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For Jerusalem's Palestinians, a city of poverty and division

More than one quarter of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents live behind the concrete separation barrier; Israel has revoked the residency of over 14,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites since ‘reunifying’ the city in 1967, including 107 last year alone.

A man walks toward the checkpoint at the entrance of Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem, December 27, 2011 (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian man walks toward the checkpoint at the entrance of Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem, December 27, 2011. The camp is inside Jerusalem’s municipal borders and its residents are considered residents of the city. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Three-quarters of East Jerusalem’s 300,200 Palestinian residents live below the poverty line, including 83.9 percent of children, according to a new report published by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).The state of affairs is attributed, in large part, to a lack of investment by the state as well as the fact that more than 25 percent of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents live on the other side of the separation barrier.

The report was released in the run-up to Jerusalem Day, an annual celebration of what Jewish Israelis view as the reunification of Jerusalem, which occurred when the Old City was captured by Israeli forces on June 7, 1967. This reunification — or annexation — was illegal under international law, and Israel’s sovereignty over East Jerusalem is not recognized by a single member of the international community. Nonetheless, Israel refers to Jerusalem as its “undivided capital.”

The capital, however, is very much divided — not only along ethnic and (consequently) socioeconomic lines, but also physically divided by the separation barrier.

Since 1967, approximately 26,300 dunams of land have been expropriated by Israel in order to build government offices and Jewish residential neighborhoods, according to ACRI. Israel has revoked the permanent resident status of — effectively exiling — 14,416 East Jerusalem Palestinians since 1967. Last year, Israeli authorities revoked the residency of 107 Palestinians, including 12 minors. Between 2011-14, authorities demolished 302 structures in East Jerusalem, 98 in 2014 alone. As a result, 208 residents were displaced from their homes. The rate of such incidents has increased since the return of punitive home demolitions last year.

The separation wall surrounds a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem, May 15, 2015. (Activestills.org)

The separation wall surrounds a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem, May 15, 2015. (Activestills.org)

The neighborhoods on the other side of the wall — Ras Khamis, Ras Shehada, Dahiyat A-Salam and Shuafat refugee camp — are worst-hit by the uneven provision of municipal services and basic utilities. A water crisis hit all four neighborhoods for much of last year, and residents of Shuafat Refugee Camp suffer from an almost total lack of services from the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Police.

Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole has termed the measures employed against Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents as “cold violence … slow violence.” The continual encroachment, dispossession and outright expulsion of East Jerusalem Palestinians — at the hands of both state actors and settler groups — give weight to the impression that the Nakba is an ongoing process; the situation in East Jerusalem, then, is in part a cold and slow catastrophe.

Infographic: East Jerusalem by the numbers

Of course there is also “hot” violence to match the structural violence imposed the legal system. Israeli police arrested over 1,180 Palestinians, including more than 400 minors in the second half of 2014 during protests and clashes, according to the report. Only 338 of them have been indicted. The introduction and use of of black “sponge-tipped” bullets (which are actually made out of a heavy, synthetic rubber compound) by Israeli police has led to the death of one Palestinian teenager and at least five Palestinian children have lost sight in one eye from these. The projectiles have also fractured arms, jaws and ruptured one person’s spleen. Police have targeted journalists with the weapons, including an Activestills photographer.

The civil rights group notes that authorities have used collective punishment over the past year, including road closures, the use of putrid “skunk” water cannons in residential neighborhoods and against schools, and the harassment of Palestinian residents on “blacklists” with increased enforcement for minor municipal code and tax violations.

There is at least one piece of good news — plans to construct what will be one of the first official residential projects for Palestinian residents, the Arab a-Sawahra neighborhood. Local and regional planning and building committees approved plans for development a 1,500-dunam (370-acre) area for the neighborhood — the largest such plan approved in East Jerusalem.

As Israeli Jews celebrate the “liberation” of Jerusalem, it is worth remembering how exclusionary that definition is. The annexation of East Jerusalem has engendered inequality and repression — a situation that is only deteriorating. This is on public display in Jerusalem Day festivities, which consistently descend into racist violence, above all during the “March of the Flags.”

This parade, which winds through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, forces Palestinians to shutter their shops and hide in their homes. A petition filed by two Jerusalem NGOs to change the route of the march was unsuccessful, although the High Court emphasized in its decision that the police must act against expressions of racism.

The history of Jerusalem is, in many ways, a microcosm of the history of Israel-Palestine, and the fate of the city will likely determine that of the land and its peoples. With Israelis increasingly examining their history, and as the flags fly past those shuttered Palestinian homes in the Old City on Sunday, we must reflect on which side of history we currently stand.

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    1. Pedro X

      The Palestinians and their supporters like Roth are so pathetic. They whine, whimper and cry about Palestinian under-development and poverty in the eastern part of Jerusalem. Yet they fail to look at the historical and modern context for their largely self created problems. They fail to observe that their are consequences to ignoring the creation of a modern economy, to terrorism and to massive illegal building without the slightest thought to planning and needs of existing or future infrastructure to support their massive illegal building.

      When you discuss Palestinian poverty, one cannot ignore the divergence between the dynamic Jewish economy and the economically retarded Palestinian economy.
      The Palestinians chose their economies and they reap the benefits and suffer the consequences of such choices.

      Historically, pre 1948 Israel was built on a modern industrial base while the Palestinian economy was a hand to mouth existence. The 1947 UNSCOP report to the UN spelled this out clearly:

      “The occupational structure of the Jewish population is similar to that of some homogeneous industrialized communities, while that of the Arabs corresponds more nearly to a subsistence type of agricultural society.”

