Politics of Informal Urbanization and the Battle for Urban Rights in Jerusalem

By El-Atrash, Ahmad | Jerusalem Quarterly, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Politics of Informal Urbanization and the Battle for Urban Rights in Jerusalem


El-Atrash, Ahmad, Jerusalem Quarterly


The informal urbanization process in East Jerusalem has been politically charged and motivated since the Israeli occupation started in 1967. Israeli authorities’ de facto measures have unleashed uncontrolled and undirected spatial growth for Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem that has had unavoidable negative repercussions on the built environment. Israeli authorities have strived to alter the demographic and spatial settings of Jerusalem and its environs in favor of a Jewish hegemony to predetermine the political resolution of the conflict in Jerusalem. Accordingly, Israeli authorities have maintained a matrix of geopolitical control based in part on physical infrastructure, including the separation barrier, Israeli settlements, bypass roads, and the like. This policy of separation and control was enabled by a de jure planning system, where the bulk of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem are considered unauthorized and as such are under threat of demolition and their inhabitants subject to forced displacement. As of 2014, there were 11,000 pending demolition orders in East Jerusalem, amounting to a quarter of all Palestinian families in East Jerusalem.[1]

The Israeli occupation has not been a short-term affair, and Israeli governments have had ambitions that go beyond administrative goals to include goals of territorial control over the occupied territory. This has been achieved by adopting a complex legal system of planning. The extent of the legal system that has facilitated the expropriation and reallocation of formerly Arab land to primarily Jewish hands makes it difficult to capture in its entirety.[2] Since the start of the occupation, the Israeli authorities cancelled all plans prepared and approved during the Jordanian administration. In 1974, the Israeli Jerusalem municipality declared the area of East Jerusalem annexed in 1967 part of the planning milieu under its jurisdiction.

According to the prevailing law, the Israeli municipality was mandated to prepare (local) outline plans covering the entire area of East Jerusalem for approval by the District Planning Committee within three years. In 1975, the Israeli Jerusalem municipality, in the absence of any master plan for East Jerusalem, specified the areas in East Jerusalem where building permits could be obtained based on article 78 of the prevailing building and planning law. In 1977, the first master plan for East Jerusalem covering the Old City and its environs (TPS 9) was approved. TPS 9 required that detailed plans be prepared before granting any building permits. In 1983, the municipality decided to prepare outline plans for the Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem. By 2002, only 20 outline plans were approved. The dismal situation resulting from the planning crisis in the Palestinian communities of East Jerusalem is evidence of the failure of the currently adopted statutory planning processes in East Jerusalem to meet the local population’s needs and to defend their personal and collective rights to housing, safe water, and sanitation, to name a few. It has spurred the Palestinian community of East Jerusalem to develop “bottom-up” Palestinian alternative plans for the “top-down” Israeli plans that do not meet the basic building and planning rights. Nevertheless, these initiatives remain sporadic and lack an overall strategic outlook to the future of the Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem.[3]

Theoretical Boundaries

Israeli authorities have used planning as a tool to control and shape the Palestinian habitat in the city. The current planning boundaries of East Jerusalem are being set in an artificial manner based on geopolitical artifacts that cut East Jerusalem from its natural urban and rural hinterland. Israeli authorities have also restricted the expansion of Palestinian neighborhoods and undermined their contiguity through designating the surrounding land as green areas. On the ground, this land use designation is ignored, and the land has been repeatedly expropriated to build new Jewish-only neighborhoods. …

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