Convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) in cooperation with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)
27 June 2019

PLENARY I: THE LEGAL STATUS OF JERUSALEM UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW AND IN THE CONTEXT OF A FINAL PEACE SETTLEMENT

AHMAD MAJDALANI, Minister of Social Affairs of the State of Palestine, speaking of the recent political developments and prospects for a US peace plan, stressed that Jerusalem had a central role in political, spiritual, economic, social and cultural life of Palestinians and that Israel had been working to abolish that role for decades. Israel attempted to impose faits accomplis and abolish the Palestinian presence in the Holy City. Israeli practices were flagrant violations of international law and he asked the international community to urge Israel to cease its activities. Unilateral actions of the US administration, such as the transfer of its embassy to and recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, strengthened Israel in its continued implementation of colonial practices. Such decisions were flagrant violations of international law. The international community had to take measures to preserve the demographic nature of Jerusalem. It had to stay a city open to all and the rights of all its citizens had to be protected.

East Jerusalem was an occupied territory and all decisions taken by the Israeli occupying power had to be reversed. The United States were attempting to force international stakeholders to accept the annexation of Jerusalem as a fait accompli and establish their embassies in Jerusalem. The United States were precipitating a one-State solution, against the Palestinian people in an Israeli ‘apartheid state’. In 2018, the United States had cut US$ 300 million of funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). This represented 40 percent of the Agency’s budget. The United States believed this would create pressure to accept a redefinition of the international position of Palestinian refugees. In June 2019, Israeli authorities had adopted a decision on the construction of a tramway, further damaging the historic nature of the Old City of Jerusalem. There were daily violations of Palestinian rights. Jerusalem was the capital of the Palestinian people, vital for their self-determination and any attempts to redefine this violated international law. The Palestinian Authority had decided to end relations with the United States following the latter’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. In closing, Mr. Majdalani stressed that the United States plan was a clear failure; it encouraged Israel colonial practices under a fig leaf of economic peace, while denying Palestinians their fundamental rights.

YAEL BERDA, Assistant Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, speaking about Israel’s powers of legislation, taxation and judiciary under international law, said that Jerusalem municipality collected city tax from all inhabitants, a large part of whom are Palestinians, yet spent less than 10 per cent of its revenue on Palestinians. Tax collection was part of a most effective bureaucracy of occupation, based on emergency laws, which were remnants of the British Empire. Israel had a system of closures in place. Impediments of movement were attempts to separate Jerusalem from other places in Palestine. Residents of Jerusalem had to prove their residency, which could be revoked by the Ministry of Interior, and paying city tax – even without receiving municipal services – was one of the few ways to prove it. The colonial bureaucracy, which was behind a taxation issue, had thus created a racial hierarchy.

MOHANNAD GBARA, a Palestinian lawyer based in Jerusalem, speaking on expropriations and demolitions and major Israeli infrastructure projects, said that since 1967 Israel had adopted a series of measures, all aimed at achieving the ultimate objective of the geographic and demographic domination of Jerusalem. Israel used these laws in hypocritical ways, applying them only to Palestinians. International law did not recognize the occupation of East Jerusalem. Yet, over the years, Israel had expropriated 24,193 dunams from Palestinian residents, much under the guise of “public necessity”. For example, the Israeli government had applied to build a new tramway in Jerusalem and the municipality had approved a budget for this. The tram construction would go through different Palestinian areas, and a claim was lodged against the Ministry of Finance, because of the expropriation of Palestinian lands for this project. The Israeli Court ruled that the expropriation was legitimate. In this context, the Law on Absentees adopted in 1950 also served to take property of Palestinians. A law on planning and construction, adopted in 1965, two years before occupation of Jerusalem, also targeted Palestinians in Jerusalem. Israel did not grant sufficient construction permits for Palestinians in East Jerusalem; thus, there were two construction plans, one for Jewish Israeli areas and the other for Palestinian districts. Israel also introduced collective punishment laws and was applying unilateral actions, running counter to international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. And the Supreme Court of Israel always sided with the government.

DISCUSSION

In the ensuing discussion, participants asked for comparative data on municipal taxes and budget allocation in East and West Jerusalem. The question was raised whether taxation laws were enforced differently for Israelis and Palestinians regarding their residency status. On the latter, recent Israeli rules allowing cancellation of residency on grounds of “non-allegiance” were highlighted. Concerns were raised over demolition orders in Al-Walaja, part of which had been annexed to Jerusalem, leaving people hopeless. Palestinian Jerusalemites were living between a rock and a hard place, being subject to Israeli courts of an annexation regime, which they could boycott only at their own peril. The aspect of forcible transfers in revoking residency status was highlighted. The demolition of houses was also happening as part of forcible transfer, and a question was asked on how to engage with Israel to stop such practices. The question was further raised on taxation of (Palestinian) churches and whether this was another mode of Israeli control. Another question was raised on residency permits and if they were reviewed on regular basis. Was there a potential to work on a joint pedagogical programme for Jewish and Palestinian children? The role of peaceful resistance to occupying practices was highlighted.

Responding to the question on taxation and demolition orders, Ms. Berda said that the case of Al-Walaja was a clear instance of colonial policy, and it was intensifying because there was no effective opposition. Israeli Jerusalemites were paying taxes at a similar rate as Palestinians – the problem was that 90 per cent of services was going to Israelis. In addition, no one could revoke residency of a Jewish citizen, if s/he were to not pay taxes, whereas residency of a Palestinian could be revoked for a plethora of reasons, for example studying abroad. This was because Palestinians had to prove that Jerusalem was central to their life. The payment of taxation was thus not the same when it came to Israeli and Palestinians and this difference was creating a racial hierarchy. Spending on new Jewish settlements was hidden in the budget, so it was difficult to detect. On taxation of churches, it was said that Jerusalem municipality was fighting for sovereignty against Palestinian national authority. There were four type of schools, and church schools were one category. Churches were providing free education to Palestinian children, stepping in because of the lack of services, so taxation of churches was a direct method of coercion.

Mr. Gbara clarified that there were mock changes in position of the Supreme Court of Israel towards cases brought by Palestinians. The weight of the Supreme Court in averting suppressive policies of Israel had regressed over years, as it was now under control of the right-wing part of the Government, though judicial appointments. Jurists had the role to expose Israeli policies for what they were. If the adequate judgment was not received, at least the contradictions were exposed. Therefore, jurists and lawyers had to continue knocking on doors and to keep hoping that things would change in the future. Regarding collective punishment, it was indispensable to address international organisations. The fact that Israel was implementing laws running counter to international law meant that it might be time to address complaints to various organs of the United Nations, international organizations and tribunals. Citizens of Israel lived in Israel and were covered by the law. Palestinians in Jerusalem were subject to residency status and were not citizens, a situation which severely restricted their rights.

Mr. Majdalani said that the annexation of Jerusalem had begun in 1948 and is not recognized as part of Israel. It was obvious that Israel’s judiciary was part of the occupation system. Resistance against the Israeli occupation was on the rise, despite all the difficulties it faced. However, there was an instrumentalization of suffering by the terrorists and extremists. He categorically rejected terrorism. The Palestinian people had been exposed to great suffering, which should not be associated with terrorism or used by it. On the other hand, Israel was carrying out state-sponsored terrorism. In closing, Mr. Majdalani stated that Palestinians would continue with their struggle for self-determination.