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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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