pal01My team (Jenny, Gianluca, and France) lives atop the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, in the Augusta Victoria guesthouse belonging to the Lutheran Church. It’s a haven of peace and tranquillity, with a purple bougainvillea on the wall and a beautiful soft breeze to cool the scorching August heat. To one side is a view over the Judean desert to the Dead Sea and Jordan, and to the other over the domes and spires of the Holy City. And on that side I can also see all the signs of Israeli settlement expansion in East Jerusalem.

The Western press is currently full of Obama’s call for a settlement freeze. But the Ministry of the Interior, Jerusalem City Council, and the settler movement seem determined it will not happen in this city. Palestinian population growth needs to be limited in East Jerusalem because according to city council figures, the higher Palestinian birth rate will give them the demographic advantage in Jerusalem as a whole after 2015. Control is achieved by planning laws, house demolitions and transferring property from Palestinians to Israelis. Since I was last here, the settlers’ trademark Star of David flags are flying atop many, many more buildings, both inside the Old City and the Holy Basin around it. Property may be acquired by stealth, but once the flags are up they proudly proclaim ‘This is now ours’. Settler groups are accelerating their claims to long earmarked properties, and recently there has been a spate of forcible evictions of Palestinian families. Solidarity with the victims of these evictions and advocacy on their behalf is one major focus of the EAPPI Jerusalem team.

Two main areas are being targeted. One is the smart residential area of Sheikh Jarrah to the north of the Old City where settlers plan to develop 500 settlement units. First to be evicted was the Al Kurd family, in November 2008, in a police raid that left them on the street with their furniture in the middle of the night. Mr Al Kurd later died of a heart attack and his wife Um Kamel pitched a tent on a nearby parking lot which has been destroyed and re-erected six times.

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