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Urban Planning and Colonies

The Israeli authorities began early on to implement strategic policies of land confiscation, displacement, and colonization in order to re-engineer Jerusalem's demographic and geographic character. The goal has been to isolate Jerusalem from the West Bank and build a contiguous Israeli inhabited block that links Jerusalem to colonies that have been built around it.

Since the 1970s, uban planning has been a tool of the Israeli authorities to maintain the so-called “demographic balance” and limit the Palestinian residents to 30% or less of the total population of Jerusalem.1 This strategy was stated in 1977, by the Director of the Planning Policy Section of the Jerusalem Municipality, Israel Kimhit, "A cornerstone in the planning of Jerusalem is the demographic question... That decision, concerning the city’s rate of growth, serves today as one of the criteria for the success of the process of Jerusalem’s consolidation as the capital of Israel."2

For that reason, the plans for the eastern part of Occupied Jerusalem are characterized by several intentional endemic outcomes: insufficient area designated for residential development, inadequate building rights, a surplus of areas designated as open spaces, and a sparse road network that limits provision of infrastructures and development of inaccessible areas.

Nevertheless, the demography of Occupied Jerusalem has developed in favor of the Palestinian population with an increase in the proportion of the population from 26% in 1967 to 37% in 2014.3 Consequently, Palestinians today live in crowded neighborhoods without planning and infrastructure to accompany this population growth.


Master Plan ‘Jerusalem 2000’

In June 1967, Israel occupied and annexed 70,500 dunums4 of the eastern part of Jerusalem and the West Bank and incorporated them into Jerusalem's municipal borders.5 Thirteen years later, Israel declared in its “Jerusalem Basic Law” that the whole city, both the western and the eastern parts, to be the “eternal and united capital of the Israeli State.”6 The creation of urban facts on the ground which would make any future division of the city practically impossible has, therefore, been the goal of Israel since the beginning of the occupation.

Israel develops "Master Plans" to determine the broad planning designations and principles for construction in a given area. There is a three-leveled hierarchy of Master Plans: National, Regional and Local as defined in the Planning and Construction Law of 1965. The Local Master Plans must be compatible with the National and Regional Plans, thereby limiting the autonomy of the Municipality. However, the occupation authorities, as the obliged entity, did not provide Jerusalem with a comprehensive plan. The first Master Plan since 1959 is ‘Jerusalem 2000’ which is still waiting final approval. Nonetheless, the plan is the frame of reference for current planning decisions in Jerusalem. However, because large parts of these plans are not detailed, individual plans must be drawn up before building permits can be issued.7

Guided by the Jewish demographic goal, the planning policy for the eastern part of Occupied Jerusalem has been to enable very little additional construction beyond the already existing fabric and zoning only 11% of the territory for Palestinian residential construction.8  Nevertheless, the Master Plan Jerusalem 2000 states the impracticability of a 70:30 Israeli-Palestinian demographic “balance” and certifies that the most likely demographic scenario is a ratio of 60:40 instead.9


House Demolitions

Master Plan Jerusalem 2000 gives only one “solution” to unauthorized residential development - house demolitions. Moreover, most of the sites that the plan allocates for so-called expansion of Palestinian neighborhoods have already been built-up without permits which merely retroactively approves existing structures rather than offering new residential units.10

In 2014, according to figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Israeli authorities destroyed 590 Palestinian structures in Area C and the eastern part of Jerusalem, displacing 1,177 people - the highest level of displacement in the West Bank since OCHA began systematically monitoring the issue in 2008. Meanwhile, in Feb 2015 it was revealed that more than 20,000 Palestinian homes in Jerusalem have been shortlisted for demolition by the Israeli occupation authorities.11 

The Israel divides demolitions into three types: Punitive demolitions are a punishment for the actions of people associated with the houses (for everything from political organizing to attacks on Israeli civilians); Military/Land-clearing demolitions are demolitions by the Israeli occupation forces in the course of military operations for the purpose of clearing a piece of land (for whatever reason), achieving a military goal or killing alleged suspects as part of Israel’s policy of extrajudicial executions; Administrative demolitions are demolitions for lack of building permits issued by the Jerusalem Occupation Municipality.12

