Emboldened by Trump, Israel tightens grip on Jerusalem

Israel seeks to empty Jerusalem of Palestinian presence, church leader says. 

Mohamar Awad APA images

Israel has started work on a major new settlement project in occupied East Jerusalem.

The construction of a center for Jewish religious studies began in Jerusalem’s Old City late Tuesday evening, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR).

The center is a short distance from the al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites.

PCHR stated that the project is in direct violation of Palestinians’ rights to Jerusalem, and that it “would seriously distort and change the city’s historical characteristics.”

It is part of plans to erase Palestinian culture, reinvent Jerusalem’s history according to a Zionist narrative and push Palestinians out of the city.

The project is taking place at the same time that Israeli authorities are installing a military checkpoint at Damascus Gate, an entrance to the Old City widely used by Palestinians.

President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital seems to have “given the green light to the Israeli authorities to expropriate the Palestinian territory, particularly occupied Jerusalem, in favor of settlement projects,” PCHR added.

Israeli authorities approved the project in 2015. The plan is to build a three-story building on 2,800 square meters in East Jerusalem.

The construction of this settlement would violate international law.

It would also violate a UN Security Council resolution passed in December 2016, which states that Israel must “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

The Palestinian Authority has called on governments around the world to stop the construction of the project and pressure Israel to abide by international law.

Imposing taxes on Palestinian churches

Palestinians are also condemning Israel’s decision to start collecting taxes from churches and United Nations institutions in Jerusalem.

“The Israeli occupation authorities have taken this step – which is the latest aggression against our capital, the occupied city of Jerusalem, and its original residents – to fulfill the occupation authorities’ illusions of forcibly displacing them,” stated Yousef al-Mahmoud, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority.

The decision by the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem city council is based on a claim by Gabriel Hallevy, an Israeli law professor, that tax exemptions for churches applied only to properties used for prayer or the teaching of religion.

The council started to collect around $186 million dollars from 887 properties in Jerusalem belonging to churches and UN agencies, after freezing their bank accounts.

The organizations affected include UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees.

The municipality has already seized approximately $3 million from the Catholic church, $2 million from the Anglican church, $500,000 from the Armenian church, and $161,000 from the Greek Orthodox church.

Emptying Jerusalem

Church leaders said Nir Barkat, the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, is violating international treaties that exempt churches from state taxes.

The PA’s al-Mahmoud asserted that there are no laws in the world that impose taxes on houses of worship except the laws of occupation.

Israel now seeks to reinterpret that law, which has been maintained since the days of the Ottoman Empire.

Atallah Hanna, an archbishop with the Greek Orthodox church, has argued that the imposition of taxes marks Israel’s latest effort at emptying Jerusalem of its Christian institutions and Palestinian residents.

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