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Occupation magazine - Settlements

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Supreme Court paves way for cleansing of Palestinians from Silwan
Israeli High Court justices Barak-Erez, Baron and Elron rejected an appeal
filed by 104 residents of Silwan to overturn a September 2002 decision by
the Custodian of Absentee Property to `free` the land on which they have
lived for decades. The land was `freed` by three people - all closely
affiliated with Ateret Cohanim, a settler association that works to Judaize
East Jerusalem. In the judgment, written by Justice Barak-Erez, the Court`s
role is narrowed down to examining several questions relating to
administrative law. In choosing this avenue, the Court sent the residents
back to fight, against all odds, the civil proceedings that Ateret Cohanim
has undertaken in order to evict them from their homes. Justice Barak-Erez
ruled that the appellants were unable to counter the `presumption of
regularity` that applies to the Custodian, and that there is no room for
discretion on the Custodian`s part in exercising power on this matter.
Acknowledging the implications, Justice Barak-Erez added that the decision
`may give rise to real difficulty for those effectively in possession of the
freed assets`, yet her decision stands.

The judgment was written without addressing the context whatsoever: as
though the land were not `freed` by an association whose goal is to drive
Palestinians out of their homes; as though the body of law does not allow
Jews alone to file ownership for land abandoned in 1948; as though the Court
were not sanctioning the broadest move to dispossess Palestinians since
1967. The judgment proves, yet again, that the Israeli High Court gives its
seal of approval to almost any infringement of Palestinians` rights by the
Israeli authorities.



Background

In recent years, in addition to the housing shortage, poor or lacking
infrastructure, services and government funding that affect all East
Jerusalem residents, various government ministries and the Jerusalem
Municipality have mobilized to help the settler organization Ateret Cohamin
dispossess Palestinian families living in the neighborhood of Batan al-Hawa,
and hand over their homes to Jewish settlers. This is the most extensive
expulsion process in recent years in East Jerusalem. To date, eviction
claims have been filed against dozens of Palestinian families that have been
living in Batan al-Hawa for decades. According to the UN Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, this number reflects 45% of all
families under threat of dispossession on the basis ethnicity in the city.

The neighborhood is divided into about 50 parcels. Nine of them have been
transferred to Ateret Cohanim, and settlers have moved into five of them. In
addition to the hardships that come with the settlers lawsuits, invasion
of privacy, economic duress, daily harassment of residents and the resulting
clashes between local youths and the settlers, often involving stone
throwing there is now an added presence of the Israel Police, the Border
Police and private security guards paid for by the Ministry of Housing. They
too use violence against Palestinian residents, threaten them, arrest minors
and disrupt life. The stronger the hold settlers have in the neighborhood of
Batan al-Hawa, the greater the number of Palestinians directly impacted by
the settler security apparatus, even without being expelled from their
homes.

Ever since Israel annexed East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities have employed
discriminatory policies against the citys Palestinian residents, and have
worked in different ways toward decreasing their number while increasing the
number of Jewish residents, with a view to achieving demographic and
geographic conditions that would obstruct any future attempts to question
Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem. As part of these efforts, Israeli
authorities have confiscated hundreds of hectares of land from the
Palestinian population and built 12 neighborhoods designed exclusively for
the Jewish population in the occupied area that was annexed to Israel. In
terms of international law, the status of these neighborhoods is no
different than that of the settlements elsewhere in the West Bank.The
settlement in Batan al-Hawa promoted by Ateret Cohanim is an integral part
of efforts by the Israeli authorities and by settler organizations to
Judaize to the Holy Basin - including the Old City`s Muslim Quarter and the
Palestinian neighborhoods surrounding it. At present, some 2,800 settlers
are living in about 140 residences in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods
in the Old City and its environs - an area that is home to some 100,000
Palestinians.

For additional information: Amit Gilutz, +972-54-6841126, amit@btselem.org
Our mailing address is B`Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human
Rights in the Occupied Territories P.O. Box 53132, Jerusalem 9153002
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