The 10 plagues of east Jerusalem

The daily humiliation suffered by residents is reaching a boiling point and it is only a matter of time until a conflagration erupts.

Arabic language signs in east Jerusalem 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Arabic language signs in east Jerusalem 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The revolution in Cairo’s streets should raise the alarm in Jerusalem too. Like many Egyptians and Tunisians, the Arabs of east Jerusalem have been humiliated and trampled upon for years. Here too, patience is running out. The winds in east Jerusalem are the same ones blowing through Egyptian streets, and may ultimately bring down a regime that anticipated never-ending rule.
The government seems unaware of events in the city’s eastern half. It’s not really interested, and is also enslaved to the doctrine imported from the occupied territories – best to keep them on a short leash so they don’t get unruly and dare to demand national rights. The entity responsible for east Jerusalem today is effectively the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) which rules in an iron-handed triumvirate together with the police and the Border Police.
The municipality is a bit-player, reacting to events with obvious unwillingness and making half-hearted attempts to solve problems here and there, in the patchwork method. Control over east Jerusalem is based on truncheons and bribery – and they won’t last forever.
Several experts say that an uprising in east Jerusalem is unlikely, since the residents there have too much to lose – National Insurance allowances and blue ID cards for example. But they’re living in the past. More and more residents now say openly that their daily humiliations are not worth the NII benefits. Many have decided that even if the conditions here are better than in the Palestinian Authority, social benefits in return for humiliation is not a sustainable exchange. They know it’s not a divine decree that they must remain fourth-class citizens.
IT’S NOT hard to see the undercurrents of rage in east Jerusalem. You just have to look into people’s eyes to realize that something major is going on. It’s better to stop for a moment and look at the processes that are so intolerable for east Jerusalem residents, before it’s too late. Because even if things erupt and tanks drive into east Jerusalem, Cairo has shown us that armor cannot withstand the people’s rage when things become too much.
The inventory list of things that infuriate east Jerusalem residents can be summed up in 10 points – let’s call them the 10 plagues of east Jerusalem – and they’re not listed here in order of severity.
1. The difficulty of obtaining building permits and thus building lawfully. Obstacles have piled up for years – proving ownership, lacking infrastructure, low construction percentages – and all of them have worsened with the migration of scores of families who have crossed the security barrier to the “right side” to avoid losing their blue ID cards.
2. The security barrier, what many call the “separation wall.” It divides families, relatives and loves ones, and makes any trip to the occupied territories a journey into the unknown. No one can predict how long it will take to get to the destination or return from it. It all depends on the mood of the IDF soldier at the checkpoint.
3. The Interior Ministry’s prevention of east Jerusalem residents from reuniting with their families or wives from the occupied territories. They must live an almost underground existence in Jerusalem, without the necessary papers, for fear of arrest.
4. The Interior Ministry (again), which pursues and confiscates ID cards from people it believes are living beyond the municipal jurisdiction. Many discover one day that their citizenship has been revoked, with no prior warning. They must then launch a legal battle that requires immense resources 5. The settlers who have abandoned all self-control. Their aggression increases with rumors that the peace process is progressing. They have no compunction about evicting whole families from their homes, and cast fear wherever they go.
6. The destruction of homes built without the proper licenses, arguably the harshest plague of all. It is a threat to thousands of families, not because the municipality can destroy all the homes in question, but because none of those who have received demolition orders know when the bulldozer will arrive. In this situation, families live on borrowed time, and their stress is evident.
7. The economic situation that is wreaking havoc, dragging 70 percent of the families living in east Jerusalem below the poverty line. When there’s no prospect for improvement, people feel they have little to lose.
8. The Border Police and its members’ degrading attitude toward east Jerusalemites. It has become an uncontrollable force, violent and hotheaded, that harms their deepest sensitivities.
9. The archeological excavations near the Temple Mount. The dig is considered an attempt to penetrate beneath the Haram al-Sharif and to topple the mosques. Even if this is not the intention, the very concern or a rumor is enough to set things off, as we have seen time and time again.
10. The atrocious level of municipal services, from garbage collection to the education system, which renders east Jerusalem’s inferior status permanent. And every time Arab citizens cross to the western part of the city and see the vast divide between their own standard of living and that of their Jewish neighbors, it is seared into their consciousness.
ALL THESE reasons, alone or together, will ignite a future conflagration. How long can this go on? The “carrot and stick” method on which control of east Jerusalem is based is disintegrating. The stick is hitting too hard, and the carrots are losing their effect. The end-of-theseason sales are over, no one’s selling their self-respect for a mess of pottage. The checks and balances system which has been going for 42 years is now wornout – and the abyss awaits. This is not meant to be a prophecy of doom, but a flashing warning light before disintegration.
Most people prefer to ignore events when they occur in their own backyard, but the city’s leaders cannot afford to bury their heads in the sand. They would do well to rethink their policies before the tsunami that’s sweeping through the whole Arab world washes over us too.
The writer is a field coordinator for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and a member of the Jerusalem City Council for Meretz.