Jerusalem’s gaps cannot be hidden

Palestinians comprise 38 percent of the population, their share in the municipal budget is only 11%- 13%, one realizes the place of east Jerusalem’s residents in the city system.

East Jerusalem protest 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
East Jerusalem protest 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
The well-known saying that a constantly repeated lie eventually becomes truth has failed in the case of Jerusalem. We’ve been told for 46 years that the city is “joined together,” but any intelligent person knows (especially if they live in Jerusalem) that not only is the city not united, its walls soar higher than ever.
The city’s unification is one of the biggest state-sponsored lies. The gaps between east and west cannot be hidden, and it’s enough to walk east Jerusalem’s streets to grasp how great the deprivation is there. And it’s enough to see the suspicious gazes of Jews and Arabs coming face to face to realize how deep the reciprocal alienation is.
It isn’t a question of a physical division, but more mental, cultural and emotional division.
It intensifies whenever an Arab crosses the line between the city’s two parts, and Border Police or women soldiers brusquely demand his ID, ask where he’s from and where he’s going, demands constantly repeated until he reaches his destination.
Yet the alienation isn’t because of relations between the city’s residents. It starts on city hall’s sixth floor, home to the mayor’s office. Just noting the fact that though Palestinians comprise 38 percent of the population, their share in the municipal budget is only 11%- 13%, one realizes the place of east Jerusalem’s residents in the city system. City hall projects the fact that it has little interest in east Jerusalem by investing only the minimum required by law, especially salaries for teachers, social workers and nurses at well baby clinics.
The message is that the city has A-grade citizens living in the west, and B-grade citizens living the east – where Jewish Israelis never set foot. All the cosmetic fixes city hall performs in east Jerusalem don’t hide its discrimination against half of Jerusalem. This is discrimination not only due to insufficient funds, but also and chiefly because of under motivation: after all, “charity begins at home,” and east Jerusalem’s citizens are not considered an integral part of the city, but pests at most.
When the municipality occasionally builds a road or sidewalk, it’s trumpeted in the press, but those efforts are dwarfed by the demolition of houses, by the barriers placed before people seeking building permits. All the street-names the mayor kindly granted to the east of the city simply highlight his handling of insignificant matters, and his neglect of major ones.
Discrimination isn’t created by the municipality, but at far higher levels. Back in 1967, the government decided that east Jerusalem’s Palestinians would have a lesser legal status than their Jewish counterparts in the west. They were classed as “residents,” while Jewish Israelis are “citizens.” This bizarre phenomenon has escaped the Israeli awareness since it’s hard to explain how – living in the capital city of a nation purporting to be “the only democracy in the Middle East” – is an entire ethnic group whose legal status is inferior to that of the dominant group. A similar situation in any European capital would rightly lead to accusations of racial-ethnic-religious discrimination. Yet it’s happening here in Israel’s capital, right under our noses, and no one cares.
It’s only power that encourages this anomaly. All that “unification” is fueled by a well-oiled mechanism of state coercion, comprising clerks, police officers – and quite a few collaborators, who flourish like weeds under the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
The system uses three tools that work like a steamroller on the subconscious of every oppressed Palestinian from east Jerusalem: dismantling, dependency and fear.
The first side of that triangle is built on dismantling community institutions and getting rid of any local national leaders. The second is fed by dependency on the endless permits issued by the state, without which it’s hard to move around freely: from ID cards at the Interior Ministry, building licenses at city hall, medical services and the social security allowances without which much of the population would starve to death.
The third side is built on never-ending fear. Maybe tomorrow bulldozers will demolish your house, or settlers will seize your land. You might be denied residency rights, someone will inform the authorities that you’re an illegal resident in your own home, then you have to run around government offices and courts to prove you’re not.
“Coercion” is both the means and the goal, but a city can’t be run so aggressively forever. No matter how much power it uses, that imaginary “unification” is destined to backfire. It is a thin layer of whitewash, supposed to hide the deep rifts below the surface.
There are too many arsonists roaming free around Jerusalem.
Just recently the mayor caved to pressure from most city council members demanding the demolition of a room built without a permit in the inner courtyard of a Ras al-Amud mosque. They ignored the consequences for the city, and the real danger of bloodshed following demolition of a room in a mosque.
Unification isn’t a curse.
Those seeking a unified Jerusalem must first of all divide it. And only then, only when east Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, and west Jerusalem Israel’s capital, only then are there prospects to keep it united. Because by dividing it, we’ll unite it.The author is a Jerusalem city council member for the Meretz faction, and responsible for east Jerusalem affairs.