The Myth of an Emerging “Mideast NATO”
The Myth of an Emerging “Mideast NATO”

Rage in Jerusalem

What the government of Israel calls its eternal, undivided capital is among the most precarious, divided cities in the world. When it conquered the eastern part of Jerusalem and the West Bank – both administered by Jordan – in 1967, Israel expanded the city’s municipal boundaries threefold. As a result, approximately 37 per cent of Jerusalem’s current residents are Palestinian. They have separate buses, schools, health facilities, commercial centres, and speak a different language. In their neighbourhoods, Israeli settlers and border police are frequently pelted with stones, while Palestinians have on several occasions recently been beaten by Jewish nationalist youths in the western half of the city. Balloons equipped with cameras hover above East Jerusalem, maintaining surveillance over the Palestinian population. Most Israelis have never visited and don’t even know the names of the Palestinian areas their government insists on calling its own. Municipal workers come to these neighbourhoods with police escorts.

Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have the right to apply for Israeli citizenship, but in order to acquire it they have to demonstrate a moderate acquaintance with Hebrew, renounce their Jordanian or other citizenship and swear loyalty to Israel. More than 95 per cent have refused to do this, on the grounds that it would signal acquiescence in and legitimation of Israel’s occupation. Since the city was first occupied 47 years ago, more than 14,000 Palestinians have had their residency revoked. As permanent residents, Palestinians in Jerusalem are entitled to vote in municipal (but not Israeli national) elections, yet more than 99 per cent boycott them. With no electoral incentive to satisfy the needs of Palestinians, the city’s politicians neglect them.

All Jerusalemites pay taxes, but the proportion of the municipal budget allocated to the roughly 300,000 Palestinian residents of a city with a population of 815,000 doesn’t exceed 10 per cent. Service provision is grossly unequal. In the East, there are five benefit offices compared to the West’s 18; four health centres for mothers and babies compared to the West’s 25; and 11 mail carriers compared to the West’s 133. Roads are mostly in disrepair and often too narrow to accommodate garbage trucks, forcing Palestinians to burn rubbish outside their homes. A shortage of sewage pipes means that Palestinian residents have to use septic tanks which often overflow. Students are stuffed into overcrowded schools or converted apartments; 2200 additional classrooms are needed. More than three-quarters of the city’s Palestinians live below the poverty line.

Since 1967 no new Palestinian neighbourhoods have been established in the city, while Jewish settlements surrounding existing Palestinian areas have mushroomed. Restrictive zoning prevents Palestinians from building legally. Israel has designated 52 per cent of land in East Jerusalem as unavailable for development and 35 per cent for Jewish settlements, leaving the Palestinian population with only 13 per cent, most of which is already built on. Those with growing families are forced to choose between building illegally and leaving the city. Roughly a third of them decide to build, meaning that 93,000 residents are under constant threat of their homes being demolished.

The government has no shortage of bureaucratic explanations for this unequal treatment, but it doesn’t always try to hide the ethno-religious basis of its discrimination. After the recent terrorist attacks by both Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the government demolished the homes only of the Palestinian perpetrators. Palestinians who live in houses abandoned during the 1948 war have been evicted to make room for Jewish former owners and their descendants, but the reverse has yet to occur.

Jerusalem was once the cultural, political and commercial capital for Palestinians, connected to Bethlehem in the south and Ramallah in the north. But the construction of the separation wall cut Jerusalemites off from the West Bank and from one another. The route of the wall was chosen to encompass as many East Jerusalem and West Bank Jewish settlements as possible while excluding the largest possible number of Palestinians. In the Jerusalem area, only 3 per cent of the wall follows the pre-1967 border. The wall divides the Palestinians in Jerusalem into two groups: three-quarters have found themselves on the Israeli side; a quarter are on the West Bank side, and are now forced to wait in long lines at checkpoints to get to schools and other services. Some smaller Palestinian villages are completely encircled by the wall.

Because areas on the West Bank side of the barrier are still within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority is forbidden to enter them. But the Israeli police, in common with the providers of other basic municipal services, largely refuse to go to these places. Despite this, residents are still obliged to pay municipal taxes, in order to qualify for healthcare and benefits. These neighbourhoods have become a no man’s land where criminals can escape from both Israel and the PA.

In Palestinian areas on the Israeli side of the wall, too, crime has become pervasive. Israeli security forces tend to enter these areas only when there’s a security threat to Israeli Jews. The Israeli security presence in East Jerusalem is made up mostly of paramilitary units, which are there essentially to quash dissent and prevent attacks on settlers rather than to protect Palestinians. Non-co-operation with Israeli forces, because of rejection of their authority or out of fear of being seen as collaborating, has allowed gangs to proliferate. They are involved in robberies, drug smuggling, gun-running and extortion, which affects large numbers of Palestinian businesses. Rising crime and insecurity have helped make East Jerusalem a ghost town at night.

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