Administrative demolitions are strongly connected to the strict zoning policies that leave only 11 percent of the lands in the eastern part of Occupied Jerusalem available for Palestinian housing and community needs.13 Therefore, during recent years more than 94% of all Palestinian permit applications have been rejected. Furthermore, few Palestinians can afford a building license even if an application is approved since every license takes 5-8 years to be issued and costs between $30,000 and $50,000 each.14

Altogether, these policies contradict the obligations of Israel as the occupying power to safeguard the homes of Palestinians under international humanitarian law, namely the Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention.15  As OCHA stated, “Demolitions that result in forced evictions and displacement run counter to Israel’s obligations under international law and create unnecessary suffering and tension. They must stop immediately.”16

To summarise, Israel’s policy in the eastern part of Occupied Jerusalem works as follows: The Jerusalem Municipality EXPROPRIATES land, PREVENTS preparation of urban planning for Palestinian neighborhoods, and REFUSES to grant building permits. This CAUSES a severe housing shortage and FORCES residents to build without a permit which gives the Ministry of Interior and the Municipality "justification" to DEMOLISH the houses, PUSHES the residents outside of the city, and ALLOWS the Ministry of Interior to REVOKE their residency and BANISH them from the city forever.17


Inadequate Water and Sewage Systems

Aside from refusing building permits, neglect of urban planning results in poor infrastructure and a shortage of basic services such as roads, sidewalks, and water and sewage systems. While Palestinians pay 33% of the municipal taxes, they receive only 8% of the budget in services. For example, only 3 welfare offices operate in the eastern part of Occupied Jerusalem in contrast to the 18 offices serving Israelis in the western part of the city,18 and 90% of all sewage pipes, roads and sidewalks in occupied Jerusalem are in Israeli neighbourhoods.19

While the lack of sufficient water and sewage networks is common to all Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, it is most prevalent in those neighbourhoods that have been excluded from Jerusalem by the Annexation Wall. The absence of municipal services in these neighbourhoods resonates with the statement made in 2011 by the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who declared that the municipality “should give up” on neighbourhoods behind the Annexation Wall.20

Meanwhile, the Master Plan Jerusalem 2000 completely ignores the impact of the Annexation Wall. The building of the Wall, which began in the early 2000s, was characterised by an irregular and accelerated planning process, and the Wall was built in contravention to existing plans, drastically altering the urban shape of occupied Jerusalem.  Several neighbourhoods located within the municipal borders, inhabited by almost 90.000 Jerusalemites, were excluded from Jerusalem by the Annexation Wall.21 Israeli planning authorities have never conducted urban planning for these neighbourhoods which has made residents unable to obtain building permits - a necessary step in connecting properties to the water system.

This absence of planning has been partially negated by the residents themselves whom have connected their properties to unofficial pipes across rooftops and to street-side water tanks that are powered by electric pumps. Because of the dire shortage of sewage pipes, some Palestinians are forced to use septic tanks that repeatedly flood. These ingenuitive yet informal systems result in high electricity costs and pose serious health and safety risks.22

Since March 2014, when ‘Hagihon,’ Jerusalem’s water utility company, stopped the regular supply of running water to neighbourhoods beyond the Annexation Wall, there has been a severe water crisis. Tens of thousands of Palestinians in Ras Shehada, Ras Khamis, Dahyat a-Salam and the Shu’fat Refugee Camp were, despite their location within the municipal borders of Jerusalem, cut off from a regular supply of water.23

Jamil Sanduka, Chairman of the Ras Khamis Neighbourhood Committee, explained the situation since the construction of the Annexation Wall and the collapse of local infrastructure as follows, “The authorities have attempted time and time again to impose upon us the responsibility of providing residents with basic services in an area that is part of Jerusalem, and whose residents are Jerusalemites.”24

This way Palestinian communities on both sides of the Annexation Wall are severely affected by the intentional lack of comprehensive urban planning for their neighbourhoods.


Land Confiscation

Since 1967, 35% of Palestinian-owned land in the eastern part of Occupied Jerusalem has been expropriated for Israeli colonies, roads and other facilities. An additional 54% has been designated as “open green space” reserved for “public purposes” which forbids Palestinian construction.25

How does Israel justify and legalize confiscation of Palestinian lands?