      The report noted that 90% of all workers employed in industry before the 1948 war were Jewish. The Palestinian Arab economy depended mainly on subsistence farming, though there was a small upper and middle class of merchants and Citrus growers who were very successful.

      Then the Palestinian Arabs initiated the ill advised 1947-48 war which delivered a hammer blow to Palestinian society. Its fragile economy was shattered. It lost most of its agricultural base in post 1948 Israel not to mention it lost Jaffa and Haifa as most Arabs fled instead of fighting. The Arab merchant class and middle class abandoned their towns and villages in Israel setting the example of flight of the workers of these places.

      Jewish agriculture also greatly suffered, most of its fields and citrus crops were destroyed by invading Arab armies or by battles conducted on Israeli soil. However, because Israel’s economy was based on industrial productivity, Israel came out of the war in better shape. Israel also recovered in the agricultural sector and increased the acres under its cultivation by taking over the abandoned fields of Arabs who fled or who were expelled.

      The result of the war was that Jerusalem was divided into two parts, an Israeli West Jerusalem and an eastern Jordanian Jerusalem. Israel made Jerusalem its capital and embarked on infrastructure improvements. It created buildings and government departments which were situated in Jerusalem. It created jobs and incomes for people. Jordan did the opposite it transferred away government departments to Amman Jordan and invested little in Jerusalem. Barbed wire and a hostile Jordanian army divided the two sides. The economy of Western Jerusalem grew, while the economy of the eastern portion of Jerusalem was suppressed by Jordan.

      The Israeli side developed an economy for its citizens while the Jordanian and Palestinians developed slums. Thus under Palestinian rule the population of Arab Jerusalem grew very little and was poor. Many Christians fled the Muslim city, making it poorer.

      Since 1967 the Palestinian population in Jerusalem has mushroomed by 500%. Israel invested in infrastructure, water, electricity, schools, universities and hospitals which allowed the Arab population to expand. The Arab population had free access to the Israeli labour market and 40% of all Arab employment was found in Israel. Palestinians increased their per capita income by 2000% by 1993 under Israeli administration. They also developed an economy that was distributed among Palestinians which allowed Palestinians to provide meaningful employment to themselves and a level of self sufficiency.

      Then the PA took control of the Palestinian economy in 1994 which resulted in a destruction of many local economies as Arafat’s corruption and cronyism doled out control of many segments of the Palestinian economy to Fatah stalwarts, families and friends. A small circle of Palestinians got very rich while many Palestinians saw their incomes stagnate and decline. Many Palestinians depended on incomes doled out by Arafat in cash to his henchmen. Members of the PA extorted money out of existing businesses and killed those who would not pay. The self sufficiency of the Palestinian economy disappeared and became dependent on PA and welfare support from Europe and the USA.

      The Oslo Accords brought an Arab government which did little to develop a modern state for the Palestinians. The Palestinians failed to build out the infrastructure of a modern state which had been started by Israel. It turned down an Israeli proposal to make Palestinians water sufficient by building a large water desalination plant for them. It failed to provide the environment necessary to attract investment for the expansion of private enterprise. Business deals were subject to extortion and kickbacks to Palestinian ministers and their cronies. This was not an environment for producing a healthy Palestinian economy. It was anarchy and tyranny.

      Worse, the Palestinian Authority and other factions such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad began a war of terrorism against Israelis and Jerusalem was often the battle ground. There was no limit or restriction on the terrorism exercised by the Palestinians against the civilian population of Israel. Palestinians smashed and hacked Israelis to death, blew up Israeli children on buses and exploded themselves among mothers and babies outside a synagogue. Israelis had to come to grips with peeling off pieces of flesh off pavement, scraps of metal and buildings to bury. It had to restrict Palestinians from committing such heinous acts of terror which in turn hit the Palestinian economy.

      Israel suffered thousands of attacks against its citizens before taking military action to tackle Palestinian terrorism. The neighborhoods of Ras Khamis, Shuafat Refugee Camp, Ras Shehadeh and Dahiyat As-Salam were cut off from the city of Jerusalem by the security barrier to protect Jews in Jerusalem. Palestinians had used these areas to target Israelis during the second intifada. Since then these areas have become unsafe for municipal employees to go. Palestinians attack ambulances, firetrucks and maintenance crews. Poverty has been a direct result for many of these residents.

      The 40% of the Arabs employed in the Israel labour market lost their employment in the second intifada again causing poverty in Palestinian society. Once Palestinian areas were cut off from Jerusalem and its services, Palestinian gangs took over and the Palestinians suffer attacks from their own. Palestinians by their own violent actions have caused these places to be virtual no go zones.

      Another consequence of Arafat’s and PA’s rule was to encourage and fund illegal building in Jerusalem. It is estimated that the Palestinians built 25,000 to 30,000 illegal structures without planning approval or building permits. This means whole neighborhoods were built without normal planning having been done. The Palestinians built without concern as to the ability of water and sewer resources to handle the building, without building schools or other municipal buildings and services which plans for neighborhoods would have provided. Such gross illegal building also meant that dedication taxes and local improvement rates where never paid to the municipality for the municipality to invest in infrastructure. Many of these illegal home owners never pay taxes. In essence the Palestinians put themselves outside of planned neighborhoods and services which go with them. Palestinians have greatly caused their own problems by ignoring the law and the reasons for planning and zoning in the building of neighborhoods.

      Moreover, Palestinian Arabs do not participate in the government of Jerusalem. Few run for office and few vote. On a practical basis this means committees made up of elected representatives meet and determine municipal policies and long term goals without Palestinian representation. The Palestinians choose to ignore the legal process and instead depend on illegal demonstrations and rioting. Municipal planning is a long process and the end of the process after decisions have been made after taking a decade or more is not the time to come forward and ask the authorities to change their minds.

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