A sewer runs through it

Forget sloganeering. Improve the quality of life for all of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem 88 (photo credit: )
Jerusalem 88
(photo credit: )
With the Annapolis conference having drawn the world's attention, Jerusalem - united or divided - has taken center stage. Yet, for all the rhetoric, Israel has failed Jerusalem. Living conditions have become unbearable in east Jerusalem as a result of discrimination in resource allocation and neglect. Moreover, social and economic rights, such as the rights to education and adequate housing, are violated on a regular basis, in east Jerusalem, and in other parts of Jerusalem as well. During International Human Rights week, it's crucial to address the tangible and urgent problems existing in Jerusalem today, regardless of the results of Annapolis or popular opinion on the status of the city. Social and economic rights are basic human rights. For example, all members of society should have access to quality health-care, regardless of their income and where they live. With cuts to social benefits and the move to a free-market economy, Israel has abandoned the guarantee of these rights, and the weak populations suffer most acutely. While all members of Israel's health funds are receiving less, because the basket of health services and the general budget for health has been declining drastically in the past few years - this applies especially to Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem. It's clear to anyone who has visited the Palestinian neighborhoods that the municipality has neglected them severely and disproportionately to their Jewish neighbors. Most east Jerusalemites hold permanent residency status in Israel, but are not citizens: they have access to Israeli education, National Insurance, and health care, but don't vote, or hold Israeli passports. In any Palestinian neighborhood in east Jerusalem, the garbage is the most striking symptom of this neglect - strewn everywhere, in the streets and in yards, pungent and raw. Open metal cans, rotting food, and waste of all sorts. In addition, there are no trees in public spaces, only in private yards, and no sidewalks. As a result, many children who walk to school have nowhere to walk. They are often in the direct route of cars. In hilly neighborhoods such as Sur Baher, the steep ascents and narrow roads make it difficult to drive and watch out for the children's safety at the same time. Once the children arrive at school, they will likely sit in a converted bathroom or kitchen instead of in a proper classroom. They'll have to share their desks with several other children. The overcrowding mocks national standards on how much personal space each pupil should have in a classroom: the national standard requires 1 meter and 20 cm and in east Jerusalem, the average is 60-70 cm. In addition, east Jerusalem lacks some 1,500 classrooms. As a result, only half of all school-age children - 39,400 out of 79,000 - are enrolled in public schools; many others attend private and/or unrecognized institutions, often at very high costs to their parents. Some 9,000 children in east Jerusalem are not enrolled in any educational framework. Children return home to crowded apartments, often under the threat of house demolition. Essentially, east Jerusalem residents live in a perpetual Catch-22. On the one hand, discriminatory planning policies and practices stifle the development of the Palestinian neighborhoods, and render it almost impossible for Palestinian residents to receive building permits; on the other hand, the authorities use house demolitions as an enforcement tool against residents who build without a license. Some 100,000 east Jerusalemites who have built illegally cannot connect directly to the city's water supply, so they connect to their neighbors' water tanks using flimsy pipes that run up and down their narrow streets. Some residents pay their neighbors for water from their storage tanks. The stored water is exposed to a range of pollutants, from bacteria that thrive in standing water to vermin and dead birds. They don't have tap water to drink; and a weekly shower has become a luxury for many. In addition, residents can't clean their apartments regularly. This July, the Health Ministry reported 27 cases of Hepatitis A in east Jerusalem, a result of the poor sanitary conditions. IT'S CLEAR that these residents suffer from systemic discrimination. But the erosion of basic rights is obvious in other parts of the city as well. Jerusalemites' right to adequate housing is at risk. According to a report on these pages, "An Increasingly International Jerusalem," (November 30), foreigners bought one-third of the houses in central Jerusalem this year, driving rental and housing costs up sharply. This foreign investment has created a housing crisis for lower- and middle-class Israelis who can't afford the astronomical rates. Some move out and others live in sub-par conditions; many landlords don't make repairs because market demand is so high. Jerusalem is one of the country's poorest cities. According to 2003 Central Bureau of Statistics data, 64% of the Palestinian families in Jerusalem live below the poverty line, as opposed to 24% of the city's Jewish families. Thus, the declining quality of education in Israel - exemplified by many international tests ranking Israel at the bottom of the Western world - and the privatization of health care are felt more in Jerusalem, compared with other cities. Jerusalemites' social and economic rights are infringed because they are poorer than other Israelis. The Jewish schools in Jerusalem lack classrooms also, and almost all Jerusalem neighborhoods have hungry and poor residents - and garbage too. The increasing violation of Jerusalemites' rights - though to vastly different degrees among the Palestinian and Jewish residents - indicates an alarming trend: the neglect of the city. Last month, Mayor Uri Lupolianski announced plans to invest in east Jerusalem, timed precisely to coincide with the Annapolis summit, but he only echoed unfulfilled promises of previous mayors for the past 40 years. These grave rights violations must be addressed now. The municipality and the state must invest funds and attention in improving the quality of life of all Jerusalemites, instead of in their PR campaigns. They should translate their words into action, and make Jerusalem a city worth living in for all its residents. The writer is international communication and development coordinator for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).