Over the years, Israel has used a number of legal and bureaucratic procedures in order to take over West Bank lands with the main objective of establishing colonies and providing them land reserves. Five primary methods are used: seizure for military purposes, declaration of state lands, seizure of absentee property, confiscation for public needs, and initial registration. With these methods Israel has annexed almost 50% of the lands in the West Bank and prohibited Palestinians from using them.26

The Absentee Property Law from 1950 has also been a legal framework used in a large portion of today’s Israeli colonies in a-Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, and the Old City. Because of this law, Palestinians in Jerusalem lost their property for being “absent” while they were forced out of the city by war. This way, Israel has built a very effective framework for legalising the seizure of property and land.

In approved plans for Occupied Jerusalem, open spaces are designated as public spaces, open scenic areas, national parks, and nature reserves. The first of these categories allows for the land to be expropriated for public use by the local authorities while allowing the landowner to demand compensation. The zoning category “open scenic area,” which dictates a complete prohibition on construction with no compensation for landowners and no municipal obligation, iis the most common tactic. In recent years, there has also been a trend to zone vacant areas as national parks even if they have no apparent natural or cultural value.27

The following serves as an example of how zoning policies are used to acquire land for future Israeli colonies. In 1968, approximately 2,000 dunums of Palestinian land in Shu’fat in the eastern part of Jerusalem were designated as a “green area.” It was consequently sowed with cypress seedlings and left undisturbed for twenty-six years. In 1994, the restrictive zoning was “suddenly changed” by the occupation authorities when they issued expropriation orders for it and authorized the construction of the colony Reches Shu’fat (Ramat Shlomo).28


Israeli Colonies

When speaking of the occupation, “settlement” is typically used to describe Israeli built-up areas on land occupied during the Naksa (the West Bank and the eastern part of Jerusalem). While these are wholly condemned by the UN, governments, and organizations around the world, Palestinians believe the term immensely understates the extent of the damage wrought by the state of Israel on Palestinians.

Palestinians see not only “settlements” as illegal and immoral; they understand that Israel as a Jewish geopolitical state was from its very beginnings a colonialist enterprise. They have heard and seen the suffering of those cleansed from the land during the Nakba after foreign powers (the UN, western governments, Zionist leaders) conspired in the early decades of the 20th century to create a Jewish state in Palestine without consultation with or representation from its residents, and they have been told of the accompanying massacres perpetrated by the IOF. They are aware of the continued prejudice and institutional racism experienced by Palestinians within Israel who still do not receive the same rights and privileges as Israel’s Jewish residents.

For them, the problem is not simply the hundreds of “settlements” now scattered across the region; they are only one aspect of the larger colonialist regime that has dismantled their communities and devastated their families. In order to articulate this larger system of colonial dispossession and oppression, we use “colonies” to refer to both “settlements” within the West Bank and eastern part of Jerusalem as well as Zionist communities within the geopolitical state of Israel.

These colonialist intentions have been furthered by the construction of colonies within the West Bank and the eastern part of Jerusalem where there are 14. Most are strategically arranged in the north, east, and south parts of the city in order to dismember it from the West Bank, control movement, and prohibit a contiguous Palestinian territory with Jerusalem as its capital. These colonies make a ‘ring’ around the Old City, establishing Israeli presence as a fact on the ground, and strengthen Israel’s control.

Colonisation in Jerusalem

The work of the Israel Land Fund demonstrates this colonialism. Established in 2007 by Arieh King to acquire land on the Mount of Olives, it endeavours to acquire strategic land of historical and religious value to the Jewish people. The bond between the Municipality of Jerusalem and the settlement movement was revealed in King's election to the City Council in Oct 2013 where he fights for the ‘right’ of Jews to take over land in every part of Jerusalem.30 The municipality of Jerusalem and other government institutions are promoting colonisation by providing Israelis incentives to live in the eastern part of Jerusalem. Among them are the allocation of security guards for protection, security forces to support the takeover of Palestinian assets and houses, and funding and promoting development projects.31 Since 1967, over 70,000 Israeli families have moved into colonies in the eastern part of occupied Jerusalem.32

The Moroccan Quarter is an example of property taken over in the Old City to facilitate access to the “Western Wall.” On 10 June 1967, several hundred residents were given a two hour notice to vacate their homes. Those who refused were forcefully evicted as bulldozers were mobilized to raze the quarter's 135 homes by the evening of June 11th. After a swift reconstruction, the area became the “Western Wall Plaza.”34

The political discourse was expected to change after the signing of the Oslo Accords in the 90s. Given the centrality of ‘control over land’ to the negotiating process, a complete halt to all Israeli colony building was crucial; however, colonies have instead expanded. All told, the Israeli population in the eastern part of Jerusalem has increased from 146,000 to more than 300,000 since the Accords.33 The construction of colonies within the eastern part of Jerusalem infringes on Palestinians' rights to freedom of movement, privacy, and security and perpetuates the nearly century-old pains of the colonisation of Palestine.


