OPINION: In Jerusalem, most Jews and Arabs simply crave normality

OPINION: In Jerusalem, most Jews and Arabs simply crave normality

Palestinians next to the West Bank security barrier that separates them from Israel
Palestinians next to the West Bank security barrier that separates them from Israel

by Mordechai Beck, Jerusalem-based writer

Mordechai Beck
Mordechai Beck

If you visit Jerusalem today, you’ll probably avoid the eastern part of the city and for good reason; it is from there that the stabbings and murders started in recent months. At least 20 Israelis and more than 100 Palestinians have been killed.

The immediate reaction to these events was that there was another intifada in the offing. But it became clear the authorities were not dealing with an uprising organised by one of the known Palestinian groups but by teenagers and young women throwing stones and wielding knives without the backing of any apparent organisation.

“The eruptions were spontaneous,” says local expert Daniel Seidemann, “and they began when these young people realised that the future held nothing for them. They were neither part of the West Bank nor fully integrated into Jerusalem. Hence they struck out in frustration.”

The city now boasts some 830,000 residents, of whom 302,000 are Arabs. Despite constituting 37 percent of the population, they receive only between 10 and 15 percent of the municipal budget. Some 75 percent – of which of which 83.9 percent are children – live below the poverty line. Some 80,000 of the Arab population have been placed behind the Separation Wall, cutting them off from their livelihood, from their extended families and the social services which the municipality offer them, on the other side the wall. They lack parks, community centres, after- school activities, welfare clinics and sewage pipes. Parts of the area are used as waste dumps.

Between 2009 and 2014 the municipality did build 194 classrooms and plan another 211, leaving a shortfall of a thousand classrooms. In the 11th and 12th grades, there is a high dropout rate. The present troubles tell us what these drop-outs are doing with their free time.

Some 20,000 houses in East Jerusalem lack permits and are subject to demolition. Permits are given only when a master plan, or an outline plan, is in effect and, so far, no such plan exists for East Jerusalem. The question arises as to why, given these horrendous statistics, the Arabs have not protested until now?

One reason is, paradoxically, the economic integration of the Arab population in West Jerusalem. More than 35,000 East Jerusalemites work in the western part of the city), including as doctors, nurses and pharmacists in its hospitals.

Private and government support for archaeological excavations abound here, mainly to demonstrate the Jewish historical connection to the area. The biggest private donor for the digs is Elad, whose aim is to restore the original 

Davidic foundation of the city. Apart from sponsoring archaeology, Elad and others also buy out Arab-owned properties, expropriate properties, requisition properties of absentee owners, and make claims that a particular site was legitimately owned by Jews. The results – according to Seidemann – have been unimpressive. “One thousand Jews are now living in the Muslim Quarter, the same number that moved in a quarter of a century ago, whereas the Muslim residents have increased from 20,000 to 28,000.”

The Temple Mount is of course a major cause of conflict. Although nominally in the hands of Jordan, it is run by the Muslim Waqf, who claim the Jews were never present there. They built a huge mosque underground and dumped valuable archaeological remnants outside. Partly in response, Jews have started demanding the right to pray on the mountain top, the site of the two Temples. While not denying the fact that Muslims have prayed on the mountain for 1,300 years, the Jewish claim goes back 3,000 years.

In the recent film One Rock Three Religions, about the Temple Mount, an Arab doctor talks about his young son: “He’s not interested in the Temple Mount; he and his friends want a swimming pool and parks they can play in.” If the politicians and religious leaders could see this, and if they could understand that the problems are much more down-to-earth, then perhaps some sort of accommodation could be made.

These observations are borne out by Tamir Nir of the Jerusalem Party, deputy mayor in charge of conservation and roads. “While this is all true,” he says, “the citizens of East Jerusalem must take some responsibility. If we could work together – government, municipality and locals – decisions could be made that will effect their future for the good.” Achieving the Palestinians’ trust is key, but how to achieve this with the present government remains problematic.

read more: