Posted by on October 18, 2010 in Blog

Yesterday, 60 Minutes ran a program exploring the volatile situation in the neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, where confrontations between settlers and local residents are on the rise.

Toward the end of the program, show host Lesley Stahl interviewed Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, about his planned demolition of 22 Palestinian homes in Silwan to build a biblically-themed park called “King's Garden.” Barkat defended his plan by suggesting that the Palestinian homes were built “illegally” and “mustn’t [sic] have been there in the first place.” Stahl responded by pointing out that his plan has been widely criticized, particularly in the midst of trying to save the peace talks, and asked “why not wait until the peace talks are settled?”

Stahl’s response was perfectly valid, as Israel’s preemption of negotiations through the active and unilateral creation of “facts on the ground” is clearly undermining those negotiations.

But there is an even more important fact to point out when an Israeli official talks about “illegal” Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. Namely, East Jerusalem is illegally occupied by Israel. It is Israel’s annexation and control of the area which is unlawful, as evident by a mountain of UN Security Council resolutions and opinions of the International Court of Justice.

Israel’s policy in the Palestinian territories it illegally occupies has long been one of granting Israeli settlers permits to build illegal settlements while, as noted by Amnesty International, systematically denying Palestinians permits to build on their own land. Unable to obtain permits, Palestinians often build anyway, only to find themselves under threat of eviction and/or demolition. In some cases, Israeli authorities evict Palestinian families from their “illegal” homes and turn those homes over to Israeli settlers. The eviction process can often be particularly cruel with police protecting settlers as they dump the Palestinian family’s possessions into the street.

Silwan is not only Palestinian under the strict application of international law, but also undisputedly under the more flexible “Clinton Parameters.” This framework allows Israel to maintain control of Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, while allocating heavily-Palestinian neighborhoods to the future Palestinian state. That is why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has long maintained that Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem was “unhelpful” to the peace process.

It’s a strange judicial world when an Israeli leader cries foul because he wants to build illegal settlements on illegally occupied land and justifies it by saying that the residents who live there are doing so illegally.  60 Minutes should have challenged him on this flawed logic. 

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