Rioting and terrorism in the capital will abate if the core concerns and problems facing Arab residents are addressed and resolved, east Jerusalem portfolio head Meir Margalit contended in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post Monday.
The Meretz city councilman said these issues include dissolving the “Jewish state” bill,” aiding Palestinians in procuring residency status and building permits, ceasing home demolitions, creating economic improvements, and affording Arabs basic dignity and respect.
The most current manifestation of Arab anger and alienation, Margalit said, is engendered by the controversial Jewish State Bill, which would legally define Israel as the nation-state of the Jews, and which critics argue will further marginalize Arab citizens.
“For them, this is more proof that we are not a democratic state, and never were a democratic state; that there’s no chance that one day they will be equal to the Jewish people,” he said. “It is proof the model for a united city has collapsed.”
Another major issue, the councilman said, is getting residency permits for Arabs in the capital marrying Palestinians from the West Bank.
According to Margalit, over 20,000 east Jerusalem Arabs, including young children, are living underground in a perpetual state of fear of being deported because they do not have legal status.
“If a Palestinian wants to marry someone from Hebron, he cannot get a permit for her to live in Jerusalem,” he explained.
“In a democratic country these kinds of things don’t happen.”
“These people are afraid of being arrested and expelled from the city, so this is a problem that makes life impossible,” he said. “The children of mothers without permits can’t even get medical services in the city.”
With respect to Arabs obtaining building permits in east Jerusalem, Margalit called the endeavor “almost impossible.”
“People need houses, and if the government doesn’t approve the application they have to build anyway, which is what Jews did during the British Mandate,” he said. “And then the municipality issues a demolition order and the demolition crew can come at any time without prior warning.”
Margalit continued: “They never know when they will come [to destroy their home], and it is a nightmare.”
Compounding this problem, he added, is that roughly 75% of Arab residents live below the poverty line due to government- imposed constraints.
“This is the consequence of an economic policy that comes from the establishment, because property is a tool of control, and the government prefers the Palestinians to be fighting for survival and searching for jobs to support their families rather than being in a good economic environment, and having time to fight for political causes,” he said.
Further exacerbating the Arab state of discontent to historic levels of violence, Margalit said, is chronic humiliation.
“They feel that Israeli society – especially the Israeli government – humiliates them day by day,” he said. “Needless to say, the police do this as well.”
Margalit said the issue of humiliation is particularly acute for younger Arabs who are forming their identities, and who have been responsible for the vast majority of rioting that has engulfed the city over the past six months.
“For them, the issue of dignity is a very important factor in their identities and this [lack of respect] makes them crazy,” he said. “To regular Israelis all the Palestinians are potential terrorists, and the attitudes toward them are based on this perception.”
“I’m talking about a lack of respect for their culture, their values and their everyday life,” he elaborated.
Asked for viable solutions to end the ongoing climate of hostility, violence and fear, the councilman said the most plausible action the government can take is to formally recognize east Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian people.
“If you ask me about the longterm solution, it is clear: Give them east Jerusalem as the capital of their state,” he said.
In terms of short-term solutions, Margalit said he is confident if the issues of inclusion, residency status, building permits, home demolitions, economic improvement and respect are addressed on a meaningful level, the violence will stop.
“I am completely convinced that once the reasons for the violence disappears, so will the violence itself,” he said.
“It won’t be instant, but we will start a process that will bring peace to the city.”