Politicised Planning of Parks and Roads

The establishment of national parks and highways is an additional tool in the comprehensive strategy to consolidate a vision of a “Greater Jerusalem” that expands deeply into the West Bank, splits it in two and cuts it off from the eastern part of occupied Jerusalem.35

Gradually, Israel has broadened its connection to West Bank colonies by creating a transportation grid that "bypasses" Palestinian towns and villages while connecting Israeli colonies. Meanwhile, the establishment of national parks on confiscated Palestinian land divides Palestinian communities in Jerusalem and separates Jerusalemites from the rest of the West Bank.36 There are 4 approved National Parks in the eastern part of occupied Jerusalem today while more are being planned.37

Furthermore, the confiscation of Palestinian land for zoning and road construction often constitutes a violation of International Humanitarian Law, since Israel, as the occupying power is prohibited from making changes within occupied territory except for those required for the benefit and welfare of the local population. Here are two examples of how Palestinian lives are being uprooted and international law violated through the planning of parks and roads.

Despite multiple objections, a new landfill known as Plan 13900 was recently approved by the Jerusalem District Planning Committee. It will be built close to the E1 planned colony compound, and aims to unite the eastern part of Jerusalem with the colony of Ma’ale Adumim.38 A municipal park will be established on the lands of the Palestinian neighbourhoods al-'Eisawiyah and ‘Anata after the area has been filled with solid construction waste for 20 years.39 In addition to the confiscation of Palestinian land, the implementation of the Plan 13900 will require the displacement of an estimated 120 Bedouin residents in the area thereby violating article 49, Paragraph 1 of the IVth Geneva Convention which states, “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”40

When considering the planning and construction of roads in Jerusalem and in the West Bank you will find flagrant restrictions on access and movement for Palestinians. One example is the construction of "bypass roads," Israeli only roads which enable access to colonies without having to pass through Palestinian villages. They strengthen Israeli colonies while fragmenting Palestinian communities and limiting Palestinian access to services such as health and education.

The Eastern Ring Road is an example of a road planned to reserve large stretches of land for the expansion of colonies in Jerusalem.41 As with the Annexation Wall that physically separates the eastern part of occupied Jerusalem from the remainder of the West Bank, the Ring Road will effectively cut off Palestinian neighbourhoods within the eastern part of occupied Jerusalem from each other, hereby completely disrupting the fabric of life for more than 300.000 Palestinians.42 It will extend 11.5 km and require the construction of three bridges and five tunnels requiring the demolition of approximately 38 Palestinian homes and the confiscation of a massive amount of Palestinian land within the a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah, a-Thori and Abu Dis areas.43

This way in order to secure and maintain exclusive control over occupied Jerusalem, the Israeli authorities have implemented a process designed to impose “facts on the ground” while re-engineering the city’s demographic and geographic character.


Local initiatives

In 2013 a community group was mobilised in Beit Safafa under the name “Awald Haretna” (Children of our Neighbourhood) as a response to their neighbourhood being torn in two by the construction of Road 4, also known as Begin Highway. The six-lane highway severs Beit Safafa’s internal roads while completely altering the character of the community.44

Initially, Road 4 will serve north-south travel while linking to Tel Aviv via Route 443. However, it is also of great political importance because, once completed, the three dominant colony blocs in the Jerusalem area (Gush Etzion in the south, Givat Ze’ev in the north and Ma’ale Adumim, via Highway No. 1, in the east) will be joined to a network of highways that will cut into occupied Jerusalem from three sides.

“Awlad Haretna” ran a public campaign that used social media and other tools to mobilise hundreds of community members to events and protests against the construction of this destructive highway.45 After the construction of the road began, residents petitioned the court, arguing that the highway was illegal because authorities skipped the detailed planning stage, including a public review, which is a prerequisite for approval. Nonetheless, both the petition and a later appeal to the Supreme Court were rejected, and the construction of Road 4 continued.46

Despite their loss in the fight against Road 4, the youth in “Awlad Haretna” have continued organising within Beit Safafa.


