|As a result of a legal petition filed earlier this year by Ir Amim and East Jerusalem residents against severe housing discrimination within the Givat Hamatos tender, the state recently informed the Jerusalem District Court that it would remove the criteria, which excluded Palestinian residents from subsidized housing in Givat Hamatos and across Jerusalem and Israel.
Israeli construction in Givat Hamatos has long been seen as a major obstacle to the two-state framework as it would effectively seal off the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and envelop the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa with an Israeli-built up environs. It would likewise deplete the remaining land reserves for Palestinian residential development in the area.
Although construction plans for Givat Hamatos had been frozen since 2014 due to international opposition, a tender for 1257 housing units was published in February 2020 as part of former Prime Minister's Netanyahu's re-election campaign. The tender was officially opened for bidding in November 2020, following the final results of the US Presidential Elections.
Rather than allocating this space to meet the critical housing needs of Palestinian residents, the state decided to advance construction of a new settlement, which would serve to further bolster Israeli control of East Jerusalem, both territorially and demographically.
Beyond the plan's political ramifications, Ir Amim uncovered severe discriminatory elements in the tender's conditions, which directly infringed on the housing rights of the East Jerusalem Palestinian population. According to the tender, 40% of the homes are allocated for a government subsidized housing scheme, which originally excluded Palestinian residents. Per the tender's previous terms, only Israeli citizens would have been eligible for subsidized housing, which precluded East Jerusalem Palestinians since the vast majority only hold permanent residency status. In addition, only 60% of the total apartment supply offered to Israeli citizens in Givat Hamatos would have been available to Palestinian residents, which further compounds the housing inequality.
Consequently, on January 15, 2021, Ir Amim alongside 20 Palestinian residents from neighborhoods adjacent to Givat Hamatos, incuding Beit Safafa and Sur Baher, filed a legal petition to the Jerusalem District Court directly challenging the discrimination. It resulted in the court issuing a temporary injunction, which provisionally froze the tender process. The injunction was subsequently lifted just 24 hours before the inauguration of US President Biden, which allowed the process to proceed forward, however, the petition against the housing discrimination was still pending.
Following a lengthy legal process over the past year, the State Attorney's Office recently informed the court that it was removing the discriminatory conditions against permanent residents, allowing them to qualify for the Ministry of Housing and Construction's subsidized housing schemes.
The significance of this outcome is that East Jerusalem Palestinians who suffer from acute housing shortages stemming from unequitable urban planning policies will not only have access to affordable and discounted housing in Givat Hamatos, but they will also be eligible for all other government subsidized construction projects in Jerusalem and throughout Israel.
While this is no small success, it should be underscored that this does not rectify the longstanding planning stranglehold and overall suppression of residential development in Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem which needs to be fundamentally addressed. Likewise, the change to the eligibility criteria must be carefully monitored to ensure it is properly implemented and that no further obstacles are created to block Palestinian residents from accessing subsidized housing in Givat Hamatos or elsewhere should the building ultimately move forward.
Construction in Givat Hamatos is still being driven by Israel's long-term objective of expanding Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem as a means to thwart any remaining prospect of a future Palestinian capital in the city. Therefore its dire geopolitical ramifications should not be overlooked in exchange for the positive gains.