Eddie Gerald, Alamy Stock Photo


Salah al-Din Street, the “Beating Heart” of East Jerusalem, Is Targeted for Erasure by Israel’s City Center Plan

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A conversation with attorney Suhad Bishara, legal director of Adalah, who filed, on behalf of Palestinian residents and community organizations, an objection to Israel’s City Center Plan, which spans an area that comprises the core of Palestinian East Jerusalem, its commercial district. 

Dr. Bishara specializes in land and planning rights and recently completed her PhD in that field as well. 


The objection was filed jointly with the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem on September 14, 2021, and presented publicly September 17, 2022. It was supported by two expert opinions: (1) a general analysis of the plan and its shortcomings by Professor Yosef Jabareen of the Technion; and (2) an analysis of transportation and traffic by engineer Haitham Muna. No response has been received from city authorities to date. 

According to an update on the Adalah website: “The plan, introduced in October 2020, covers a wide area of approximately 689 dunams (about 170 acres) that borders Bab al-‘Amud to the south, and the Palestinian neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Wadi al-Joz to the north and east respectively. The area, which currently contains 976 housing units for 6,100 Palestinian residents, also includes the main thoroughfares of Nablus Road, Salah al-Din Street, and al-Zahra Street. The area functions as an economic, political, social, and cultural center for Palestinians, including its current residents, who number around 367,000.

"In March 2022, Adalah issued a position paper detailing the arguments raised in the objection illustrating the illegality of the plan. In its position paper, Adalah argued that the plan must be understood within Israel’s broader political project in Jerusalem: to seize Jerusalem as the ‘complete and united’ capital of the State of Israel, and to ensure Jewish demographic and territorial control."

We sat down with Adv. Bishara to learn more about this plan in December of 2022.

The area . . . includes the main thoroughfares of Nablus Road, Salah ad-Din Street, and al-Zahra Street. 

Human rights lawyer Suhad Bishara of Adalah

Attorney Suhad Bishara, legal director of Adalah—The Legal Center for Minority Rights in Israel


Adalah—The Legal Center for Minority Rights in Israel

Jerusalem Story: Thank you very much for joining us. Today we are speaking about Israel’s East Jerusalem City Center Plan. Can you begin by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Suhad Bishara: Thank you for having me. I’m Suhad Bishara. I’m the legal director for Adalah—the Legal Center for Arab and Minority Rights in Israel and the lawyer who is representing over 320 Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem. The objection against the plan was filed in partnership with the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem. 

JS: Let’s start with a little background on the plan. It’s a plan that Israel has drawn together for a certain area of East Jerusalem. When was it introduced? What area does it cover? When was it approved? And how is it unprecedented?

SB: The plan was introduced in October 2020 for public discussion and objections. Basically, there is a window of 60 days for anyone who is harmed by the plan to file an objection. Many objections were filed against the plan, representing a range of interests of residents, commercial companies, hotels, educational institutions, churches, and so on.

The plan affects an area of around 689 dunams in the main commercial part of East Jerusalem—it’s the beating heart of East Jerusalem, actually. This area borders Bab al-Amud of the Old City, extending to the south, and the Palestinian neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Wadi al-Joz in the northeast. That is the main area for Palestinian commerce; it has a lot of educational institutions, health institutions, and cultural institutions. It is the beating heart of East Jerusalem in many aspects of day-to-day needs and life.

Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem

To promote, defend, and contribute to the fulfillment of human rights of Palestinian Jerusalemites

Damascus Gate plaza looking outwards towards Salah al-Din St in East Jerusalem on the right

Bab al-Amud plaza looking outwards towards Salah al-Din Street in East Jerusalem, the street running directly perpendicular to the plaza on the right



JS: How is this plan an unprecedented plan, in terms of the history of planning in Jerusalem? Is it something unusual?

SB: It is unusual in the sense that so far since the occupation and the illegal annexation [in 1967], there were some general policy plans done or initiated by the Israeli authorities including the municipality of Jerusalem concerning the general outline of developing the city and the municipal borders. But no plans have been proposed so far—as far as I know—to so-called “develop” Palestinian areas as such, as a general outline plan that anticipates the development for like the next 20 to 30 years. There were, however, very detailed local plans, mainly initiated by landowners or Palestinian representatives to expand their buildings, to add floors, or to build, and to initiate something very local. So, from the perspective of the scale and the vision of the plan, it is unprecedented, and I think it is a very dangerous precedent in this regard.

