Expatriates Besmirch Israel for Political Gain: Haim Yacobi and Irit Katz a Case in Point

Editorial Note

Two Israeli political activists based in British universities, Profs. Haim Yacobi and Irit Katz published an article titled “Jerusalem: evictions show how urban planning is being weaponized against Palestinians.” The article disputes Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem. 

According to the authors, the Israeli authority admits that houses built before 1967 are legal. Therefore, houses built after 1967 without planning permission are illegal. It is not hard to imagine that many houses were built illegally, for political reasons, as large segments of the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem oppose Israeli sovereignty. They wish the area to be part of the Palestinian capital when the Palestinian state comes into being. The authors do not hide the fact that they support them. 

Yacobi and Katz went on to discuss a case where the Israeli authorities expropriated property to establish a school for children with special needs for the neighborhood’s residents. But, for the authors, “this ‘top-down’ planning did not include any consultation with the family or the community.” The authors forget that practices for local authorities to consult residents when establishing a building for the public benefit are not that common. 

There are many cases of land disputes in Israel, both in the Jewish and Arab sectors, that involve house demolitions

Recently, the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood attracted attention. The Israeli media reported in November 2021 that the Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem rejected a compromise proposed by the Israeli Supreme Court last month that would make them “protected tenants” and leave them in their homes for 15 years – or until a settlement is reached. The neighborhood spokesman explained, “This refusal comes from our belief in the justice of our cause and our right to our homes and homeland, despite the lack of guaranty to strengthen our Palestinian presence in occupied Jerusalem by any party or institution.” The media added in their report, “The Palestinian residents claim that in 1956 they purchased houses built in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood by the Jordanian Ministry of Housing. They or their fathers received agreements according to which they waived a “refugee certificate” and received the apartments at their disposal in return. According to them, no arrangement was made for the land. Later on, the land came into the hands of Nahalat Shimon, which claims that it lawfully acquired the rights from committees that owned the land before 1948 and even renewed the registration in 1972. The District Court accepted the “Nahalat Shimon” claim and ruled that the families who appealed this decision should be evacuated.”

Yacobi and Katz also claim that the “Recent events in Sheikh Jarrah clearly mark the current phase in colonizing Jerusalem. This is a micro-scale appropriation of Palestinian territory accompanied by evictions and displacements of Palestinians who remain in the city. Palestinian homes are demolished or colonized by settlers such as in the case of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah.”

The authors pay no respect to the Israeli courts that examined the documents held by both parties, the Palestinians and the Jews. 

However, according to a Peace Now report, from January 18, 2022, the Sallehiya family was evacuated because, “The Sallehiya family is a Palestinian refugee family originally from the village of Ein Karem, who settled in Sheikh Jarrah, according to the family, before 1967. In 1984, the district planning committee approved a building plan (Plan No. 2591) for the neighborhood, and designated the plot on which the family home and [gardening] nursery were built, for public use. On 3/7/2017, the municipality announced the expropriation of the plot for the purpose of constructing a public building in accordance with the approved plan. The landowners filed an objection to the expropriation but the court dismissed their petition. It should be noted that the Israeli law allows expropriation of private property for public purposes and property owners are entitled to compensation. About a year ago, the Jerusalem Municipality began to work on detailed planning for the construction of a school and kindergartens for the Palestinians on the plot, and initiated eviction proceedings against the Sallehiya family at the Execution Office. The Execution Office set the time of the eviction of the family to be carried out during the month of January 2022.”

It is questionable if people who have no title deed to land should be entitled to live in a property they do not own nor pay rent for. According to Yacobi and Katz, Palestinians have such a right, as it fits with their radical narrative of colonization.  

Over the years, Israel Academia Monitor has discussed the large number of Israeli expats who teach social science in British universities.  Our analysis indicates that many are radical activists who were apparently hired to produce research that besmirches the State of Israel. 

It is probably not a coincidence that Amnesty International UK has recently produced a report that charges Israel as an apartheid state.   Israeli officials have described the report as antisemitic according to the standards of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.  As a rule, human rights groups use academic research to prove their case and, more to the point, some academic activists help to draft these kinds of reports. Prof. Oren Yiftachel admitted to co-writing the earlier BT’selem report which charged Israel of apartheid.

A more balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is impossible as long as British universities recruit Israeli expats because of their skills in trashing Israel.  Even better, maybe scarce departmental resources should be used to hire experts on Iran or other countries which violate human rights on a grand scale. As it stands, little has been written on these countries and their long-suffering population. 


 The Conversation
Academic rigour, journalistic flairJerusalem: evictions show how urban planning is being weaponised against Palestinians

January 27, 2022 2.30pm GMT  

  1. Haim Yacobi Professor of Development Planning, UCL  
  2. Irit Katz Assistant Professor in Architecture and Urban Studies, University of Cambridge

One olive in my garden is better than anything material in the whole world.

These sad words were uttered by Mahmoud Salhiya after his home in Sheikh Jarrah was recently demolished by Israeli forces.

