East J'lem residents have mixed feelings about former mayor

Some allege systematic discrimination against Arab residents by Jerusalem Municipality.

arab shopkeeper 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
arab shopkeeper 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
For many young Arab residents of Jerusalem, the name Teddy Kollek does not mean much. But the older residents who knew Kollek very well have mixed feelings about the former mayor. While some agree that he was a symbol of coexistence between Jews and Arabs in the city, others hold him responsible for what they describe as the Jerusalem Municipality's policy of systematic discrimination against the city's Arab residents.
  • The 'Post' pays tribute to Teddy Kollek "All I know is that he was the mayor of Jerusalem when Israel annexed east Jerusalem after the 1967 War," said Khalil Dab'at, a 23-year-old shopkeeper in the Old City. "I don't know much about the man, but I don't believe he was good for the Arabs. He didn't do much for the Arab neighborhoods." Eman Salhab, a 21-year-old secretary from the neighborhood of Ras el-Amud, said she had no idea who Kollek was. "Teddy who?" she asked upon being requested to comment on the death of the legendary mayor. "Wasn't he one of the founders of Israel? I think he was the first prime minister or foreign minister of Israel." Unlike his successors Ehud Olmert and Uri Lupolianski, Kollek used to tour the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem almost every week. After the Six Day War, he played an instrumental role in mediating between the Arab residents of east Jerusalem, whose number then was less than 65,000, and the Israeli government. Kollek established and maintained excellent relations with Arab mukhtars [headmen] and notables, with whom he used to meet on a regular basis to listen to their complaints and demands. Kollek was especially helpful with regards to requests for family reunification - a burning issue for thousands of families that were divided and displaced during and after the war. "If you wanted to bring back your brother or sister from one of the Arab countries, Kollek was the address," recalled Haitham Darwish, 70, a former municipality employee from the village of Isawiya. "He was a good man with a good heart. He liked to help people on a humanitarian basis. He helped me bring back my parents from Jordan in the early 1970s and for this I will always be grateful to him." Zuheir Hamdan, the mukhtar of the village of Sur Bahir for the last 20 years, said, "I had a lot of respect for Teddy, although I was very disappointed with his performance as mayor. He talked a lot about the need to preserve Jerusalem as a united city where both Jews and Arabs would enjoy equal rights. But he did almost nothing for the Arab neighborhoods. Jabalya refugee camp [in the Gaza Strip] looks better than many Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem." Hamdan, 55, who met Kollek many times, said he was especially enraged when he heard that the former mayor supported the idea of ceding control over some Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority. "He supported [former prime minister Ehud] Barak's plan to redivide Jerusalem during the Camp David summit in 2000," Hamdan noted. "He changed his mind overnight and this was very sad for both Jews and Arabs who want the city to remain united. From that moment, I changed my mind about Kollek." Another mukhtar, who asked not to be named, said it was ironic that as mayor, Olmert invested much more than Kollek in the Arab neighborhoods. "From what I know, in six years Olmert invested more than Kollek invested in 20 years in east Jerusalem," he pointed out. "Kollek was good for the Jews in Jerusalem and bad for the Arabs. After 1967 he could have done a lot for the Arabs, but he missed the opportunity. By neglecting the Arabs, he actually contributed to the redivision of Jerusalem." Palestinian political activists in the city said they did not see a big difference between Kollek and his successors. "Kollek was a representative of the Israeli establishment's strategy of keeping the Arabs as a tiny minority in Jerusalem," said Fuad Shkirat, a 45-year-old Fatah activist from the village of Jebl Mukaber. "As such, the problem was not Kollek as much as successive Israeli governments whose goal was and remains to drive the Arabs out of the city. Olmert and Lupolianski were not better than Kollek. Most of the Arabs in east Jerusalem feel that the Jerusalem mayor is in charge only of west Jerusalem. Kollek built only for Jews. He never built one housing project for the Arabs."