“From the perspective of the scale and the vision of the plan, it is unprecedented, and I think it is a very dangerous precedent in in this regard.”

Suhad Bishara, legal director, Adalah

JS: what’s dangerous about it?

SB: Let’s put it this way: Planning today is something that is perceived as—and it is—the main engine that determines development in a certain area in every aspect that we human beings can think of—how we will consume education, how we will spend our money; develop economically and culturally; where and how we will live; and use transportation. Everything. So, in this sense, any master plan, including this one definitely, will have decisive implications on how this area would look in the future—who it will serve and how. And this is why it is unprecedented and dangerous, because again, it does not center the interests of the Palestinians obviously; while it does center the illegitimate political interests of Israel in this regard in the area.

And it should also be acknowledged that although we are talking about a relatively small area of East Jerusalem, but since it is the beating heart of East Jerusalem, and a lot of Palestinians from other neighborhoods come there on a daily basis—for work, education, cultural activities, and so on—it affects them along with those who live in the area.

JS: That’s a really critical point, because it’s a small area, but it’s touching on way more people than the number who actually live there. How many Palestinians live in this area that’s covered by this plan?

SB: As of the time when the plan was submitted, the area contained 976 housing units, home to approximately 6,100 Palestinian residents. We are talking about residents who either lived there prior to the 1967 occupation or were born into these families afterward, and some who just moved there for a variety of reasons, such as proximity to workplaces, educational opportunities, and so on.

JS: But the number of people who use the area who are intimately interconnected with it, who rely on it, is many times higher than that number?

SB: Yes, since, again, we are talking about the area that includes Nablus Road, Salah al-Din Street, and al-Zahra Street, for those who know the area. This area basically functions as an urban center, serving the wider Palestinian community in East Jerusalem (which nowadays is around 370,000 Palestinians and expected to reach approximately 580,000 by 2040). In terms of economy, trade, transportation, services, health care, culture, education, religion, tourism—these will all affect everyone, and not only those who live in the area.

JS: So generally and just as a preliminary list, or like as a headline before we dive deeper, what areas or what aspects of city life will this plan affect, or would it just be all of them?

SB: Yeah, definitely all of them, as an essential Palestinian area in terms of its services and what it really supplies for the whole Palestinian community, and unfortunately all of the areas that were mentioned are definitely altered by the plan: preventing urban expansion of the communities; altering their economic development and independence; limiting access to independent educational opportunities; restricting free access to transportation and goods; and most critically, also potentially expropriating community spaces and institutions, including markets, hospitals, schools, places of worship.

Schmidt's Girls College on Nablus Road in East Jerusalem

Schmidt’s Girls College, one of the historic independent schools in the area of the City Center Plan, on Nablus Road in East Jerusalem, was founded in 1886 as a private girls’ school under Catholic school sponsorship to offer girls’ education at the highest level, which remains its objective. Over 500 girls of various faiths attend the school today.



JS: Let’s go a little bit deeper and look one by one at each of these areas. How would it affect transportation and the flow of movement in this area of East Jerusalem?

SB: Since we are talking about the central occupational and commercial area, it is very vibrant culturally and educationally, and a lot of people enter on a day-to-day basis. Accessibility is very important in this area including public transportation to allow easy access to all these services.

Those who know the area are aware that it has a lot of transportation problems. It’s very crowded in terms of transportation, huge traffic problems, and so on.

So instead of trying to solve all these problems, the plan not only fails to solve them, but its provisions stand to make these problems much more severe. If implemented, it will isolate this historically Arab area from other Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. It fails to examine transportation issues and road traffic in the area and to explore potential solutions to the current and future problems—because when you have transportation and traffic issues, these will only accelerate in time and become much more severe, because the community will grow, and the number who are visiting the area for various reasons will therefore increase, so these problems will become much more severe. So, the plan is not only failing to deal with the current problems but also will greatly worsen accessibility and transportation in the area in the future. According to an analysis by transportation and traffic engineer Haytham Mona, whose expert opinion supports our objection, the plan impedes the existing transportation system in the area.

JS: Will this new transportation flow alter the way Palestinians can connect to their city? Will it be connecting Jewish hubs and ignoring the Palestinian connection to this city? In other words, which “public” is the transportation designed to serve?

