Fatah: We've lost the battle for Jerusalem

For the city's Arab residents, the security fence has been both a blessing and a curse.

barrier sunset 88 (photo credit: )
barrier sunset 88
(photo credit: )
For the Arab residents of Jerusalem, the construction of the security fence around the city has been both a blessing and a curse. Those living on the Israeli side of the fence feel more comfortable now that they know Israel has no intention of cutting them off from Jerusalem. These residents enjoy freedom of movement, work in Israel and are entitled to all the privileges that Israeli citizens receive. In the past four years, thousands of Arab Jerusalemites living outside the municipal boundaries of the city have moved back into Jerusalem for fear of being left on the other side of the security fence. Many of them abandoned their large houses and villas in favor of small and expensive apartments inside the municipal boundaries of the city. The security fence has virtually cut off the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem from the West Bank, making the Arab residents fully dependent on Israel's economy. Dozens of merchants who owned businesses in Ramallah and Bethlehem have moved back to the city in the past few years. "People see the anarchy and instability in the Palestinian Authority areas and prefer to leave to a safer place," explained Ibrahim Barakat, a businessman from Beit Hanina, a large Arab neighborhood in northern Jerusalem. "Also, people are afraid of losing their status as permanent residents of Israel and that's why they are moving back into Jerusalem. After all, life inside Israel is much better than the West Bank." But perhaps the most significant change that took place over the past few years has been Israel's success in eliminating the presence of a Palestinian political address in east Jerusalem. The death of Faisal Husseini, the top PLO representative, and the subsequent closure by Israel of Orient House, the unofficial PLO headquarters in the city, eliminated one of the most prominent symbols of Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem. Today, PA officials can't hold political meetings in Jerusalem for two reasons: first, they can't enter the city as easily as they used to because of the security fence and second, Israel does not allow such meetings to take place inside the city. The construction of the fence, together with strict Israeli security measures, also resulted in a sharp decline in the activities of PA security agents inside the city. Until a few years ago, hundreds of PA security agents were operating almost freely in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, sometimes kidnapping residents to Ramallah or Jericho for "interrogation." The departure of Faisal Husseini from the scene in 2001 left a huge political vacuum in east Jerusalem that has yet to be filled. Six years later, no Palestinian leader has been able to step into Husseini's large shoes. The absence of Husseini and Orient House has strengthened the Arab population's ties with the Israeli establishment. In recent years, for instance, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of residents who seek the help of the Israeli police in solving various problems. Although different services provided by the state to the Arab residents continue to be relatively insufficient, there is no ignoring the fact that Israeli institutions remain the largest employer of Arab Jerusalemites. Thousands of teachers are employed in dozens of schools run by the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of Education. These teachers receive higher salaries and better privileges than their colleagues who work for private or PA-controlled schools inside the city. In addition, there has been a significant improvement in health services to Arab residents with the opening of scores of medical centers and clinics by Israel's Kupot Holim Clalit and Meuhedet. These centers employ thousands of doctors, nurses and administrative workers from east Jerusalem. Thousands of Arab Jerusalemites have also replaced the West Bank and Gaza Strip laborers who used to work in Israel until the beginning of the intifada in September 2000. As holders of Israeli ID cards, the Arab residents of Jerusalem receive higher salaries and are entitled to most privileges, including National Insurance payments. The Arabs of Jerusalem are free to work in any part of the country and are not subjected to any restrictions. Yet not all the Arab residents have benefited from the "disengagement" from the West Bank. Many continue to live outside the municipal borders of Jerusalem [in the West Bank] because they can't afford to pay high rent and municipal taxes [arnona] in Beit Hanina, Shuafat and other Arab neighborhoods. Moreover, the security fence and checkpoints around the city have cut them off from their work places and relatives. Attempts by Hamas and other Palestinian groups in the past three years to establish centers of power in the Arab neighborhoods have been repeatedly crushed by Israel. Three Hamas legislators from east Jerusalem, including the minister for Jerusalem Affairs, Khaled Abu Arafeh, have been in detention since the abduction last June of IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit. "Let's be honest, we have lost the battle for Jerusalem," admitted a Fatah legislator from the city. "The Palestinian Authority hasn't done anything to preserve the Arab and Islamic character of Jerusalem. The Arabs in Jerusalem have lost confidence in the Palestinian leadership and that's why most of them prefer to live under Israeli control. Frankly, when I see what's happening in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, I can understand why."