Gaza Smokescreen: An interview with Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Hind Khoury

Are such attitudes shaping Israel’s East Jerusalem policy? (Maureen Clare Murphy)

This week Palestine Report Online interviews Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, Hind Khoury.

PR: With all eyes now focused on Gaza, how is that affecting events in Jerusalem as you see them?

Khoury: The Gaza disengagement has been used by the Israeli government as a smokescreen to cover for what it is doing in East Jerusalem. These measures include the continued construction of the wall, and, as per their decision this July, to practically close off East Jerusalem from the West Bank starting September 1. People will then have to pass what they call crossings but are in reality de facto borders.

The Israeli measures also include the expansion of settlements in the city of Jerusalem and Greater Jerusalem as defined by the Israeli municipality, and the issuing of house demolition orders as well as actual house demolitions.

All these measures are intended to implement the Israeli policy of annexing as much land as possible and getting rid of as many Christian and Muslim Palestinians from Jerusalem.

PR: Is the ministry keeping a tab on numbers of settlements and numbers of Palestinians being excluded, etc.?

Khoury: There are many organizations keeping track of these details, but we are continually aware of settlement expansions and new settlements, and we bring these issues up whenever we can, to inform the media and inform people about any legal action that can be taken.

We are also collecting information on the effects on the people. People are panicking about their ability to get into the city after September when many people will be trapped outside the city. From the information we have collected, some 68 percent of the total number of health professionals will be trapped behind the wall and about 62 percent of teachers likewise. If these people are not able to get to work, if their institutions cannot guarantee that their employees can get to work, these institutions will be affected dramatically, and there are not enough professionals to fill these gaps.

There are other humanitarian implications. The loss of livelihoods will dramatically affect Jerusalemites and the people trapped outside the wall. Many East Jerusalem professionals work outside the wall, in Ramallah and Bethlehem, but in addition they have organic contacts and family connections.

At the moment, Israel is saying that people won’t need permits to leave the city, but we know the Israelis: They may now say no permits are needed, but soon enough, if these measures are somehow accepted, they will introduce permits and even confiscate permits.

The developments are very dramatic in Jerusalem. The eastern part of the city is occupied territory and we hold the international community responsible to see to it that Israel is held accountable to international law.

PR: Is there an effort by the ministry and the PA in general to push the international community to do something about this?

Khoury: We do have contacts with the international community and we have raised the issue of the sealing off of Jerusalem many times and at all levels. We are having a meeting with all the entire diplomatic community represented here on Friday [August 12] and will present them with a fact sheet containing the details of the human, social and economic implications for the city of what’s happening with the settlement expansions and with the house demolitions. We hope in this meeting to discuss with them what concrete measures the international community will take so that Israeli is held accountable and is forced to implement international law.

PR: Has there been a response by international community?

Khoury: Often, the international community will ask us ‘what do you want us to do?’ Our response to that is that it is their responsibility and they have to take an initiative. We know the international community stands by international law and acknowledges Jerusalem as occupied territory. We are sure they oppose the humanitarian suffering engendered in the city. But so far Israel continues with its measures, at a greater pace and in a more dramatic way, and it is incumbent upon the international community to take concrete action now and tell us what those measures will be.

PR: Are there efforts by the ministry to reach out to the grassroots organizations within Jerusalem to facilitate action on their behalf?

Khoury: We are certainly keeping contacts open with the various committees in the various areas like Shoufat or Silwan and we realize the need for joint action. We will be soon be calling for a joint meeting so we can put our heads together and come up with a joint action plan. The many separate efforts are in my view not effective enough

This requires work, and we are working better and better with the grassroots organizations in East Jerusalem as well as the civil society organizations. We need to do more of that and we need to do so in the very, very immediate future.

East Jerusalem is, to all intents and purposes, being annexed and sealed off from the rest of the Palestinian territories. It accounts for at least five percent of the total West Bank area, and without Jerusalem there is no viable two-state solution. The position of the whole world has been that a two-state solution leads to peace and stability in the region. This is very much threatened by the Israeli measures in Jerusalem.

This article was first published on 8 August 2005 in Palestine Report Online, a project of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center in Jerusalem, and is reprinted with permission. Palestine Report Online is a continuation of the print Palestine Report, which was established over twelve years ago as a means of informing English-speakers about Palestinians and their daily lives in the context of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Also in this week’s edition: PR reports on controversy over celebrations in the Gaza Strip and asks whether Ramallah’s cultural preeminence is adversely affecting other cities in Palestine.