SB: If you want to zoom out a little bit and take an overview of the plan, it’s obviously aimed at advancing Israeli interests, including Israeli tourism and others. So, a lot of the vision of the plan is directed there rather than starting off by analyzing the area, how it functions, whom it serves, what the Palestinian needs are in terms of development, and projecting 20, 30, 40 years ahead to determine what the existing problems are and how they can be solved; this is how you should plan. And then okay, we sit as planners, and we envision how we want to develop the local society—the Palestinians in this case—how we want them to develop economically, residentially, and all the day-to-day aspects, services, and so on. And then we start with the current problems and see how we want to solve them, how we want the community to be able to advance and develop.

This, unfortunately, the plan does not do, including in terms of transportation and accessibility. For instance, it cancels the western section of Sultan Suleiman, which serves as an important connection to Ras al-Amud, tourist neighborhoods. It seeks to convert existing streets into pathways limited to pedestrians and cyclists—which of course, taking into consideration the needs of the Palestinian community, will not be helpful and will alter their development. We’re talking about a community that relies a lot on private transport, and if you don’t have a place to drive the car, you simply won’t live there—you would need to leave at some point.

This creates problems for owners and users of existing buildings, businesses: If you don’t have parking, you won’t go there to buy groceries . . . eventually these businesses will dry up.

Salah al-Din Street in East Jerusalem during a general strike called by the Palestinian community on October 12, 2022; the plan would cause permanent closures of many businesses.


Mays Shkerat for Jerusalem Story

JS: Making it inaccessible to cars getting to and from it—is that almost a way to marginalize the area and make it become irrelevant within the city?

SB: Definitely. You have to view these restrictions as a multipiece puzzle to get the whole picture. Transportation is just one aspect; it adds up to a much broader picture of restrictions that will make it much harder for the existing community living in the area already to develop for future generations. And we know that Arab communities and Palestinian families develop from one generation to another, typically culturally and historically, and this plan does not allow that. The next generation who would like to live, develop, and establish their lives would have to look elsewhere. This is really a problem, because it does not allow the addition of sufficient housing units in this area. Getting approval for building permits is almost “mission impossible” according to the plan instructions.

JS: So how would this plan affect an already terrible building and housing situation? We know that we’re starting from a very extremely severe shortage, and the inability to get any building permits. But so, how would the plan address the building and housing needs, or fail to address them? And what about private property rights?

SB: These are two different issues, property rights and housing units. Well basically the vision of the plan is not to allow—and this was said clearly—not to allow additional housing units in the area.

“The vision of the plan is not to allow—and this was said clearly—not to allow additional housing units in the area.”

Suhad Bishara, legal director, Adalah

JS: They said that?

SB: It was said very clearly.

JS: By whom, and in what context? How?

SB: It’s in the planning documents, the protocols. You have to go through a lot of documents to fully comprehend its implications. So the vision of it, as it is stated very clearly, is to not allow any new housing units in the area. They might, however, validate what’s already there, or large parts of them, let’s put it this way, but they will not allow further development. This means that the future generations that will need to build new housing units in the area, won’t be able to do that, because once the plan is approved, it’s like a law. Every two stones that you put together in that area need to be in accordance with the master plan, and if the master plan says you cannot, then you won’t be able to do so. It’s a detailed master plan that the authorities will be keen to implement, as is, I think, without margins in this regard.

So you have this very major restriction on building housing units in the future. And according to another expert whose study supported our objection, Professor Youssef Jabareen, the Palestinian population in the planned area is projected to reach around over 10,000 residents by the target year 2040. They will need approximately 2,290 housing units, according to his estimations—which are absent from the plan. They are not only absent from the plan (and the plan says clearly we will not reach there, we will not expand to whatever exists). Therefore, it is not only that the plan does not meet the Palestinians’ current residential needs—which, as you said, has a huge shortage everywhere in the city including in this area—but it will also lead to a much more severe shortage in the number of housing units needed by the target year of 2040. So we are living in a crisis which will be much more severe in the future.

In terms of public properties, it depends. Whoever owns a house will continue owning his or her house in the area. However, there is a very alarming provision in the plan that allows confiscations by the Israeli authorities and the municipal authorities of huge tracts of what is defined as public land in the area for the benefit of the municipality in Jerusalem. We are talking about arbitrary and sweeping and extensive expropriations that are defined under Israeli law to be used for public purposes that could potentially include churches, cultural centers, parks, roads at least planned ones, and schools. All of these could be defined under Israeli law as “public purposes” for which land can potentially be expropriated by the Israeli authorities.

