Marking 15 years of the Israeli closure of Palestinian National institutions in Occupied East Jerusalem
The continuous Israeli closure of the Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, particularly the Orient House, reflects Israel’s will to negate Palestinian rights over the city and bury the two-state solution. For 15 years, Palestinians in our occupied capital have been deprived of their own institutions while the Israeli government, in full coordination with the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality, have continued to demolish Palestinian homes, evict Palestinian families, expand illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and make life miserable for our people in order to force them to leave.
To reopen the Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem is an Israeli obligation according to the Road Map. Israel has a written commitment from 1993 to preserve the role of the Palestinian institutions in the city. The international community must act with determination and strong political will if it aims at saving the prospects of a two-state solution. There will be no Palestinian state without fully ending the Israeli occupation that began in 1967. This includes East Jerusalem as the sovereign capital of the State of Palestine.
Background on the Orient House
The Orient House, closed on August 10 2001, hosted the Palestinian negotiations team to the Madrid Conference, and became the de-facto representative of the PLO in Jerusalem. The institution was founded by the late Faisal Abdel Qader Al-Husseini and consisted on several departments to provide Palestinians of Jerusalem with political representation, services and protection for their legal, social and economic rights. It raised funds for the city’s various activities and also served as an umbrella for economic, cultural, educational, health and social institutions. The diplomatic outreach of the Orient House was significant, including visits by foreign dignitaries as well as regular outreach with diplomatic missions and international and local non-governmental organizations. This included working closely with Israeli human rights organizations.
On September 13th 1993, while the Declaration of Principles was being signed in Washington between the PLO and the Government of Israel (known as the Oslo Interim Agreement), Palestine’s flag was raised on the building. It remained there until Israeli commandoes took it down while taking over the building. The symbolism was clear: Israel had effectively declared the end of the peace process.
Along with the flag, the Israeli commandoes confiscated documents and historic archives that were never returned. This included deeds of Palestinian property (including in West Jerusalem), archives and information from nine organizations that were closed on the same date namely:
- The Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry
- The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society
- The Jerusalem Institute for Planning
- The Department of Prisoners and Detainees
- The Department of Social Services
- The Arab Studies Society
- The Office for National Institutions
- The Department of Cartography and Information Systems.
Other institutions were ordered closed later on.
Israel had a written commitment on not altering the status of the Jerusalem institutions. On October 11, 1993, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres wrote to his Norwegian counterpart, Mr. Johan Jorgen Holst who hosted peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. The letter said:
I wish to confirm that the Palestinian institutions of East Jerusalem and the interests and well-being of the Palestinians of East Jerusalem are of great importance and will be preserved. Therefore, all the Palestinian institutions of East Jerusalem, including the economic, social, educational, and cultural and the holy Christian and Muslim places, are performing an essential task for the Palestinian population. Needless to say, we will not hamper their activity; on the contrary, the fulfillment of this important mission is to be encouraged.
According to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1515, Israel has the obligation to re-peon the Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, beginning with the Orient House and the Chamber of Commerce. To this date they remain closed by one after the other closure renewal orders and no serious questioning by the international community and thus no accountability by the occupying state - Israel
For more information please check our comprehensive report: “The Forced Closure of Palestinian Institutions in Palestine’s Capital: Altering the Character of Jerusalem”