United against detractors

Allegations that Arabs are being pushed out of Jerusalem are false, claim right-wing city councillors and activists

jerusalem apts (photo credit: courtesy)
jerusalem apts
(photo credit: courtesy)
The Jewish interdiction against calumny (lashon hara) was mentioned several times at a recent conference on the construction rights of Jerusalem’s Jews and Arabs, held last week at the Begin Heritage Center and organized by city councillor Yair Gabbai (Bayit Yehudi).
The Freedom of Housing in Jerusalem conference was aimed at refuting the allegations of various left-wing organizations that the establishment – whether on the part of the state or the municipalities – was trying to eliminate Arab residents from the capital through persistent refusal of construction permits. Gabbai, who has consistently taken the right-wing position on any city council resolution over the past few years, said he felt it was time to confront these allegations, not only on an ideological level but also through facts and figures.
Among a wide range of numbers, Gabbai revealed that according to findings of the Central Bureau of Statistics, by the end of 2010 there were 2,537 Jews living in Arab neighborhoods, while 3,378 Arabs lived in Jewish neighborhoods.
Another interesting finding was the status of Arab residents of Jerusalem who are not Israeli citizens. According to Israeli law and supported by the CBS data, Arab residents who want to purchase an apartment in the city, including west Jerusalem, are entitled to obtain financial support from the Construction and Housing Ministry, which any Jewish resident of the city would obtain according to the same criteria.
So what is the problem, Gabbai was asked.
“The problem is the delegitimatization of Israel in the media, mostly the foreign media,” he explained. “We must bring about a radical change in that erroneous image.”
That sentiment was echoed by Arieh King, founder and director of the Israel Land Fund, which discreetly acquires property from Arab owners in order to install Jewish families on the land.
According to King, Israeli authorities are much more efficient at expelling Jews from property inside an Arab neighborhood than vice versa.
In one particular case, the contrary has obviously occurred. Beit Yehonatan in the Silwan neighborhood is still inhabited by six Jewish families. The two upper floors that the court ruled must be evacuated are still open and inhabited, and even left-wing activists seem to believe that this will never change. But surprise, surprise – King thinks the Beit Yehonatan situation is a big mistake. He said that to keep the building safe, Mayor Nir Barkat – whom King considers a “dangerous leftist” – has refrained from demolishing illegal buildings in east Jerusalem for the past year and a half. Arab residents complain that they still cannot obtain construction permits, which they cite as the primary reason for the illegal construction.
According to data gathered by city councillor Meir Margalit (Meretz), who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, the city now does an average of 20 demolitions a month. “Which will bring us to some 200 demolitions per year, a rate we last saw in 2009, which was dreadful in all respects – for the sensitive balance in the city between the two peoples, as well as for the image of Israel in the world,” says Margalit.
On the other hand, according to Barkat’s official policy, the attitude towards east Jerusalem has dramatically changed – out of a right-wing perspective, Barkat strives to connect and unite the city in real terms – and he has made some important decisions in that regard. More funds have been allocated to the Arab neighborhoods, earmarked for infrastructure, street naming, post offices, well-baby clinics and new classrooms.
Nevertheless, as Yakir Segev, former holder of the east Jerusalem portfolio in Barkat’s party, said earlier this week, one can still very plainly see the ancient borderlines between the two sides. “After walking a certain distance here and there, you can see that there are no longer any sidewalks, no more parks, there is less street lighting and so on. You can’t miss it – it means you’ve come to east Jerusalem.” •