Analysis: Crossing the invisible line in Jerusalem

Residents of east Jerusalem demand more services from municipality.

By
June 2, 2016 06:56
A VIEW from a-Tur of Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, with Abu Dis, beyond the security barrier

A VIEW from a-Tur of Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, with Abu Dis, beyond the security barrier, in the distance.. (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

 
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Separate bus stations. Separate education systems.

Even a different Interior Ministry office.

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Khader, who was supposed to be back in Beit Hanina by the early afternoon Sunday, was busy at the ministry office, waiting to renew his travel document, he said.

“This is one of the inconveniences and differences we face as residents of the city but not citizens,” he said over the phone. Many of the 350,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem can relate similar tales.

On Sunday tens of thousands of Jews are expected to converge on the capital to celebrate Jerusalem Day. A city event since 1968, it has been a national holiday since 1998.

Thousands of high school students are bused in from around the country, and Jerusalem police are preparing for the crowds expected to arrive for a march and other festivities.

In east Jerusalem, Arab communities see the event as one part of a larger mosaic of Jewish and Israeli political attempts to control the city, which many view as a foreign occupation. The festivities come shortly after Palestinians commemorated what they call the Nakba or “catastrophe” of Israel’s independence on May 15, and near the beginning of Ramadan next week.



A drive along the line that separates Jerusalem’s Jewish and Arab neighborhoods reveals a stark contrast. From Jebl Mukaber and Sur Bahir via Beit Safafa and Abu Tor to Silwan, via Sheikh Jarrah to a-Tur, Isawiya, Shuafat, Beit Hanina and Kalandiya, an invisible border still runs south to north.

Some parts of this line are on the old pre-1967 frontier between east and west Jerusalem, such as Route 1 between Damascus Gate and Musrara. Other areas, such as between French Hill and Isawiya or Armon Hanatziv and Jebl Mukaber, contrast Jewish neighborhoods constructed after 1967 and Arab neighborhoods that have grown rapidly since then as well.

There were 200,000 Jews in Jerusalem in 1967 and 66,000 Arabs in the areas that are now in the municipality. Today there are an estimated 870,000 residents of the city, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, and 37 percent are Arabs.

Jerusalem wasn’t initially conceived as such a divided city. The UN partition plan of 1947 sought to make it an international city governing 186 sq.km. and encompassing Bethlehem.

After the 1948 war, the Old City was under Jordanian control and its demographics changed. Some of the older families, including many Christians, moved abroad or to Amman, and many Hebronite Palestinians migrated to the city for work. Jordanian Jerusalem, including the Old City and its environs, encompassed only 6.4 sq.km.

Two weeks after the Six Day War the Israeli authorities quickly expanded the municipal borders of the city in the east to its present borders, encompassing 70 sq.km.

On June 26, 1967, Israel began granting residency status to Arabs in the new municipality, and on June 29 the old Jordanian city council was dissolved. The next year, the French Hill neighborhood was established.

Since then, around 150,000 Jews have moved to communities such as Ramot, Har Homa and Gilo.

A 1980 law declared the city the “undivided capital” of Israel, and in 1988 the Supreme Court ruled that Arab residents of Jerusalem are entitled to healthcare and national insurance benefits, even though most are not citizens and cannot vote in Knesset elections.

Palestinians in the city say they resent the presence of Israel in their everyday lives, even as they feel they don’t receive basic services from Israel. Sitting at a coffee shop inside Damascus Gate, a local guide and activist claimed he pays arnona (property tax) but the city doesn’t clean the streets near his house. “Our communities lose land all the time to [Jewish] neighborhoods. Isawiya lost its land to French Hill, and two of its three entrances are blocked by the city. We lost land in Shuafat to Pisgat Ze’ev.”

Beyond complaints about lack of infrastructure and land policy, he said that there is a kind of catch-22 inherent in voting.

Only around 1.5% of Arab residents vote in municipal elections, and since 1967 no Arab has been elected to the city council. “We could [vote] but we don’t agree to be part of Israel, because it would legitimize Israel, and no one in the international community recognizes this.”

Since Israel annexed east Jerusalem, not only has its municipal expansion not been recognized by other countries, but almost every foreign embassy remains in Tel Aviv or near it, to remain there until Israel and the Palestinian Authority come to a final-status agreement on Jerusalem. The international community views Jewish communities over the Green Line in Jerusalem as settlements.

The municipality is investing an “unprecedented sum of NIS 500 million in the restoration of transportation and infrastructure in east Jerusalem neighborhoods,” it said in a written statement.

