Unprecedented Advancement of Settlements in East Jerusalem Amidst the War in Gaza

In the past two and a half months, since the beginning of the war in Gaza, the Israeli government has been advancing unprecedented construction plans in East Jerusalem. As recalled, a few days after the start of the war, the planning committee approved the establishment of the Kidmat Zion settlement in the heart of the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem. On Wednesday, December 27, 2023, the planning committees will discuss the objections to the Givat Hashaked settlement. This settlement shares borders with the Palestinian neighborhoods of Beit Safafa and Shorafat, situated in close proximity. Among these decisions, three new settlements were approved in East Jerusalem, and construction plans in the Old City basin were advanced. All of this is happening concurrently with an increase in the pace of demolitions of Palestinian homes in the eastern part of the city compared to the months before the war.

Peace Now: The recent surge in development in East Jerusalem over the past two months is unparalleled. The government appears to be hastily working to obstruct any potential political resolution involving East Jerusalem. The construction in the Old City basin and the new settlements is aimed at complicating the prospect of a political settlement with the Palestinians. It’s noteworthy that these actions are deliberately unfolding at a time when global attention is primarily focused on the war in Gaza.

Kidmat Zion

On October 9, 2023, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee reviewed amendments to the East Jerusalem Preliminary Plan for the new settlement of Kidmat Zion and approved it for deposit (with conditions). This discussion occurred following a previous meeting on September 11, 2023, where the plan was approved with reservations, including the need for an examination by a representative from the Ministry of Transportation and clearance from the Ministry of Defense. The new settlement is planned to be built in the heart of the Palestinian neighborhood of  Abu Dis, and it will include 384 housing units. Despite requests from members of the district planning committee to postpone the discussion and the absence of a representative from the Ministry of Defense due to the ongoing conflict, it was decided to proceed with the meeting, which approved the plan. For additional information, read here.

The Lower Aqueduct

On Wednesday, November 29, 2023, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee approved the plan for the construction of the Lower Aqueduct neighborhood (Plan 101-0808840). Half of the Lower Aqueduct neighborhood is situated beyond the Green Line in East Jerusalem, and the other half is within the Green Line. However, its strategic location between the neighborhoods of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa makes it particularly problematic from a political standpoint. The approved plan proposes the construction of 1,738 housing units. For additional information, read here.

Givat HaShaked

The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee will review objections on Wednesday, 27.12.23, regarding the construction plan for the Givat HaShaked neighborhood (Plan 101-0969162). The approval for the construction of the Givat HaShaked neighborhood was granted in May 2023. The decision to hold discussions on objections within seven months of the committee’s initial review is relatively swift and indicates a desire to expedite the plan promptly. Givat Shaked is planned to be built on the lands of the villages of Beit Safafa and Sur Baher. According to the plan, approximately 700 new housing units will be constructed in the neighborhood. The construction of the new neighborhood will significantly limit the development potential of the adjacent Palestinian neighborhoods and negatively impact the ability to create a territorial continuum for a future Palestinian state. This is a plan initiated by the Custodian General, who in an extraordinary move began initiating plans in East Jerusalem on land under his management. For additional information, read here.

The cable car to the Old City

On Saturday, December 9, 2023, signs were hung throughout the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem on behalf of the Jerusalem Municipality, informing about land expropriation to construct the pillars on which the planned cable car to the Old City will be suspended. The expropriations are for surveying and locating the suitable place for building the pillars, enabling excavations and soil tests, and are limited to only eight years. After eight years, the exact area where the pillars will be built will be determined and permanently expropriated. Landowners were given 60 days to file objections. The cable car is one of the largest initiatives in which the government is investing to support settlement projects and Israeli control over Palestinian neighborhoods south of the Old City. According to the expropriation plan, there are 12 sites for expropriation in a total area of about 10 dunams, in areas where there are no residential buildings but are mainly used for roads, courtyards, and more. For additional information, read here.

The Armenian Quarter

One month ago, concerns heightened regarding an effort to take control of one of the last remaining undeveloped areas in Jerusalem’s Old City for the establishment of a new settlement. Representatives of a Jewish-Australian businessman and his associates have been actively pursuing development and infrastructure projects in the parking lot of the Armenian Quarter, asserting that they have legally acquired the land from the Armenian Church. This move has sparked strong opposition from the Armenian community, which alleges that the businessman is linked to settler organizations. They contend that the acquisition of the parking lot was unlawful and are calling for the cancellation of the agreement between the Patriarchy and the buyers.

The struggle over the future of the parking lot has been ongoing for several years. The area, of approximately 11 dunams, is situated between the Armenian Church and the walls of the Old City. In the initial stage, the area was designated as a parking lot in 2020, funded by the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Development Authority.

About a year later, in 2021, an agreement was reached to lease the area for 98 years between members of the Patriarchy, probably including the Patriarch himself, and a foreign businessman for the construction of a hotel. The Armenian community opposed the sale, claiming it was a fraud and illegal transaction. The community is concerned that the businessmen have affiliations with settler groups aiming to transform the last undeveloped area in the Armenian Quarter into a new Jewish settlement. For more information, click here.

Givat Hamatos

The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee has officially approved the “Strip” plan in the southern part of the city following a discussion on Monday, September 11, 2023. The “Strip” plan is located along Hebron Road, covering an area of approximately 140 dunams, intended for 3,500 residential units, hotels, and a commercial area. The project is a joint initiative of the Greek Orthodox Church, the landowner, and Dyani Holdings. About two-thirds of the plan’s area is located beyond the Green Line, bordering the Givat Hamatos neighborhood, and is planned to run alongside the planned light rail line on Hebron Road. Building plans along the light rail route enjoy higher building percentages compared to other parts of the city. Therefore, in the developers’ proposal, residential towers with heights of up to 30 floors are included. Increasing the building percentages allows for the construction of 3,500 housing units, hotels, and a commercial area on a relatively narrow piece of land. For comparison, existing building plans for Givat Hamatos are divided into three different plans, and together they comprise 3,972 residential units on an area of 411 dunams (compared to 140 dunams in the current plan). The “Strip” plan also nearly doubles the number of housing units in the Givat Hamatos area. For more information, click here.

Demolitions in East Jerusalem since the beginning of the war

The Israeli government and the municipality of Jerusalem have demolished 212 buildings in East Jerusalem in 2023. All the demolished structures were built by Palestinians. Since the start of the war, 53 buildings were demolished, and 216 people lost their homes. The demolition rate during the war in Gaza was relatively higher than in other months of the year. About a quarter of the demolitions in East Jerusalem this year took place during the war. The data is based on OCHA publications. The decision of the authorities not to halt house demolitions and even to intensify them aligns with the Israeli government’s policy to impact the vulnerable community in the city, reduce the Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem, and push Palestinians as much as possible beyond the borders of Jerusalem.