Now there is a very sweeping provision in the plan that allows this formally. And the question remains whether, at some point, the Israeli authorities will implement that or not. According to Professor Jabareen’s estimation, about 55 percent of the land in the area of the plan could be classified as public, and thus subject to confiscation under Israeli law. That includes Islamic waqf endowments and church endowments. This is a huge, massive area.

“According to Professor Jabareen, by his estimation, about 55 percent of the land in the area of the plan could be classified as public, and thus subject to confiscation under Israeli law.”

Suhad Bishara, legal director, Adalah

JS: Israel can expropriate Islamic waqf land?

SB: Yes, part of it; if you refer to the formal definitions of “public purposes” for which land can be confiscated under Israeli law, they include some of the awqaf properties, definitely. And indeed, the awqaf did object to the plan based on that.

JS: How would the plan affect Palestinian education?

SB: Let’s start with the fact that the Palestinian educational system in East Jerusalem suffers from a huge shortage in classrooms and a very significant dropout rate. Between 2015 and 2018, the dropout rate among Palestinian students—8th to 12th grades—was 26.35 [percent], which is very high. As for classrooms, we are talking about a shortage of over 3,800 classrooms in East Jerusalem, according to one estimate. And because of the shortage, the existing classrooms are obviously overcrowded, and many fall below the basic education and health standards.

Taking all of this crisis, the City Center Plan not only does not address all of these needs, but it also imposes huge restrictions on construction. Meaning that it will be almost impossible to build new schools or to expand existing ones in the area or add classroom. I’m talking mainly about the Palestinian independent schools. Obviously, for political reasons, the Israeli authorities are not interested to give them the space to continue functioning normally in the area.

JS: Is this area a place where there are a lot of Palestinian independent schools?

SB: Yes, there are quite a lot.

JS: Are most of the Palestinian independent schools in the city in this particular area?

SB: No, there are such schools spread around different areas. But these are very important schools, because they are independent. A lot of them belong to the churches; some belong to Islamic awqaf. So you have a very good core of the independent Palestinian schools that are functioning in the area, also historically. A lot of Palestinian students from all over East Jerusalem come to get their education in this area. So my assumption is that they are trying to dry out these schools at some point totally.

JS: And historically some of these schools are really long-established, they have been there for decades if not centuries, right?

SB: Yes, definitely before the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, and most probably prior to 1948 as well.

JS: The City Center Plan doesn’t go into the Old City, right? Does it stop at the Old City walls?

SB: Yes, actually at the main road in front of Bab al-Amud.

JS: What about the Palestinian economic and commercial interest and growth in the city? Would the plan encourage economic independence or dependence? Let’s talk about the economic health and well-being of the Palestinian community in the city first, and then we can think about the ones outside also.

SB: As mentioned, since we are talking about the economic beating heart of East Jerusalem —it’s one of the main very vibrant commercial areas—it has a lot of hotels, small businesses, offices that provide services, lawyers, accountants, doctors, healthcare—everything. So it serves most of the community in Jerusalem. In terms of the economy and economic development, the City Center Plan does not envision economic development that serves the Palestinian community in the area—that serves their needs, opens business opportunities, adding employment opportunities, and so on. And we know that the Palestinians in East Jerusalem suffer from very high rates of poverty and unemployment, especially among women. Palestinian communities in Jerusalem have a very low socioeconomic ranking. So developing the economy is crucial in two aspects: One, to try to help the community get out of this dire situation, and second to find new opportunities to enable the community to develop and thrive economically. Especially since we are talking about a young community. The Palestinian community—generally including in East Jerusalem—is a young community, in the sense that the percentage of young people below the age [of] 18 is very high, relatively speaking. So the needs are even higher in this regard. When you plan for economic development for society, you also look at what are we talking about. Which generation? How large is the younger generation that needs to thrive economically—the generation that we need to find solutions for?

The same holds true for education.

But the City Center Plan does not do that, whether for the economic or any other development aspect. Rather, the plan totally ignores the situation and lacks any measure for any economic development to deal with the crisis and to meet the future livelihood needs of the community. Now, again, I cannot stress this enough, in order to really estimate the economic impact, you need to connect all of this together, because the effect is much bigger than taking isolated spheres of day-to-day life and seeing each one in independently. When you put all these pieces together, the picture is much more dire.

