Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech has announced the launch of a campaign to curb rampant illegal Arab construction in Jerusalem. Partnering with us is Im Tirtzu, Israel’s largest grassroots Zionist organization.

Illegal Arab building in Jerusalem has long been one of the most troubling issues facing the city. For decades, Arabs in eastern Jerusalem have been constructing illegal buildings; they now number in the thousands, and the government and municipality barely do anything.


The situation has created a demographic crisis in the city. While Arabs flock to Jerusalem to take advantage of the cheap housing created by illegal construction in their neighborhoods, Jews are increasingly leaving the city due to high housing prices in Jewish neighborhoods. The absurdity cries out to the heavens!

In addition, illegal Arab building encroaches upon adjacent Jewish neighborhoods and prevents them from expanding.

The bottom line is that the population in Arab neighborhoods has been increasing exponentially, at the expense of Jerusalem’s Jewish population. Incredibly, over the past 30 years, the Jewish majority in the city has decreased by a staggering 12 percent – from 72 percent in 1990 to 60 percent in 2019!

This trend spells disaster not only for the Jews in Jerusalem, but for the State of Israel, which is liable to face pressure to divide the city in order to maintain its Jewish majority. If the current rates continue, Jerusalem’s Arab population could actually reach parity with the Jewish population within 10-15 years.

Keep Jerusalem is well aware that to tackle illegal Arab construction head on, reliable statistics must be obtained. Most unfortunately, these do not exist. The most recent comprehensive report on this topic was published back in 2003 – 16 years ago! – by Attorney Justus Reid Weiner of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Since then, the situation has only worsened, for several reasons.

One central reason is the security barrier constructed in 2005, which severely limits Israeli governance of neighborhoods outside the barrier and enabled a meteoric growth in illegal Arab construction. For example, the population of Kafr Akab, the northernmost Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem, has since increased tenfold, from 7,000 to 70,000, entirely through illegal construction.

Furthermore, enforcing the building laws and demolishing illegal Arab homes creates delicate PR issues for Israel. Over the summer, Israel, in a rare move, enforced municipal construction laws (in the Wadi al-Hummus neighborhood), and the European Union sharply castigated Israel. Unless there is great public demand to resolve this issue, Israeli authorities will not have the political incentive to act.

Keep Jerusalem and Im Tirtzu do not claim to have an immediate magical solution for this most complex imbroglio. However, our campaign consists of three main steps that are critical to finding one:

  1. Write a professional report with both the latest information about illegal Arab construction in Jerusalem and recommendations on how to resolve the issue.

  2. Bring the issue to the forefront of public discourse.

  3. Enact a change in policy and/or legislation in the Knesset.

To achieve these objectives, a multi-faceted approach will be employed. We need research to accurately convey the severity of the issue; a high-profile public campaign (advertisements, videos, articles, social media posts) to bring the issue to the forefront of public discourse and harness the public to the cause; legal petitions and court suits, demanding that the law be enforced and illegal structures be razed; and lobbying of decision makers to enact legislation and/or a change in policy.

Very specific activities are planned. After the publication of the report, a conference focused on its findings will be held with the participation of politicians, journalists, and academics. Five or more on-the-ground city tours will be held to illustrate the severity of the problem. And pressure groups will be harnessed for the campaign, such as the charedi population, bereaved families, new immigrants, and wounded IDF veterans.

In the end, the problem will have to be solved. The current situation, in which the Jews of the city are tightly bound by municipal construction restrictions while the Arab population is not restricted at all, cannot be allowed to continue. For Jerusalem to remain a Jewish city, as King David founded it to be over 3,000 years ago, Arab would-be home builders must follow the law.

To keep abreast of the new campaign, and to take parts in Keep Jerusalem’s efforts to ensure that Jerusalem remains united under Israeli sovereignty, e-mail [email protected].

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Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel's minister of tourism. Hillel Fendel is the former senior editor of Arutz-7. For bus tours of the capital, to take part in Jerusalem advocacy efforts or to keep abreast of KeepJerusalem's activities, e-mail [email protected].