On 8 November 2021, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC), compromising of eleven Palestinian human rights organizations, along with the Community Action Center/ Al-Quds University (CAC) and the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, submitted an urgent appeal to six UN Special Rapporteurs on Israel’s plan to permanently annex Jerusalem, through its land title settlement and registration plan, urging them to pursue all measures at their disposal to stop the implementation of this plan on Palestinian lands in the occupied and illegally annexed eastern part of Jerusalem.
On 13 May 2018, the Israeli government passed resolution No. 3790 entitled “reducing socio-economic disparities, and economic development in East Jerusalem”, allocating a budget of USD 650 million to strengthen its sovereignty in occupied and illegally annexed Jerusalem, in the areas of employment, economy, commerce, education, higher education, transportation and infrastructure development. Under the clause ‘Planning and Registration of Land’, approximately USD 15,500,000 will be dispensed over the course of six years (2018-2023) for land title settlement and registration of Palestinian lands located in annexed eastern Jerusalem, whereby 50 percent of the land will be registered no later than the 4th quarter of 2021, and the rest, by the end of 2025. The process has already started in several Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, including, inter alia, Beit Hanina, Sur Baher, Sheikh Jarrah, Issawiya, Hizma and At-Tur.
Despite the fact that Israel refrained from carrying out any land title settlement and registration activities since its occupation and illegal annexation of Jerusalem in 1967, the resolution was adopted following the United States’ move of its Embassy to Jerusalem in 2018. As stated in its introduction, the resolution was adopted “in light of the need to strengthen the ability of the residents of East Jerusalem to integrate in the Israeli society and economy, and also in order to strengthen the resilience of the capital in its entirety”. This ‘need’ is not in favor of Palestinians’ interests, rather it is an Israeli political plot in disguise, to stifle the Palestinian identity and forcibly subsume Palestinians into Israeli society, in territory held under illegal annexation.
Normally, the main purpose of the land title settlement process is to resolve disputes over land ownership and ensure certainty and order in the property realm through examining the chain of title of every block and parcel of land in order to determine, definitely and conclusively, the land ownership. Inability to prove ownership over a piece of land will result in registering the land as ‘state land’ owned by Israel. The system as designed by Israel is meant to make proving property ownership in eastern Jerusalem very complicated, as it is both procedurally and financially burdensome. Even if Palestinians manage to prove their ownership of their properties, they will be required according to the Israeli tax regime to pay property taxes from 1967 until this day, which most Palestinians cannot afford, leading ultimately to the forcible transfer of the occupied population.
Israeli policies and practices against Palestinian Jerusalemites continue to severely undermine the viability and development of Palestinian life in Jerusalem in every aspect. Prospects of development are thwarted due to shortage in housing units coupled with Israel’s discriminatory zoning and planning regime, scarcity of building permits, and threats of house demolition, among others. As a result, nearly one third of the Palestinian population in eastern Jerusalem, i.e. over 100,000 Palestinian residents, are potentially at risk of being displaced, through the application of a coercive environment to force their transfer. In the same vein, resolution No. 3790 does not refer in any section to the dreadful housing densities and the scarcity in housing units in Palestinian neighborhoods. The implementation of the land title settlement and registration plan will only make this situation worse.
The urgent appeal highlights the severe ramifications of applying Israel’s domestic law in the implementation of the land title settlement and registration plan. The inherently discriminatory Israeli laws include property-related laws, such as the Israeli Land Settlement Ordinance (1969), the Absentee Property Law (1950), the Legal and Administrative Matters Law (1970), and other tax laws -to be levied on property retroactively since 1967, whose application to the unlawfully annexed Jerusalem is illegal under international law. These laws constitute the legal basis for a large-scale property dispossession and ensuing forcible transfer cases of many Palestinian families.
The implementation of the Israeli land title settlement for Palestinian lands in eastern Jerusalem gravely violates international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Hague Regulations, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and international customary law, namely in relation to the obligations of the Occupying Power, the prohibition of annexation, and Palestinian people’s property rights. It also disregards many UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions issued in regard to Jerusalem and the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights of return and self-determination.
The land title settlement and registration plan in Jerusalem aims to cement the illegal annexation of Jerusalem and ensure a Jewish majority and domination over the Palestinian population as part of Israel’s vision of a ‘Unified Jerusalem’ and its larger settler-colonial and apartheid regime. Specifically, this plan serves to dispossess and displace Palestinian Jerusalemites from their homes, and appropriate their lands under the guise of legality. This will result in the forcible transfer of Palestinians outside Jerusalem, and in the prevention of the realization of the Palestinian people’s right of return and to self-determination.
Finally, the urgent appeal called on the UN Special Procedures to act urgently to tackle the Israeli land title settlement and registration in Jerusalem by calling on Israel to immediately cease the application of its plan and its domestic laws to illegally annexed Jerusalem, and on the international community to intervene and to recognise that this plan violates international law and forms part of Israel’s institutionalised regime of racial domination and oppression over the Palestinian people as a whole, which amounts to the crime of apartheid, and declare all its findings as invalid and all its conclusions as null and void.
Read the joint urgent appeal here.