Palestinians in East Jerusalem are grappling with tough Israeli restrictions on housing and residency, President Mahmoud Abbas's representative in the holy city said before a papal visit next week.
"There is a battle on every piece of land in Jerusalem. In every room, every house in Jerusalem there is a battle," Governor Adnan Husseini said in an interview on Wednesday in his office in Dahiyat al-Barid, a Jerusalem suburb.
He said many of the 270,000 Palestinians living in Jerusalem have to go through Israeli courts to postpone Israeli demolition orders on homes built without hard-to-get permits, or to avoid having their residence permits revoked or land confiscated.
Harsh Israeli measures
"It's war for each piece of land in East Jerusalem, every tile in the house," Husseini said.
Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it as part of its capital, in a move that has no international recognition. Palestinians want Jerusalem as capital of a future state.
Husseini said Palestinian officials in Jerusalem would complain to Pope Benedict about "harsh" Israeli measures against Palestinians when he meets them on May 12.
He said the United States, which is critical of house demolitions in Jerusalem, would not put actual pressure on Israel to stop knocking down homes.
"The United States will put pressure in terms of the human level but I doubt it on political level. We do not see anyone capable of putting pressure on Israel. The horizon is dark."
Under Israeli law, Palestinians from Jerusalem lose their right to live in the city if they remain abroad beyond seven years, a measure that is not applicable to Israelis.
According to Sarit Michaeli of B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, Israel aims to maintain a Jewish majority in the city by restricting building permits and revoking residency.
B'Tselem statistics drawn from Israeli Interior Ministry data show 8,269 Palestinians have had their residency rights revoked since 1967. If family members are included the total shut out reaches 40,000, Husseini said.
A report last week from the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs urged Israel to stop evicting Palestinians. It said some 1,500 demolition orders are pending on homes built without a permit in the city, and their implementation could displace some 9,000 Palestinians.
Husseini, who has little power, said recent plans by Israeli mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat to give more building permits to Palestinians simply hid Israel's determination to cement its hold on the city.
The Israeli mayor argues that his "master plan" would allow the construction of some 23,550 homes for Palestinians in Jerusalem. Palestinians ask: if Israel is serious then why is it demolishing houses and confiscating land in the first place.
Since Israel captured the holy city in 1967, it has authorized only 4,000 building permits for Palestinians, Husseini said. But Palestinians urgently need 20,000 homes.
Husseini's office handles complaints from Palestinians in Jerusalem whose houses are under demolition orders, providing legal and financial support in Israeli court cases.
From 2001 to 2005, it paid out about $20 million in court costs to delay or overturn house demolitions, Husseini said.
"It's a system of gaining money in addition to paying taxes," Husseini said.