Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Ghettos of Jerusalem

Fred Schlomka
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that "Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, a city reunified so as never again to be divided". Nothing could be further from the truth. Jerusalem today is a city dissected by walls and fences, divided by race, religion and ethnicity, and traumatized by home demolitions, ethnic cleansing, and brutal government policies.

The boundaries of modern Jerusalem include 38 square kilometers inside Israel proper, plus 70 square kilometers of the West Bank territory conquered in 1967, reaching north towards Ramallah, south to Bethlehem and half way to the Dead Sea to the east, encompassing a total of 108 square kilometers. Over one third of the annexed territory was expropriated for building settlements and other infrastructure for the exclusive benefit of the Jewish population. Meanwhile the 28 West Bank villages caught in the 1967 municipal expansion have been repeatedly squeezed by the city’s planning strategy and are now being strangled by the new developments of recent years.

During the past 42 years, while Jewish settlements were rapidly being built, East Jerusalem Palestinians found it all but impossible to obtain building permits. However many of them went ahead and built homes on their own land. Over 2,000 of these ‘illegal’ houses have been demolished since 1967, and over 10,000 demolition orders are currently outstanding in the city. While Arab houses are routinely destroyed, the government meticulously plans and builds modern communities for Jews.

The curious thing is that while claiming a united city, the Israeli government built the 25-foot high concrete separation barrier that completely cuts off parts of the east of the city by slicing through the middle of many neighborhoods.  The government is also building segregated roads for Israelis and Palestinians within the Jerusalem envelope.  This has resulted in system of municipal cantons whose residents have different rights, depending on whether they were already living in East Jerusalem in 1967, refugees, Israelis, or recent Jewish immigrants. There are five categories of residents in Jerusalem.
    •    Jewish Israeli citizens
    •    Arab Israeli citizens
    •    Palestinian residents who live in neighborhoods annexed by Jerusalem after 1967.
    •     Palestinians registered as West Bank residents
    •    Palestinian refugees who were either expelled from Israel in 1948, or from the Old City in 1967.
The classification system results in a Machiavellian method of population control that violates human rights conventions and common decency. Jewish Israelis have full civil rights and access to all the major roads in and out of Jerusalem. They live in often-luxurious settlement neighborhoods and receive government support in purchasing or otherwise obtaining property in Palestinian neighborhoods to further the policy of Judaising as much of Jerusalem as possible. This is reflected in the string of Jewish settlement homes stretching through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and Palestinian neighborhoods such as Silwan and Sheikh Jarrach. Even as I write this article I received an urgent SMS message from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions that yet another home in Sheikh Jarrach has been taken over by settlers with high court approval. The settler organizations behind these efforts, such as Ateret Cohanim and El Ad, have an explicit religious/nationalist strategy that informs all their activities and aim to undermine the possibility of a Palestinian State with its capital in East Jerusalem.

In addition to the settler activity that drives Israeli wedges deep into Palestinian neighborhoods, the government has planned and built huge settlements that have become an integral, and in many cases, a contiguous part of the city. Ma’ale Adumim to the East of Jerusalem now has over 35,000 residents, and Pisgat Ze’ev in the Northeast over 65,000. The rapidly growing settlement of Gvat Ze’ev in North Jerusalem is now over 10 kilometers from the city center forming a contiguous urban strip deep into the West Bank. Over 240,000 Jewish Israelis live in the Palestinian territories annexed to Jerusalem. As these settlements have extended the geographic boundaries of the city, they have encircled Palestinian areas, cutting them off from each other, and thwarting their expansion. In recent years the government has also surrounded many of these neighourhoods with walls and fences.

For example the adjacent communities of Bir Naballa, Al Juderia, and Al Jib are cut off to the east by an Israeli-only road, route 443, to which the residents have no access, and to the West by the Gvat Ze’ev settlement. The area is also entirely surrounded by a wall, imprisoning over 10,000 people within. The residents can access the West Bank by only two roads, one of which goes through a tunnel under route 443 and the Wall, leading eventually to Ramallah. A second 400-meter tunnel actually goes under a built up area of Gvat Ze’ev, eventually reaching the West Bank village of Biddu which itself is cut off from the rest of the West Bank by route 443.

Another Jerusalem canton is Anata to the east of the City with a population of about 65,000. Once a separate village, about two-thirds of Anata is within the annexed portion of Jerusalem, as is the adjacent Shuafat Refugee camp. The eastern part of the village was assigned to the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Agreements. However the Wall now surrounds the entire village and the camp, with a single checkpoint leading to Jerusalem. Only Palestinians Jerusalem ID cards, residents of the annexed portion of the village, are permitted to enter. Along the eastern side of the village a new Arab-only road has been built, leading to the Southern West Bank and north to Ramallah. This will eventually allow the villagers the ‘privilege’ of travelling to these areas without going through checkpoints. None will be needed since the road has no exits and is lined with walls and barbed wire.
In addition, the separation wall dissects the Jerusalem communities of Kufr Akab, Adu Dis, and Ar Ram, destroying their community life. The residents are required to wait at checkpoints in order to enter Jerusalem, despite their legal residence in the city that confers the right under Israeli law to live and work in the municipality, albeit without the rights of citizenship.

The complexity of the Israel’s management of Jerusalem, and the various layers of rights and lack of rights of the city’s residents, has enabled the Israeli government to incrementally extend the sovereignty of the state over the past 42 years while denying citizenship to non-Jewish residents. This has been done in full view of the world, with the acquiescence of successive White House administrations. The USA came to the forefront of the fight against Apartheid, why not against the Israeli version of separation, known as ‘Hafrada’ in Hebrew. Both ‘Hafrada’ and ‘Apartheid’ mean separation.

Hafrada, a term used by government officials, is embodied in the walled ghettos, segregated roads, and multi-layered civil rights of Jerusalem’s residents. The system is as reprehensible as the former system in South Africa. Israel has twisted the Jewish yearning for a homeland into a mockery of decent government and democratic ideals. Jerusalem, as the heart and soul of both Palestinian and Israeli aspirations needs to become an open city, shared by both peoples, within the context of a just and lasting peace.

Fred Schlomka is an Israeli social entrepreneur and the owner of www.toursinenglish.com

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