mixed feelings of hope and embarrassing we mention the EU mission that visited Issawiya on 13 January.
“The European Union is concerned about the worrying developments and violence in Al-Issawiya. Responsible actors on the ground should show calm and restraint in order to prevent any escalation”
Tomas Niklasson, acting European Union Representative,
After so many EU condemnations without any action it seems ‘acting’ Niklasson is addressing his own actors on the ground, politicians and media, to show “calm and restraint”. What we do know for sure is that Issawiya portends what Israel has in store for the remaining Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Until we see no further countermeasures from the international community being skeptical “on the ground” is the only option left for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.