On January 8, President George Bush kicked off an eight-day tour through the Middle East by criticizing Israel for failing to demolish what the left-leaning media likes to call “illegal Jewish outposts” in the West Bank. “In terms of outposts, yeah they ought to go,” said the president. “Look … we’ve been talking about it for four years, and the agreement was to get rid of outposts, illegal outposts, and they ought to go.”
Apparently the president’s remarks struck a chord with Ehud Olmert. Speaking at a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, the Israeli prime minister, with uncharacteristic toughness, lashed out at Jews for not demolishing the illegal settlements. “The fact that illegal outposts are still standing,” he told his ministerial colleagues, “even though the last two governments decided to evacuate them, is a disgrace” (emphasis mine throughout).
Judging by the tone of these remarks, and the attention given to this story over the last few days, one would be forgiven for thinking that this issue is the axis on which future peace between the Palestinians and Israelis pivots, and that these settlements are a major hurdle in the path to peace. Nevermind the regular hailstorm of rockets hitting Sderot and Ashkelon from Gaza, or the defining belief among Palestinians that Israel as a state must be obliterated—peace can only be attained when Israel evacuates a few dozen unauthorized settlements.
Illegal construction is no small issue in Israel. Problem is, America and the international community fail to recognize who the real offenders are. That America and the international community would demand Israel evacuate a few dozen unauthorized outposts, while at the same time turn a blind eye to, and in some cases aid and abet, Palestinian Arabs as they illegally construct tens of thousands of structures throughout Jerusalem, exposes their hypocrisy, and the duplicitous and patently anti-Israel nature of their foreign policy.
Despite gaining little traction in the mainstream press, especially outside of Israel, the illegal Palestinian construction boom in Jerusalem has not been missed entirely over the years. In 1997, the Jerusalem Post, citing a report produced by Israel’s security services, said that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization had been “stepping up illegal construction and purchasing property, and establishing alternative educational, legal and police services for Arabs in Jerusalem,” despite the fact that the Oslo Accords prohibited the plo from operating in Jerusalem, as did Israeli law.
In 1998, an Israeli government study obtained by the Jerusalem Post reported that 701 new illegal Arab buildings had been constructed in East Jerusalem that year. On March 25, 1998, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that inspectors from the Interior Ministry had found 1,291 construction violations in Jerusalem, most in Arab-dominated East Jerusalem. “In most cases, the East Jerusalem [predominantly Arab] violations consist of the illegal construction of entire buildings and floors, while those in western Jerusalem [Jewish neighborhoods] are mostly additions of a room or a balcony,” said the article.
Later that year, a report broadcast on Israel Television’s Channel One exposed a Palestinian construction boom:
A Palestinian construction surge can be seen in Jerusalem’s Old City. During the last year, thousands of houses have been expanded in the Old City without licenses, with Palestinian Authority financing.
A year ago, Channel One uncovered the PA’s plan for wide-scale construction within the Old City to the tune of millions of dollars. Today, we visited the area to [see] whether this plan is being implemented. The picture emerging is that the Old City is being rebuilt. We were informed that with the help of mysterious funds, the PA is financing the construction of thousands of housing units. Most of the new housing units have been built without building licenses. According to law, it is absolutely forbidden to build on top of existing houses inside the Old City …. Some houses have been built within one month.
Then in 2003, international human rights lawyer Justus Reid Weiner, of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, published perhaps the most comprehensive and condemning findings on the illegal building activities of Palestinian Arabs. Weiner’s findings confirmed earlier reports that thousands of buildings were being erected illegally, without permits, and oftentimes as a result of numerous crimes, from forged deeds and land theft to tax evasion and total disregard for safety codes.
Interestingly, Weiner also noted the differences in the nature of the illegal building activities conducted by Jews and Arabs. Where Jewish illegal construction generally consisted of closing a balcony or hollowing out under a building to create an extra room, illegal construction in the Arab sector often took the “form of entire multi-floor buildings with 4 to 25 living units, built with the financial assistance of the Palestinian Authority on land that is not owned by the builder.”
In 2005, Israel’s Arutz Sheva further highlighted the problem in a two-part investigative report, during which it interviewed a number of prominent officials in Jerusalem:
Experts say that illegal building in eastern Jerusalem has reached a magnitude hitherto unknown and has all but become the norm in the region. “I estimate that between 800 to 1,000 dwellings are built illegally each year,” says Micha Bin-Nun, director of Jerusalem’s Licensing and Inspections Department. “It started in earnest in 1995, a little after Oslo.” Ten years later, he estimates, the total number of illegal structures now exceeds 10,000 buildings. Assuming an average of five living units per structure, the total could exceed 50,000 apartments.