ICAHD.No Home No Homeland.December 2011.


The Association for Civil Rights in Israel.May24,2014. &

Jerusalem Institute for Israeli Studies.Jerusalem Facts and Trends.2013

[4 dunams = 1 acre]

B'Tselem, Discrimination in Planning, Building and Land Expropriation.Jan1.2011.

Knesset.Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of  Israel.

BIMKOM.Survey of the Palestinian Neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.2013

ICAHD.Israel's Policy Demolishing Palestinian Homes must End.March,2012.




- See more at:

Francesco Chiodelli.The Jerusalem Master Plan:Planning into the Conflict.

10 B'Tselem.National Parks in the Process of Planning in East Jerusalem.Sep23,2014

11 PNN, 20,000 Palestinian Homes on Israeli Demolition Shortlist.February,2015.

12 ICAHD.Demloishing Homes Demolishing Peace.

13 ICAHD.Israel's Policy Demolishing Palestinian Homes must End.March 2012.

14 PNN, 20,000 Palestinian Homes on Israeli Demolition Shortlist.February,2015.


16 The Times of Israel.Israel Illegally Demolishing Palestinians Homes, UN Says.January24,2015.

17 ICAHD.Israel's Policy Demolishing Palestinian Homes must End.March 2012.

18 The Palestinian economy in East Jerusalem: Eduring annexation, isolation and disintegration | UNCTAD.


19 B'Tselem,Neglect of Infrastructure and Services in Palestinian Neighborhoods.Jan 1, 2011

20 Candace Graff.Pockets of Lawlessness in the "Qasis of Justice"

21 The Association for Civil Rights in Israel.East Jerusalem by the Numbers

22 The Association for Civil Rights in Israel.Water Crisis in East Jerusalem Continues.

23 serious Neglect of Neighborhoods cut by Seperation Barrier:3 month without Regular Running Water.Jun29,2014.

24 Michael Omer-Man.High Court Demands a Solution to East Jerusalem Water Crisis

25 ICAHD.Israel's Policy of Demolishing Palestinian Homes must End. March,2012.

26 Peacenow.Methods of Confiscation -How does Israel Justify and Legalize Confiscation of Lands?

27 BIMKOM. Survey of the Palestinian Neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

28 Imseis, Ardi.Fact on the Ground: An Examination of Israeli Municipal Policy in East Jerusalem.200

29 American Friends Service Committe. Israel's Settlement Policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territoy

30 Israel Land Fund.About ILF.

31 B'Tselem. Settler Enclaves in East Jerusalem.Jan1, 2011

32 Imseis, Ardi. Facts on the Ground:An Examination of Israeli Municipal Policy in East Jerusalem.

33 American Friends Service Committee. Israel's Settlement policy in the Occuppied Palestinian Territory.

34 Demolition of Moroccan Quarter in Old City of Jerusalem.

35 IR AMIM.Tearing a Neighborhood in Two

36 Adalah.Objection to the Eastern Ring Road Plan for Jerusalem, Designed to Create a Segregated Road System and to Encircle Palestinian Neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, In Violation of International and Israeli law.

37 Bimkom.From Public to National:National Parks in East Jerusalem.

38 The Palestine Chronilice.Israeli Authorities Approved Landfill Project in East Jerusalem.Feb16,2015.

39 Terrestrial Jerusalem. The Politics of Waste Treatment in Jerusalem.April 22, 2013

40 ICRC.Deportion, Transfers, Evacuations.

41 Adalah.Objection to the Eastern Ring Road Plan for Jerusalem, Designed to Create a Segregated Road System and to Encircle Palestinian Neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, In Violation of International and Israeli law.

42 PLO Negotiations Affairs Department. Bypass Road 20 a quick easy Route to Settlement Expansion and Colonization.May 2013.

43 Eyo on Palestine.The Circling of East Jerusalem-Roads45and 5.April12,1997.

44 IR AMIM.Tearing a Neighborhood in Two

45 HAARETZ.Young Activist fight for their Neighborhood against city Hall's Tractors.Feb20,2013

46 Bimkom. Survey of Palestinian Neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.