New trends in East Jerusalem

About a year and a half has passed, and trends on the ground among the Arab residents of east Jerusalem are dramatically changing, in various aspects

A PANORAMIC view of east Jerusalem. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A PANORAMIC view of east Jerusalem.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In an interview he gave as a Jerusalem mayoral candidate in September 2018, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin told this journalist that “it is too early to speak about giving Israeli citizenship to all the Arabs in east Jerusalem.
“This has to be a process that will take time, and it will come, but let’s focus now firstly on improving their quality of life through investment in infrastructure,” added Elkin.
About a year and a half has passed, and trends on the ground among the Arab residents of east Jerusalem are dramatically changing, in various aspects.
First, the number of Arab residents asking for citizenship, and obtaining it, is growing. Following a ruling by the High Court in 2019, the procedure at the Population and Immigration Authority has been shortened, and as a result, 2019 ended with a record in approved applications for citizenship for Jerusalem Arabs – 1,220, more than triple 2018’s figure.
There are also large numbers of refusals, but as a young lawyer from Jebl Mukaber explained: “We all want to get Israeli citizenship, including those among us who still avoid admitting it in public. This is becoming a tsunami, especially in the young and educated generation.”
But there is more. At a recent meeting of the Urban Clinic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (an institution that raises awareness of Arab students’ civil rights), the figures presented there demonstrated another growing change. In 2015, 75 students from the east side of Jerusalem studied at Hebrew University, while this year the number was 1,260 – a leap of almost 1,600%. Forty-four of them are currently working on their PhD. Some 460 of them are studying in a preparatory course, paid by the government, to bring them to the level of Hebrew knowledge required for their academic studies.
In 2019, 5,000 Arab students from east Jerusalem took their matriculation exams, with 69% of them obtaining it. And a third of them registered immediately, and exclusively, to Hebrew University (instead of Palestinian universities, as most did until recently.) For the past three years, one of the most popular education initiatives on the east side has been institutions for Hebrew study, besides rising demands of the parents’ association to have more schools offering Hebrew courses and introducing the Israeli matriculation test (instead of the Palestinian-Jordanian one.)
At this point, to complete the picture, one should add Mayor Moshe Lion’s initiative to launch a six-month pilot project freezing the destruction of Isawiya’s illegal buildings, so as to enable the residents and the municipality to work on a planning and construction outline for the neighborhood. Moreover, the investment of the government – a NIS 2 billion budget approved in June 2018, exclusively for the improvement of infrastructure in east Jerusalem – has begun to materialize, as more playgrounds, schools and roads are built.
This is still very far from bridging the gap of conditions and infrastructures between the east and west sides of the city, but the direction is becoming more clear. Jerusalem Arabs are beginning to admit that they are alone in the political arena, and therefore have to take care of their own interests. And many of them believe the road to fulfilling these civilian interests is via Israeli citizenship, learning Hebrew and studying in Israeli educational institutions. This new direction could end up playing a significant part in the coming elections.