JS: Are there plans to relocate Arab businesses out of the area covered by the plan and move them by force elsewhere?

SB: Yes, the area is very close to Wadi al-Joz. Some of the businesses in Wadi al-Joz—mainly in the garages area—received warnings demanding their eviction. Whether it is a direct result of the plan or not? My estimation is yes. At some point, when this plan was at an advanced stage and later submitted, a lot of these businesses, small businesses, started receiving eviction and demolition orders. They have other plans for Wadi al-Joz that are being cooked in the planning committees.

JS: So, they didn’t go to these businesses and say, “you need to relocate, we’ll relocate you to this other area and pay your move” or whatever; they simply said, “you’re done, you have to get out, or you’ll be demolished.” Is that right?

SB: Well, you can never know what happens, because once you as a business owner receive a warning that you need to leave or [be] demolish[ed], that you’re here illegally or whatever, then you need to start finding out what this means. So far, I haven’t heard of further procedures taken, and I haven’t heard of any compensation as far as the Israeli authorities are concerned. And learning from other areas in this regard, if the authorities claim that you are there illegally, they don’t have an obligation to compensate. And if they offer compensation, it’s like out of sort of gesture, not because they have to. In Wadi al-Joz, I haven’t heard of any such offer to anyone. But again, let’s assume that they will pay, you have to shut down your business and you have nowhere to go, nothing can compensate for that.

The Ambassador Hotel, built in 1965, on Nablus Road in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem

JS: Of course, for sure. What about the economic flip side of this plan? Is there a provision in the plan for growing the Jewish economic interest? Is there an explicit provision where they are going to put up hotels or businesses that will be to the benefit of the Jewish public primarily or only—because they will be the ones to receive those contracts and opportunities?

SB: If you go to the text in the plan’s documents, no, you won’t find anything explicit that they are targeting Jewish economic development in the area. But usually, we don’t read a plan only by its text. You need to analyze it in accordance with many other issues happening around. That includes the general policy of planning and development of the Israeli authorities. They have something called Jerusalem 2000; it’s not a master plan, it’s an outline master plan that sets the policy for the development of the area within the Jerusalem municipal boundaries, which includes the illegally annexed East Jerusalem. And in that master plan, they stress the vital importance of maintaining what they call the “demographic balance.” They want to make sure that there is at least a 70 percent Jewish population in Jerusalem. Of course, we are all aware of the extensive attempts to evict a lot of Palestinian families in the area, expand Jewish settlements, and so on. So you have to analyze it within all of these broader aspects of the policy and the trends that this specific plan is trying to develop economically—who the plan is speaking for.

JS: Right, and who is that? Who do you see that as being?

SB: The plan is, obviously, and according to the analysis of the experts we consulted with—the money that the plan is trying to attract is definitely not for Palestinian, in terms of economic development.

You have two aspects operating simultaneously: One is trying to make it harder for the local Palestinian businesses, and we’re mainly talking (if you take away the hotels that are Palestinian-owned in the area) about small businesses, but this is the Palestinian economy—this is the people’s livelihoods. So, on the one hand, you’re making it much harder for these businesses to survive and you dry them until eventually at some point they give up, and it’s not economically valuable.

And alongside this, take into consideration of course other restrictions on residence in the area. Restrictions on developing local businesses, the change of transportation, the isolation of the area and its disconnection from the rest of the Palestinian areas, and where it opens itself. The area opens itself in terms of transportation and economy to attract more Jewish religious tourism to the Old City. Obviously, there is an economic interest in bringing also a lot of Christian religious tourism and Muslim tourism, but on the day-to-day level, they’re speaking to the Jewish community—economically, to the Jewish community as consumers, and to the Israeli economy definitely.

JS: So, in the planning process, what opportunities were given to the Palestinians living in the city to assert the needs of their community as the plan was formulated? Was there any hearing—as the plan was being developed, as you’d normally see in a city? Not objections after its release.

SB: You’re right, commonly in a normal place, you should consult with the community you are planning for to see what their visions and needs are. In the case of this particular plan, and despite that it’s unprecedented and has large-scale and long-term implications, and despite Israel’s obligations under international law, the Israeli authorities developed the plan unilaterally. And it is trying to push through its approval in a coercive manner—although there is an objection process, and people did object to the plan and we’re waiting for decisions.

