Arab East Jerusalem feeling brunt of Israeli discrimination

Friday 01/05/2015
Plotting expansion of settlements

Jerusalem - Palestinian residents of Israeli-occupied East Jeru­salem are stuck between the continuous threat of Jewish settlements closing in on them and inadequate services provided by their discriminating Israeli-run municipality.

Everything from deteriorating infrastructure, severe shortage of classrooms and lack of basic public services are part of the daily battle for survival amid the Judaisation plans of the contested city. Ahmed Hdaib, a 25-year-old Palestinian ac­tivist living in East Jerusalem, said Jerusalemites live under pressure with “minors’ arrests, inspections, road closures, human rights viola­tions, home demolitions and Is­raelising the curriculum”.

“Our lives are loaded with chal­lenges,” Hdaib told The Arab Week­ly. The college student arranges cul­tural and other events in Jerusalem to raise Palestinian awareness in political issues.

“We don’t expect anything from this municipality,” he said.

A two-minute ride from the Jew­ish settlement of Har Homa in East Jerusalem to the Palestinian neigh­bourhood of Um Tuba reflects the degree of discrimination by the Jerusalem municipality against its Arab residents.

The smooth drive in the partially built Har Homa gives a feeling of a modern infrastructure, similar to the United States or Europe. The hilly settlement on Jerusalem’s southern edge boasts flamboyant white-limestone apartments, play­grounds, cavernous roundabouts and spotless roads with spacious pavements bedecked with trees, benches and bus stands.

In one area, about six cranes stand ready to build more housing units, as part of Israeli plans to expand the settlement. The beautification and organised urban planning schemes bring a sense of modernity and neatness.

Nearby in Um Tuba, the simple public service requirement of gar­bage collection is non-existent. Roads are riddled with potholes and scattered garbage bins. There is no clear street infrastructure: no lanes and cracked sidewalks with no sign of budding flowers and no traces of public parks.

Officials in Jerusalem municipal­ity did not return repeated calls for comment by The Arab Weekly. In the past, municipality officials blamed the insufficient services extended to Palestinians on stone-hurling youth, who — the officials claimed — hamper municipality work in East Jerusalem neighbour­hoods.

Nearly 300,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem. Of the total, 80% live below the poverty line. The constant delay by the Israeli bu­reaucracy in renewing their papers, such as residency cards, is pushing many Palestinians out of the city.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem which houses sites holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews in the 1967 war. Since then, 35% of the land in East Jerusalem has been confiscated for Israeli settlements while only 13% of the area is zoned for Palestinian construction, much of it is already overcrowded.

East Jerusalem is the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Its future is to be determined in final status nego­tiations between Palestinians and Israelis. However, the talks broke off a few years ago with no sign that they will be restarted.

The Palestinians want East Jerusa­lem as the capital of their would-be state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel claims the tradition­ally eastern Arab sector of the city as part of the indivisible and eternal capital of the Jewish state.

While East Jerusalem was an­nexed, its Palestinian population was not. The state of Israel offers Palestinian residents of Jerusalem a special permit that allows them only to obtain travel documents but not residency status. The permit is revoked if a Jerusalemite leaves the city for more than two years. The measure applies to students, or those working or receiving medical treatment abroad.

Unlike Palestinians who live in Israel proper, Jerusalemites were not given Israeli nationality or pass­ports. They depend on temporary Jordanian passports for travel.

Education is contentious for many Jerusalemite parents and their chil­dren. Palestinians must pay for edu­cation in overcrowded classrooms. Human rights organisations esti­mate a shortage of 3,000 classrooms in Jerusalem.

“Why is it that we can’t find a place to build classrooms in East Je­rusalem but when we want to open a massive visitor centre in Silwan (an East Jerusalem neighbourhood) there’s room to do that?” asked Betty Herschman, director of Inter­national Relations & Advocacy at Er Amim, which is an Israeli non-gov­ernmental organisation dedicated to an equitable and viable Jerusalem.

With plans to build new Jewish settlements, which are considered illegal under international law and rejected by the United States, Pal­estinian building permits are often rejected or shelved for 10 years or longer without a response.

Rent prices also skyrocketed. Pal­estinian families find it almost im­possible to find a new housing unit. The result is large families crammed into small houses.

Some take the risk of building without a permit.

Ziyad Hamouri, head of The Jeru­salem Centre for Social & Economic Rights (JCSER), questioned the Is­raeli reasoning behind its permit restrictions.

“We are in need of 40,000 build­ing units, when will we be able to meet our need?,” Hamouri asked in an interview with The Arab Weekly.

“There are 20,000 pending house demolition orders in the city. Is it the people’s mistake or the city’s?”

Hamouri’s JCSER is a Palestinian non-governmental human rights organisation based in Jerusalem to provide legal assistance and repre­sentation to Palestinian residents of occupied Jerusalem against dis­criminatory policies.

A statement by the United Na­tions’ Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in January said that the planning poli­cies applied by Israel in East Jerusa­lem discriminate against Palestin­ians, making it extremely difficult for them to obtain building permits.

“As a result, many Palestinians build without permits to meet their housing needs and risk having their structures demolished. Palestin­ians must have the opportunity to participate in a fair and equitable planning system that ensures their needs are met,” the statement cau­tioned.

Palestinian residents are required to pay taxes, like other city resi­dents. But Jerusalemites argue that they do not receive equitable ser­vices to match their participation in the budget.

“The Palestinians contribute 30- 35% to the Jerusalem municipal­ity’s budget, yet they don’t get more than 7% of its services,” Hamouri said. He explained that internation­al law allows the occupying authori­ty to collect taxes from the occupied people, provided that it is returned in the form of municipal services.

Analysts accuse Israel of intensi­fying building in East Jerusalem to create a status quo that prevents contiguity between the Palestinian cities and their desired capital.

For Palestinians living in the city, their mere existence is seen as a de­mographical threat to Israel, which foresees a Jewish majority in the city.

“They are interested in pushing the Palestinian Jerusalemites to leave. This is a demographic war,” Hamouri said, describing the case as what is now widely known as the “quiet transfer”.

“Bad services, house demolitions, no building permits, bad economy, taxes, are all tools to have a limited number of Palestinians in Jerusa­lem and the maximum land possi­ble for Israelis,” Hamouri added.

The result: a majority of Palestin­ians in the city do not participate in municipal elections in line with a political decision to refrain from recognising Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.