More than statistics

The response in east Jerusalem to the study indicates resignation, pragmatism and defiance.

The study about the equalized Jewish and Arab birthrates in Jerusalem made headlines not only in Israel, but also in the Arab world, and especially in the Palestinian Authority. It was translated into Arabic by many institutions and all of the official Palestinian newspapers published the study's conclusions. Not so long ago, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat publicly said that "the womb of the Arab woman is the secret weapon of the Palestinians," and it seems that for many Palestinians the recent demographic shift in the Holy City is much more then just statistics. Rula Muhammad, a young mother from the Old City, says that she heard about the study on the radio and that she wasn't surprised by its findings. "I have only one child, and I don't know when my husband and I will be able to afford to have more kids," she says. "The situation in east Jerusalem is horrible in terms of economics, and neglected by the authorities in every other way. I do not work and my husband can hardly provide for our family these days. I'm not sure what kind of future my children will have in this city, but it seems that the Israelis are doing everything to push the Arabs away from Jerusalem." She is not alone in tying the conclusions of the study to the political situation in the city. Prof. Munther Dajani from al-Quds University told In Jerusalem, "East Jerusalem is experiencing an unbelievable crisis these days. The situation is worse than it has been for many years, perhaps the worst ever. I've been to the market [at Damascus Gate] lately and it's totally empty - there are no customers at all. The Jews are not coming any more, and Arabs cannot afford to buy anything. After the construction of the security wall, many villages around the Jerusalem area were practically cut off from the city. The wall has a negative effect on trade, social and community life in Jerusalem, and it's quite natural for the people to be more cautious when they start a family or have kids." Muhammad al-Baker from Beit Hanina, 27, says that politics interfere not only with childbirth, but also with the love life of the Palestinians in east Jerusalem. "Now if I want to marry someone from Bethlehem or Ramallah, I will think twice, since we would definitely have to live in the PA since the girl will not be able to live with me in east Jerusalem. This is the fact - Israelis do not want any Arabs in their capital, and they are doing everything to turn the tide. And certainly, these days people are afraid to have many children, since they don't know whether they will be able to provide a decent life for them. Look around - our streets are dirty, our health clinics are crowded, our schools are small and the municipality doesn't improve the situation. We are second-class citizens," he concludes bitterly. Many, like al-Baker, think that the demographic shift will affect future negotiations between Israelis and the Palestinians over the future of Jerusalem. "In a few years the number of the Arabs in Jerusalem will continue to diminish, because of the security fence, because of the Israeli policy on family reunions [which are currently not allowed], and because Arabs have a very hard time in Jerusalem - economically and otherwise," says "Samir," a merchant in the Old City who refused to reveal his real name. "So when Israel achieves its goal - to get rid of the Arabs in Jerusalem one way or another, it will have no difficulty in convincing the international community that there is only one Jerusalem - the Jewish one - and that the Arabs do not have any legitimate claims over it." However, professor Munther Dajani of al-Quds University and Rami Bathish, the head of information program at MIFTAH, say that the change in the demographic structure of Jerusalem cannot influence future negotiations over the city, since the real issue is the Temple Mount in the Old City and not the distant neighborhoods, Jewish or Arab. "The problem is not Mevaseret Zion or Ein Kerem or Beit Hanina or any other neighborhood, and the negotiations from Camp David in 2000-2001 are clear evidence of this fact. It is the 'holy quarter' that the sides are competing for, not the outskirts of Jerusalem," says Prof. Dajani. Rami Bathish explains, "According to the Road Map, none of the sides is allowed to take any unilateral steps since it will negatively affect the course of negotiations. The situation in Jerusalem is grave, and the situation in our whole region is grave, but we are obliged to get back to the negotiating table since it is our only resort. We have to deal with the difficult issues and my advice to the Israelis is to do this sooner than later. If the situation deteriorates further, it could explode and the consequences will be unpredictable. I'm sure that no one is interested in this scenario." Meanwhile, the merchants on Salah a-Din Street who sell children's clothes say that they haven't seen any change in consumer behavior for the time being. "Maybe the Israelis falsified the results to change the political situation, maybe they think they will gain something from it," says shop-keeper Abu-Daud, who is a proud father of 10 children himself and is about to become a grandfather next month. "I'm positive that the Arab mothers will not surrender, no matter how tough the situation gets."