In Jerusalem, East Is Nobody’s

JABEL MUKABBER, Occupied East Jerusalem — The Palestinian Prime Minister ventured into Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem bypassing Israeli security authorities who tried to stop him. The city’s Israeli mayor, who also wanted to venture into the eastern of part of "his" city, was unable to because of objections from those same Israeli authorities.

For four decades and more, the Palestinians of occupied East Jerusalem have lived under Israeli annexation in a state of limbo, trapped between eternal and future sovereignty, squeezed between Israeli claims that "United Jerusalem" will forever be their capital, and counter Palestinian claims that East Jerusalem must be the capital of their future state. 

By Israeli law, the 250,000 Palestinians living here are entitled to all equivalent services enjoyed by Israeli Jerusalemites. That, however, has been mostly honored in the breach by Israel. 

Structural neglect and decay are the over-arching features of the Israeli occupation — unpaved roads, no sidewalks, poor or no street lightning, mounds of uncollected garbage, over-flooding sewage in winter, crowded schools and, above all, almost no new Israeli-granted building permits. 

With the recently launched Palestinian-Israeli peace talks receding into a state of limbo, this limbo situation of East Jerusalem Palestinians has only intensified. 

In recent years a significant feature of the Occupation has made life in East Jerusalem even more onerous — Israel’s construction of its eight-meter high separation barrier. The wall cuts right through the heart of the area defined by Israel as East Jerusalem, which it annexed right after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. 

As a result, tens of thousands of Palestinians now live beyond the separation wall, yet still within those Israeli-defined municipal boundaries. So, ironically, the wall has recently helped Palestinians to begin getting out of the morass. 

Until now, the official Palestinian position has been that as the occupying power, Israel has the duty to provide all services. Now the two vying powers, Palestine and Israel, are engaged in a new bid to win over the hearts and minds of the Palestinians of East Jerusalem. 

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has taken the initiative. Last week, he visited a high school in the Al-Barid neighborhood in north-east Jerusalem to mark the completion of the renovation of 15 schools all over East Jerusalem, projects undertaken by his Palestinian Authority. 

Planting an olive tree at the gates of the school in Al-Barid, Fayyad called Jerusalem "the heart of the future Palestinian state and its eternal capital." 

He refrained, however, from visiting another neighborhood, Dahyiat Al- Salam, a run-down area closer to the center of the city after Israel’s Public Security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, issued an injunction banning "any PA activity inside Israeli territory." 

Notably, however, that has not prevented Fayyad’s administration from allocating 350,000 dollars to pave roads and upgrade infrastructure in Dahyiat Al-Salam. "Residents here pay millions every year in taxes to the Jerusalem municipality," said Nasser Jubran, neighborhood committee chairman and a civil society activist as he waited in vain to receive the prime minister. "Surely we’re entitled to a minimal level of services." 

Flouting the Israeli ban in Al-Barid (where Israeli security forces are wary of entering), Fayyad gave his commitment to "continue assistance to Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, especially for educational infrastructure. The PA would also, "wherever possible", help build new schools and provide other services to improve the lives of the people of East Jerusalem. 

That is precisely what communal leaders of other Palestinian neighborhoods say they are doing themselves for themselves. 

Naim Aweisat is one such community leader: "We welcome any way the PA wants to help us. But we can’t go on forever hanging our hopes on a political agreement, waiting for the occupation simply to fade away. It’s got nothing to do with living under occupation or not," he told IPS. 

By dint of their status as "residents", East Jerusalem Palestinians (including those who live beyond the wall/barrier) are entitled the same healthcare enjoyed by all Israelis. The problem, notes Aweisat, "is that there are virtually no clinics in East Jerusalem." 

That prompted him to open a state-of-the-art clinic. The new three-story building is serviced by top doctors, Palestinian and Arab Israeli and, from the current 3,500 patients served Aweisat has plans to serve double that number, from all over East Jerusalem. 

The clinic lies on the seam between his neighborhood, Jabel Mukabber, with a population of 25,000, and neighboring Silwan, home to 50,000. 

Silwan is a perennial flashpoint as Palestinians try unsuccessfully to thwart the settlement of hundreds of new Jewish families in the heart of their neighborhood When last month a delegation of Israeli rightwing legislators went to show their support for the settlers, irate young Palestinians stoned their armored convoy.

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler

Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler write for Inter Press Service.