ANALYSIS – Disturbing demographic profile of Jerusalem has security costs

ANALYSIS – Disturbing demographic profile of Jerusalem has security costs

Israel’s attempts of engineering demographic changes in holy city, restricting Palestinians access to Al Aqsa has far greater consequences

By Iftikhar Gilani

ANKARA (AA) – While Israel’s recent bombing of Gaza may have taken the spotlight off the eviction of Palestinian families from Jerusalem, its bid to engineer demographic changes and attempts to control the Al-Aqsa compound in the holy city are loaded with far greater consequences for the security of the region.

The trigger of current crises started from the eviction of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, two kilometers (1.2 miles) north of the old city, on the road to Mount al-Masharif. This spiraled up into protests and then Israeli police raiding and beating people who had gathered to pray inside Al-Aqsa Mosque on the night of Laylat al-Qadr on May 10.

At the end of the 1967 six-day war, when Israel took control of East Jerusalem, it had agreed to maintain a status quo on the Al-Aqsa compound, which included the Qubbat as-Sakhra (Dome of Rock) and silver dome Al-Aqsa Mosque. Its management was allowed to remain with the Wakif of Jordan. Jews were allowed to have access up to the Al-Buraq Wall on the western side of the Al-Aqsa to maintain tranquility. But over the years, Israel, under a plan, is not only evicting Muslims from the city but is making their access to Al-Aqsa increasingly difficult.

The numbers show that the population of Israeli settlers in Jerusalem is growing at a faster rate than the population of Israel. According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, the total population of Jerusalem was recorded as 882,700 in 2016, comprising 536,600 Jews, 319,800 Muslims, 15,800 Christians, and 10,300 unclassified.

Till the early 20th century, the Muslims had a majority in the city. As per Ottoman taxation registers, recorded by authors Amnon Cohen and Bernard Lewis in their book Population and Revenue in the Towns of Palestine in the Sixteenth Century, the Jewish population in 1553 was 1,958, Muslims 12,154 and Christians 1,956 in a total population of 16,068.

In 1832, authors Michal Oren-Nordheim and Ruth Kark, in their book Jerusalem and Its Environs: Quarters, Neighborhoods, Villages, recorded that the city had 4,000 Jews, 13,000 Muslims, and 3,560 Christians.
According to Arab Jordanian researches and statistics, the number of Jews reached 10,000 in 1918 while Muslims were around 30,000.

A census conducted by the British five years after the Balfour Declaration of 1917 revealed a different story.

The number of Jews had swelled to 33,971 in 1922, while Muslims remained at 13,413. The number of Christians was 14,669. The total population of the city was recorded at 62,578.

In 1944, researchers Manashe Harrel and Ori Stendel recorded the Jewish population at 97,000, Muslims 30,600, and Christians 29,400. Soon after the 1967 war, these authors put the Jewish population numbers at 195,700, Muslims 54,963, and Christians 12,646. The total population of the city at the time of the six-day war was 263,307.

- Discriminatory laws

Over the years, Israel has enacted discriminatory laws with a concerted plan to evict Muslims from the city. According to the law, if a Muslim woman marries outside the city, she loses the right to live and own property in the city. This law is against all the tenants of gender equality and justice.

A few years ago, during my visit to the city of Jerusalem, a two-story house of an Arab family in the old city had been occupied in their absence. The family had gone to attend the marriage of a relative outside the city. When they returned after a week, they found the door unlocked, their belongings on the road, and a Jewish family living inside. They were told that the authorities in their absence had allotted the house to a Jewish family as they found it “abandoned and locked.” Such incidents are repeated quite often in the holy city.

A similar story was being repeated in Sheikh Jarrah, a comparatively prosperous Arab neighborhood known for its Arab and Moroccan restaurants. The locality named after a 12th-century physician whose tomb is in the neighborhood also houses an Ottoman palace, which has now been converted into a hotel.

In 1956, Jordan, which was the ruling authority in East Jerusalem, had moved 28 Palestinian families, displaced in 1948, into new homes built by the UN refugee agency. They were granted ownership of the properties within three years in return for renunciation of their refugee status.

But in 1972, settler groups claimed the land was Jewish-owned. On that basis, they were given legal backing to charge the Palestinian families rent. Since 2002, dozens of Palestinians have been evicted from the neighborhood; and since the beginning of 2020, with the connivance of Israeli courts, who have ordered the eviction of 13 more families.

The combined political, demographic, and economic tools used by Israeli authorities to suppress Jerusalem’s character and create a demographic balance in favor of Jews is one of the most formidable challenges to the security of the region. Earlier, Israel had not allowed Palestinian authority to set up polling booths for now postponed Palestinian Legislative Council elections initially scheduled on May 22.

- Residents under pressure

Writing in Jerusalem Quarterly, Luay Shabbaneh, the head of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in Ramallah, says that the Palestinian Authority has been barred from providing services in the city over the years. On the other hand, services offered by Israeli officials are not distributed equally among the city’s residents.

“These disparities place residents under continuous pressure to leave the city and escape the prohibitions against construction and the high costs of obtaining a building permit that varies between $25,000-30,000, a high cost for Palestinians,” she said.

According to a study conducted by Meir Margalit, former Jerusalem councilman, the cost of a building license in Palestinian areas for a 200-meter-square apartment runs nearly $100,000, an exorbitant fee is given Palestinian earning potential. This fee does not include additional required fees for connecting the property to sewage or for paying lawyers. This tactic to make the cost of attaining a building license more than the cost of construction is aimed to force the Arab population to move out of the city.

Not only the engineering of demographic changes, but Israeli authorities are also increasingly making access to Al Aqsa difficult for Palestinians, denying the right to prayer and pilgrimage. This was quite evident when they put spokes in the visit of Jordanian Crown Prince Hassan Bin Abdullah recently. He had to call off his visit to Al Aqsa, despite being its custodian.

While tourists are allowed to visit the Al-Aqsa, Israel doesn’t allow Palestinians, who are living just a few miles away in West Bank, to visit the holy site. The residents of Bethlehem, a Palestinian town just 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) south of Jerusalem, can see the silver dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and golden Qubbat as-Sakhra standing tall from the city, but cannot travel to Jerusalem. A teacher at an UN-run school in the city told me that he had visited the city some 14-years ago and offered prayers at the holy place. Since then, he can see the domes from a distance and gasp at the fortunes of his countrymen.

Not only denying them the right to pray and visit shrines from Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank, but Israel has also built separate roads and highways for Palestinians to travel to the Dead Sea and other areas, which is the height and worst form of apartheid. Israel is not only practicing apartheid but also engineering ethnic cleansing to evict Arabs from the region.

Anyway, there are no shortcuts in any movement. To take it to a logical conclusion, the leaders and people need steadfastness and make it strong by making more and more allies at the domestic and international front. The wheels of history move but albeit slowly at times. An agreement between a strong and a week also does not last long. Even for enacting an agreement on the table, one needs to be politically and morally strong. These are lessons taught by history over centuries and have not been proved wrong.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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