“They want to make sure that there is at least a 70 percent Jewish population in Jerusalem.”

Suhad Bishara, legal director, Adalah

“Despite Israel’s obligations under international law, the Israeli authorities developed the plan unilaterally.”

Suhad Bishara, legal director, Adalah

SB: But the planning process itself did not conduct [any] consultation process with the local communities. At some point at one hearing, they claimed they had tried but they knew it would fail, because the local Palestinian community would not cooperate with the authorities for many reasons. But even though, the minimal steps that any planning authority should take in this regard were not taken. What I mean is that detailed research should be done by experts on who lives in the area to be planned, to determine their needs in all aspects—economy, education, culture, health, business, and so on. And such surveys were not done properly in this case—they were done in a very minimal and outdated manner, basically, and were far from giving a full picture of what the plan needs to address. But once the plan does not center the Palestinian community, you obviously don’t need to do that—to do the surveys, to do community participation, consult with the community, what they need, what they dream of. Instead, this plan aims to do something completely different. The plan dreams about someone else, these are not dreams of the Palestinians obviously, so why do all of this?! So this why I say it’s coercive; it’s unilateral. It has a political colonial aim, and this is what it serves. This is expected, of course, in the planning process that we’re talking about. But later in the planning documents, maps, instructions, what it allows and does not allow. So it was not surprising in this regard, because again, the Palestinian community was not at the center—basically they are considered an obstacle to the plan.

JS: Is the plan legal? From the vantage point of international law, is it legal for them to be doing anything in this area? And if not, why not?

SB: That’s a tricky question. On the one hand, Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem. The position of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and most of the international community is that the annexation is illegal, and it does not change the status of East Jerusalem as an occupied territory.

Having said that, however, occupied authorities have obligations towards the local community, the Palestinian community, living under occupation, which includes the welfare of the local community.

Now it is a tricky question, because we are talking about a plan that is done under Israeli law, which in turn is implemented illegally in the area. There is the matter of forcibly applying Israeli law on an illegally annexed area, whether actions taken by Israel are issues that are defined as actions of sovereign power or not—this is one question of course here. But even if I want to put this question aside—again, as I started saying, the occupying power has a duty to look out for the interests of the local community under its control, based on international law—international human rights law and international humanitarian law—and to look out for the welfare of the community, and this is becoming more important because of the prolonged occupation and the impact of the occupation on the local community. So basically, under international law, Israel must guarantee the Palestinians the right to adequate housing, including developing continuous improvement in their living conditions, education, accessible and acceptable cultural, health services, safeguarding, and preserving cultural property, economic development, sustainable development, and so on. These are becoming more stressful when you are talking about prolonged occupation, as we have had since 1967. So again, it’s a tricky question because of the formality of the plan under Israeli law, on the one hand; on the other hand, you have Israeli obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL).

Now having said that, Israel is using its power illegally under international law, under illegally annexed East Jerusalem, and it’s also using its power to violate IHL in terms of the substance and the essence of this master plan. It’s not only formality, it’s also looking at the essence of the master plan—definitely Israel is violating IHL and international human rights law under the plan. Because if I want to summarize it in one or two sentences, this plan comes to restrict the development of the Palestinian community. This plan comes to dry the Palestinian community in the area. In this sense, it violates the IHL, because the best interest of the Palestinian community is not at its core; it’s not the essence of this master plan.

This is one aspect of it; the other aspect of it that violates international law, of course, is that it comes to advance Israeli illegal and illegitimate interests in the area—its economic interests, its political interests, settlements, and so on.

So in all of its aspects, formally and substantively, it violates IHL.

JS: There is a process that Israel allows, or the city allows, for there to be objections. So, first of all, let’s talk about what you as Adalah have done to file an objection in order to make these concerns heard within that process takes place inside the city. And then in part two of that question, is there anything on an international law level that could be done? But let’s start with what is available and what you are doing.

SB: We worked in partnership with the Civic Coalition for the Rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem and the local community and we filed an objection against this master plan, which reflects on the plan from the Palestinian community’s perspective, interests, and visions in this regard, including the status of East Jerusalem under international law.

JS: When you say you filed it, you filed it with whom? With which body?

