Further settlement activity took place in East Jerusalem during this month. In recent years, settler organizations have targeted land and property in the midst of densely populated Palestinian residential areas in East Jerusalem, in the so-called ‘Holy Basin’ area in and around the Old City. An estimated 2,000 settlers reside in this area in houses which have been expropriated by means of the Absentee Property Law; on the basis of alleged former Jewish ownership; in buildings purchased from Palestinian owners; and in residences custom-built and financed by settler organizations.
In the most recent development on 30 September, dozens of Israeli settlers, accompanied by Israeli forces, took over 26 apartments in Silwan. The houses were reportedly purchased by the Elad settler organization via a Palestinian intermediary. Populated by around 55,000 Palestinians, Silwan has been the target of repeated settlement activity by the Israeli government and religious settler organizations due to its strategic location and historic associations. According to local sources, Israeli settlers have taken over 19 buildings in Silwan since the late1980s and are currently 350 in number. In 2007, Elad established the City of David Visitor’s Centre at the entrance of Silwan to give guided tours to thousands of visitors a year emphasizing the Jewish and biblical character of the site, while downplaying or ignoring other historical and contemporary aspects. A plan promoted by Elad for the construction of a new visitors’ centre (Kedem Centre) in Silwan was approved by the Jerusalem District Planning Committee in February 2014.
The impact of settlement activity in Palestinian areas such as Silwan includes restrictions on public space, residential growth and freedom of movement, along with increased friction and violence. In the most severe cases – in the Old City, Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah – settler expropriation has resulted in the loss of property and the eviction of long-term Palestinian residents.
On 24 September, the Jerusalem Local Planning and Construction Committee announced the validation of a plan for the construction of 2,610 housing units in Givat Hamatos, a settlement in East Jerusalem that currently accommodates a few hundred settlers. Widespread international condemnation of the announcement focused both on the scope of the proposed expansion and the implications for severing territorial continuity between Palestinian neighbourhoods in the southern part of East Jerusalem and the southern West Bank. Since the 1967 occupation and subsequent annexation, the Israeli government has confiscated approximately 35 percent of East Jerusalem, primarily from private Palestinian owners. Twelve settlements have been constructed on this expropriated land in contravention of international law.
This strategy has reduced the land and resources available for Palestinian residential and commercial growth in East Jerusalem. Only 13 percent of East Jerusalem is currently zoned by the Israeli authorities for Palestinian construction and inadequate and inappropriate planning of Palestinian neighbourhoods has led to the widespread phenomenon of ‘illegal’ construction and the demolition of structures by the Israeli authorities.
In September, the Jerusalem Local Building and Planning Committee approved a master plan aimed at the Palestinian population for a new residential area in the As Sawahira ash Sharqiya neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. The plan, which has been on hold within this committee for several years, extends over approximately 1,500 dunums (375 acres) and involves the construction of 2,200 housing units. This is the largest housing plan for the Palestinian population approved in East Jerusalem since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967. However, implementation on the ground is not expected in the near future as it is contingent on multiple additional steps, including approval of the outline plan by the Jerusalem District Planning Committee, the preparation and approval of detailed plans, and the issuance of building permits.
(Further details and analysis of the significance of this plan in terms of the housing needs of Palestinians in East Jerusalem will be provided in an upcoming issue of the Humanitarian Bulletin.)
On 20 October, settlers took over an additional two buildings in Silwan with an estimated 10 housing units. The takeover was spearheaded by Ateret Cohanim, a settler organization active in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, through a Palestinian intermediary. The location is in a different part of Silwan than that targeted in the 30 September incident, extending the presence of settlers in the densely populated Palestinian neighbourhood.
 See e.g. Security Council Resolution 466 of 22 March 1979; General Assembly Resolution 13/7 of April 2010; and Human Rights Council Resolution 10/18; as well as the Advisory Opinion of the ICJ on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of 9 July 2004.