Sheikh Jarrah is a Palestinian neighbourhood of 3,000 inhabitants at the eastern part of Road 1 that runs north to south through Jerusalem and separates Israeli and Palestinian sectors. The neighbourhood has two distinctive sections: the north is the part inhabited by wealthier Palestinians while the poorer, southern part is populated by hundreds of Palestinian refugees from 1948.

The Salhiya family house is in Sheikh Jarrah’s southern area on land designated by an old urban scheme authorised in the 1980s for the construction of a public building. But part of the house already existed, along with some other structures, when the plan was being prepared. In fact, the house and the other buildings on the plot are already visible on maps of Jerusalem from the 1930s.

Importantly, according to the Jerusalem Municipality itself, Palestinian houses built in East Jerusalem before 1967 are considered legal and therefore cannot be demolished. But zoning the Salhiya plot for public use – which ignored the fact of the existing residential property already on the site – is indicative of a common practice that has characterised Israeli planning of East Jerusalem since 1967.

The Israeli authorities argued that the Salhiya property had been expropriated to establish a “special needs” school for the benefit of the neighbourhood’s residents. But this “top-down” planning did not include any consultation with the family or the community.

Demolition as a tool of control

The police are reported to have arrived at the property in the early hours of what was one of the coldest nights so far this winter, and forcibly removed 15 members of the Salhiya family before bulldozing the house. They arrested Mahmoud Salhiya and five members of his family, as well as some of their supporters, both Palestinian and Israeli activists.

This traumatic event is part of an ongoing attempt of displacing Palestinians from their homes – not only in Sheikh Jarrah but also in other neighbourhoods such as Silwan, on the outskirts of the Old City, which is the subject of the continuing conflict between Jewish settlers and the local Palestinian community over archaeology, tourism development and housing.

Housing demolitions have become an all-too-regular occurrence. According to a report by B’tselem (the Israeli information centre for human rights in the occupied territories) between 2006 and November 2021, Israeli authorities demolished at least 1,176 Palestinian housing units in East Jerusalem. At least 3,769 people lost their homes – including 1,996 children. Housing demolition serves Israel’s attempt to control the city’s “demographic balance” – keeping a Jewish majority within Jerusalem’s municipal territory back to the 70:30 ratio that has driven Israeli policy since 1967.

Emerging urban geopolitics

The Salhiya family’s case should be understood within a wider context of the political processes taking place in Jerusalem since June 1967 and the declaration of the city as Israel’s unified capital. The expropriation of Palestinian land by the state through legal measures was central to the colonisation of East Jerusalem at this stage.

Planning further contributed to the colonisation of the city and was characterised by the construction of settlements (“satellite neighbourhoods”). Since 1967, Israel has expropriated over one-third of the Palestinian land that was annexed to Jerusalem’s municipality new boundaries – 24.5 square kilometres – most of it privately owned by Palestinians. Some 11 neighbourhoods have been erected for Jewish inhabitants only.

Under international law, the status of these neighbourhoods is the same as the Israeli illegal settlements throughout the West Bank. As a complementary step, a series of masterplans were drawn that have effectively limited the growth of Palestinian neighbourhoods by limiting construction rights and defining most Palestinian land as not eligible for housing construction.

The beginning of the 21st century marked a shift into a more radical policy in Jerusalem with the construction of the separation barrier. This has allowed Israel to de facto annex another 160 square kilometres of the Occupied Territories.

The route of the barrier creates a sharp division between the walled city of Jerusalem and the Palestinian hinterland. The concrete barrier deliberately disrupts the functional integration of Palestinian neighbourhoods and isolates them from their hinterland in the West Bank.Separation: how the barrier has affected Jerusalem’s Palestinian communities. ir-amin, Author provided

The construction of the separation barrier has placed the vast majority of territory and resources in the Jerusalem metropolitan under Jewish control. Palestinians are confined to disjointed enclaves, without sovereignty, freedom of movement, control over natural resources, or contiguous territory.

Micro colonisation

Recent events in Sheikh Jarrah clearly mark the current phase in colonising Jerusalem. This is a micro-scale appropriation of Palestinian territory accompanied by evictions and displacements of Palestinians who remain in the city. Palestinian homes are demolished or colonised by settlers such as in the case of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah while agricultural land is confiscated from its Palestinian owners – as in the case of Walajeh where the separation barrier surrounds the village and cuts it off from most of its inhabitants’ land.

This is a new phase in which Palestinian space is appropriated not solely through military acts or large-scale urban planning (such as described above) but rather on small-scale urban spaces and the use of planning policies. These include land-use changes, planning for the apparent “public good” (such as the attempt to build a school on Salhiya’s plot in Sheikh Jarrah), infrastructure development and touristic development. There is also clear discrimination in the distribution of building permits. While 38% of the city’s residents are Palestinians, only 16.5% of the building permits were given for construction in Palestinian neighbourhoods.

In this way, Jerusalem has become a model for using “banal” apparatuses such as urban planning to reinforce Israeli domination of this divided and contested city.

****We are grateful to Dr Mandy Turner for providing the translation of Mahmoud Salhiya’s words at the opening of this article and the linked video.

University College London provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK. University of Cambridge provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.

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