In addition, millions of shekels are being directed toward new classrooms and community centers, and 1,720 desktop and laptop computers have been distributed to schools.

The city says a poll conducted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy showed a 19% increase in resident satisfaction with services.

For decades many neighborhoods didn’t receive basic postal services, but the city has recognized that and is opening post offices in Isawiya, Jebl Mukaber and Abu Tor.

More than 900 streets have received names since Nir Barkat became mayor. This more than anything is one thing that clearly stands out in a drive or walk around neighborhoods – innumerable new small blue signs.

Despite these investments, even in the wealthier northeastern neighborhood of Beit Hanina, where the light rail runs through two-lane streets, many resent Israel’s policies. What problems do they face? “Besides occupation? Residency rights, demolition orders, lack of education facilities, lack of infrastructure, police violence, lack of opportunities, lack of housing,” one resident told The Jerusalem Post.

Some of these might be on the list of any poor, minority community in a city in the US or Europe.

But the key issue is also the perception of an oppressive governing authority, an “aggressive bureaucracy” that, in the Arab view, forces people to beg for their basic civil rights and services.

Light rail ticket machines damaged in 2014 riots have never been repaired, residents say.

While Beit Hanina seems clean and has municipal bus stops and street signs, some other neighborhoods have seen low intensity weekly clashes with police over the last two years since the murder of teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir. This “Jerusalem intifada,” which escalated with last fall’s stabbings and shooting attacks, has cost lives and resulted in thousands of arrests. From October to November of 2015, according to one report, 797 Arabs were arrested.

In recent months some have been detained for inflammatory Facebook posts.

A Border Police source speaking anonymously said he has dealt with near-daily riots and conflict in neighborhoods such as Ras el-Amud and Isawiya. During the height of the stabbings, the police put up concrete blocks to cut off neighborhoods such as Isawiya from west Jerusalem. All of those are gone now.

Walking around a-Tur on the Mount of Olives, there was a torn poster commemorating a “martyr,” a Palestinian flag graffitied in red, and a black Star of David spray-painted next to a dumpster and then crossed out.

Overlooking the security barrier that divided PA-controlled Abu Dis from Jerusalem, a torn Palestinian flag hung from an electric wire.

There’s a clear division here. In nearby French Hill, mostly Jewish residents live in apartment buildings on planned streets with trees.

In Isawiya or the unending residential belt derisively called a “village” extending from a-Tur to Jebl Mukaber, the streets are windy, disorganized and often without signs.

The lack of planning is itself a catch-22, as residents don’t accept city control but also argue the city doesn’t provide basic infrastructure, and results in most houses built in east Jerusalem being without proper permits. According to B’Tselem, between 2004 and 2015 the city demolished 579 illegal houses, and a different report noted only 7% of houses are built with permits.

In 2015 more than 2,200 properties received retroactive approval.

The city says it has “invested millions of shekels in this process and has also established a system that helps Arab residents by simplifying the process of proving ownership of land in east Jerusalem.”

Driving past the Kalandiya checkpoint north of the city, one can just make out, over the towering concrete security barrier, the roofs of houses in Kafr Aqab and Kalandiya, some of them home to residents of the city who live beyond the barrier but inside the municipal boundaries.

According to the Institute for National Security Studies there are 55,000 such residents.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel says that “a decade has passed since the beginning of the construction of the separation barrier in Jerusalem and the reality for Jerusalem residents that live in neighborhoods beyond the barrier has become unbearable.”

Another symbol of the division in the city is that, through the 1990s, Arab residents studied using Jordanian textbooks, switching to PA texts after the Oslo Accords.

In those years, some peace plans still envisioned PA control of parts of the city. Today, there are 50 public schools operated by the Israeli-governed East Jerusalem Education Directorate. According to ACRI, of the 105,000 Arab students, 17% attend private school and 41% attend recognized but unofficial schools, which include schools run by the Wakf Muslim religious trust.

Only 8.3% of the students in higher education in Jerusalem are Arab, and some of them are not from Jerusalem. For many east Jerusalem Arabs, political, social and academic life is focused on Ramallah, or even Amman, rather than west Jerusalem.

In some east Jerusalem neighborhoods signs wishing residents a “Ramadan Kareem” were put up on Tuesday. It’s a reminder that this year’s Ramadan will likely begin on Monday, June 6, a day after Jerusalem Day and the same date as the Battle of Ammunition Hill in the city during the Six Day War.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that the police are taking every precaution ahead of Jerusalem Day, and will have extra patrols on hand with thousands deployed.

Although there has been a decrease in violence since the fall, police conduct operations nightly and are taking “no chances.”

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