SB: It’s filed with the Jerusalem district planning committee. The objection was supported by two expert opinions as I mentioned, one by Haytham Mona, who was a transportation and traffic engineer, and one by Yousef Jabareen, who’s an urban planner. Both gave us excellent expert opinions that supported our objection. And the objections, I should say, were heard at the hearing at the committee in May 2022, and we’re waiting for an additional hearing to be set.

JS: Besides Adalah’s, were other objections filed by other parties? Do you know how many?

SB: Yes, other objections were filed by many stakeholders—Palestinians I mean—from churches to Muslim awqaf, to individuals, to institutions, business owners, Palestinian hotels . . .

JS: What is the process and timeline for getting a response?

SB: There is not really a timeline. They should set another hearing allowing the objectors to respond to the Israeli authorities’ position on the objections and then make a final decision, but it’s taking a long time. The hearing was in May; we’re in December [2022] now.

JS: Is that longer than usual? Longer than you expected?

SB: Yes.

JS: Let’s say that they come back, and they dismiss all these objections, and they say you all have no basis for any complaint. Is there another next level of appeal? Or is that it?

SB: Officially, yes, you can appeal to something called the National Planning and Building Council.

JS: That would be outside the city at the national government level?

SB: Yes, from there to the Israeli legal system. But again, there are a lot of considerations here—of what are the chances, what you can gain, and what you can lose, not only in terms of this specific case but also there’s a lot of political considerations in relation to the local community in this regard. Generally speaking, the chances that the Israeli legal system would intervene in any planning authorities’ decision in this regard are not high.

Generally speaking, the judicial system policy is not to intervene in the planning system’s decisions. This is more so when we're talking about very clear, politically motivated planning, such as with this plan. So, there is a lot to consider, not only legally but also politically in this regard, if we get to that stage or when we get to that stage basically. It’s up to the local community to decide.

JS: What about outside Israel on an international stage? Is there anything that could be done, either legally (if there is some appeal you can make to a higher court), or could there be something done in a more activist way, like a campaign to raise awareness and really put pressure in a different way? Or are there any other measures? What can concerned residents do? If people really wanted to fight this plan, what else do they have available to them?

SB: Raising public awareness in relation to the plan is very important, such awareness can generate very strong public opinion against the plan and generate a lot of activities and a lot of advocacy action against it. We also worked to bring the plan as well as the rest of the stakeholders in this regard to the knowledge of diplomats and international human rights organizations as part of our international advocacy work against the plan. Again, we are talking about an area that is of an international interest, an occupied area; there is a clear international position, and this is why I think it’s very important to generate some international pressure against the plan.

JS: Are you saying that Adalah has already been doing this or is doing this, or is that something you will do if the objection is not successful?

SB: We started doing that from day one since the plan became public, and then we were working on the objection. We did do some advocacy work; the local communities and the civic coalition did a lot of work in terms of public awareness, letting people know about the plan, what it means, they had some meetings, we had some meetings with diplomats, and we’re continuing—this work doesn’t really stop.

JS: This is one plan, but it is not the only plan. Aren’t there others within the city that are on the books that would have similar devastating potential effects on the Palestinian community? If so, how many are there, and are you also involved in fighting any of those other plans?

SB: There is a lot on the stove in the Jerusalem municipality. The general plan that has been setting the policy for a while now in terms of development including demography in Jerusalem is the Jerusalem 2000 plan. It’s not formal; it’s not approved, but it’s there in the background of any other plan that they’re working on. And that plan is bad enough, to bring a lot of catastrophes in terms of development in East Jerusalem.

In terms of local master plans, like the City Center Plan, they are preparing now a plan for Silicon Valley in Sheikh Jarrah, and they are preparing another plan in Musrara, but these are still being prepared and planned, officially not submitted yet, so we don’t know exactly what they will turn into. We know the general policy on planning in Jerusalem, but we need to see the plans once they are submitted or out to the public view, and then we’ll be able to analyze and estimate exactly what implications they will have on the Palestinian community, but it doesn’t look good so far, I have to say.

JS: It sounds like you have a lot of work ahead of you.

SB: Yes, we do. Again, you’re talking about an area that is intensely colonized. And the planning system is an integral and important part of this colonization system and how it functions, so, yes, we have a lot of work to do.

JS: Thank you so much for your time, and for all your efforts in this area and every area.

SB: Thank you.

“If I want to summarize it . . . this plan comes to restrict the development of the Palestinian community . . . to dry the Palestinian community in the area.”

Suhad Bishara, legal director, Adalah