The municipal figure is backed up by Palestinian sources. At a conference that took place four years ago, on Jan. 7, 2000, at the Jerusalem Center for Women, Palestinian Legislative Council member for Jerusalem, Hatem Abd El-Khader Eid, boasted that Arabs had erected 6,000 illegal structures in East Jerusalem in the previous few years. Illegal Arab construction is widespread all over the country, not just in East Jerusalem. Two years ago, the Interior Ministry estimated the amount at 20,000. Former Housing minister and current minister of Jerusalem Affairs, Natan Sharansky, has estimated the figure at 40,000.
In 2006, a separate survey sponsored by the privately funded Office for Public Inquiries for East Jerusalem confirmed that Palestinian Arabs have constructed 20,000 to 40,000 illegal structures throughout Jerusalem. But what was most revealing in this report, poignantly analyzed by Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post in May 2007, was that the large majority of the illegal construction occurred with virtually no opposition from the listless Israeli government.
One of the most alarming points to note in this series of reports and articles is the details about the political motivation behind the illegal construction, and who is sponsoring, even financing, the illegal activities. “The political aim of the illegal construction is made clear by its financing sources,” reported Glick. “Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the PA, Saudi Arabia and the EU have spent millions of dollars in financing illegal construction in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, often on state and privately owned lands.”
According to some reports, Iran has donated up to $300 million for Arab construction in eastern Jerusalem. According to the 2005 Arutz Sheva report, Saudi Arabia secretly financed the “PA building campaign for political reasons in strategic areas in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel.” Clearly, the Arabs’ massive illegal construction ventures are not the haphazard, personal projects of a few Palestinians.
An alarming amount of time, coordination and strategy is being invested in planning precisely where the illegal structures should be located. “In an effort to degrade the Jewish character of the city, for instance, Arabs have built homes on state-owned lands adjacent to the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives” (Jerusalem Post, May 14, 2007). In another example, Arabs illegally constructed a basketball court adjacent to an Israeli school to prevent the school from being able to expand in the future.
Illegal Arab structures have been constructed at other strategic locations throughout the city, including along major traffic arteries and airports. Illegally built Arab homes and buildings now straddle Highways 60, 1, 4 and 443 in Jerusalem, while illegal construction has “rendered the Atarot airport insecure” (ibid.).
Palestinian Arabs and left-wing human rights groups claim that Arabs are forced to build illegally because the city refuses to grant building permits to its Arab residents. Those claims are patently false, as human rights advocate Justus Reid Weiner explains here and here.
The illegal construction of thousands of structures by Palestinian Arabs, beginning soon after the Oslo Accords, is nothing short of a political, demographic, geographic and cultural assault on the Jews’ presence in Jerusalem!
Tragically, Israel’s response to this systematic invasion has been profoundly weak. “The illegal Arab construction, which has placed most neighborhoods in Jerusalem and the highway approaches to the city within rifle range of hostile gunmen, has been met with indifference by the Israeli governing bureaucracy ….
“With the exception of the Netanyahu government, every Israeli government since 1993 has enabled the Arabs to undermine the state’s control of Jerusalem. While paying lip service to the city’s unity, by errors of commission and omission, Israel’s governments have failed to defend the property rights of public and private land owners in Jerusalem. They have allowed the PA, enemy states like Saudi Arabia and the EU to openly abet illegal building projects in the city” (ibid.).
This whole situation is absurd.
Since the Oslo Accords of 1993, Arab Palestinians, sponsored by the likes of Yasser Arafat and mullahs in Iran and Saudi Arabia, have invaded Jerusalem, deceitfully acquired or stolen parcels of land, and then, oftentimes with great strategy and coordination, set about illegally constructing thousands of structures throughout the city.
Yet America and the international community demand that Israel demolish a few dozen unauthorized settlements!
If the U.S. and the world walked a mile in Israel’s shoes, perhaps the tragedy of this situation would hit home a little harder. How do you think Germany or America would react if anyone—let alone thousands of hostile people seeking their ultimate demise—marched into Berlin or Washington, d.c., and began erecting buildings along highways, adjacent to airports and at other strategic locations?