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Fourth of July in an Occupied Land

by Jill and Liz, Michigan Peace Team, July 6th

Several days ago, we emailed a reflection and analysis of a peaceful demonstration in Bil’in and some data that underscores the severity of the settlements in the West Bank. Another critical issue is the mushrooming of settlements in and around Jerusalem, specifically East Jerusalem, the traditionally and historically Palestinian neighborhoods, and in the Old City, which is considered to be part of East Jerusalem.

Reflecting on our experiences in Occupied Territory

A few days ago, on July 4th, we marked the 230th year of independence from British rule (and occupation) in the United States of America. Yet to observe this occasion from (Occupied) East Jerusalem and the West Bank causes us to question how we understand ‘independence’ and what would independence look like for the Palestinians? On the surface, life proceeds “as usual” people work and laugh and play, shop, cook, go home to their families, and visit friends.

But, from the vantage point of a rooftop balcony overlooking the Muslim Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, we see a proliferation of Israeli flags. These mark the settlements which are proliferating in the Old City and throughout East Jerusalem are growing at an alarming rate. Looking at the landscape, we begin to recognize the architecture of occupation: large Israeli flags displayed in the Christian and Muslim Quarters of the Old City, road blocks and checkpoints for travel between adjacent cities (such as Jerusalem and Bethlehem or Ramallah), large tracts of empty space, demolished buildings. There is a military or police presence at nearly every turn.

Some background on Jerusalem

Historically, Jerusalem has been the capital of Palestine. It has served as both cultural and religious center for the three Abrahamic traditions Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Old City, encircled by 16th century walls, takes up less than one square kilometer of the greater Jerusalem area, which is currently 123 square km. In 1947, the UN-drafted partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state recommended that Jerusalem be designated an ‘international’ city. This recommendation was ultimately not accepted, and during the war of 1948, an estimated 70,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes in the western areas of Jerusalem, and at least 40 Palestinian villages in and around Jerusalem were destroyed.

The 1949 ceasefire agreement between Israel and Jordan divided Jerusalem into the Jordanian-controlled East and Israeli-controlled West, and shortly thereafter, the Israeli Prime Minister illegally declared West Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel [and in 1980, Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem and declared the entire city as the “eternal, undivided capital of Israel” – most embassies (including the US and UK) are still retained in Tel-Aviv in non-recognition of this illegal move]. Since the war of 1967, the state of Israel has been an occupying power in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. And since that time, the Israeli government has annexed Palestinian villages to the east of Jerusalem such as Sawahr eh Ash-Sharqiyeh, Al-Izzariyya (Bethany), Abu Dis and At-Tur and incorporated them into Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. However, all Palestinians who reside within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem (“Jerusalemites”) are classified as forgein citizens with residency, and not as citizens of Israel. (Passia 2006, p. 324)

Israeli settlements in and around Jerusalem

“Under international law, East Jerusalem is an occupied territory, which means that the Fourth Geneva Convention is applicable and Israel has no claim to East Jerusalem by virtue of having taken control of it militarily.” (Passia 2006, p. 324)

Nevertheless, settlements have sprung up around, and more recently, IN East Jerusalem. In fact, “[m]ost of the largest settlements are located in the Jerusalem region. The ten most populated settlements house 59% of the total West Bank settler population. (p. 294) One of the most populous Israeli settlement is Ma’ale Adumin, which has nearly 30,000 residents, and is located within greater Jerusalem. While PASSIA reports that ”settlers comprise less than 10% of the total Israeli-Jewis h population,” the state of Israel has expropriated an estimated 79% of land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (pp. 294, 297).

More recently, Israeli settlers have been moving into the Muslim and Christian Quarters of the Old City, including a site in the northeastern corner of the Old City. Such a settlement was first reported in May 2005, and on July 4, 2005, the Israeli Ministry of Housing and Construction “gave its provisional approval to move forward on a plan (Town Planning Scheme 9870) to construct a new Jewish settlement, in the Burj Al-Laqlaq area of the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, near Herod’s Gate.” (p. 337). Furthermore, on July 10, 2005, one year after the International Court of Justice declared Israel’s separation barrier illegal under international law, the Israeli cabinet approved a decision to complete the wall in and around East Jerusalem by the end of August (p. 337). In order to complete the barrier, land was confiscated from the towns of Sawahreh Ash-Sharqiyeh, Al-Izzariyya, Abu Dis and At-Tur.

Interconnections the Separation Barrier, Settlements, and Israeli Occupation

It has been noted time and again that the separation barrier is not about increasing security, but a land grab by the State of Israel. This barrier takes many forms: it exists as an 8-m high concrete wall, trenches, fences, razor wire and military-only roads. In addition, there is a 30-100 meter wide “buffer zone” east of the Wall with electrified fences, trenches, sensors and military patrol roads and some sections have armed sniper towers. The Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs has noted that,

“In June 2002 the Government of Israel decided to build the separation barrier to prevent the uncontrolled entry of Palestinians from the West Bank into Israel. In fact, the separation barrier is part of a strategy that aims to annex large parts of West Bank/Gaza Strip land while encircling Palestinian population centers. The barrier runs through some of the most fertile parts of the West Bank and has severely harmed agricultural activity, which is one of the main sources of income of many villages.” (Passia 2006, p. 298)

The costs of the occupation are high not only in economic, but also social, political and psychological. The ideological settlers are ruthless in their desire for making the entire State of Israel a Jewish-only state, and are often violent towards Palestinians physically and psychologically violent, by spitting, slapping or beating nearby Palestinians (especially those who stand up for the injustices against them), and also using verbal threats intended to intimidate. Many settlements are protected by a private police force, and when settlers walk through the Old City together, they are accompanied by armed guards. This is a measure of intimidation against Palestinians, but is also an indication of the deep insecurity felt by many settlers.

In conclusion, an October 6, 2005 article in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reports:

“[A]ccording to a recent study by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies the separation [sic.] barrier also harms Jerusalem’s Jewish population in as far as ‘To a large extent, Jerusalem has changed from a central city providing service to more than a million people in the surrounding area to a peripheral town. It is a limited metropolitan area that serves only 20% of the residents it formerly did, most of them Jews.’ The report adds that ‘the barrier has a negative effect on life in the city and its surrounding area’ and in the long run may increase hostility and terrorism. ” (quoted in Passia 2006, p. 338)


  • Muller, Andreas. A Wall on the Green Line? Jerusalem and Beit Sahour: The Alternative Information Center, 2004.
  • Palestine and Palestinians Beit Sahour: Alternative Tourism Group, 2005.
  • Passia 2006. Jerusalem: Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, 2005.