by Nazmi Ju’beh
In the many heated discussions about East Jerusalem’s political future within the framework of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the focus is invariably the city’s holiness, its symbolic character, its importance to Palestinians and Israelis and to the international community. Therefore, most of the policies are oriented towards objects, buildings, walls, history, sanctity, etc. The people inhabiting the city, however, are usually forgotten or marginalized. They have no say in determining their future and status; they are mostly invisible.
When Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, the residents of the city, as well as those of the rest of the West Bank, were Jordanian citizens holding Jordanian passports. Israel imposed Israeli law on the city and unilaterally annexed the territory of East Jerusalem, but without extending Israeli citizenship to its inhabitants. Palestinian Jerusalemites were issued Israeli identity cards1. These enable them to have civil — not political — rights and duties, and are given only to those who can prove their residency within the municipal borders of the city, as defined by Israel.2
Since 1967 and to date, some 6,600 Jerusalemites have lost their residency rights for a variety of reasons, such as traveling abroad for more than three years, having their center of life outside the municipal borders or marrying non-resident spouses. These statistics do not include the dependent children of those who have lost their identity cards. Israeli law treats East Jerusalem Palestinians as though it is they who entered Israel in 19673 and not Israel that occupied East Jerusalem that same year.
In spite of the fact that most Palestinians fulfill their duties by paying taxes, the majority do not participate in the most important element of the decision-making process — municipal elections. This form of resistance or non-participation, attributable to political and nationalistic reasons,4 is very important for the understanding of Israeli demographic policies in East Jerusalem since 1967, and the effects these policies have on the living standards in the city and the deterioration in the quality of life there.
Immediately after it occupied East Jerusalem, the Israeli government conducted a census and registered 66,000 Palestinians within the expanded borders of the city. The census excluded all “absentees” who were, for one reason or another (work, study, vacation or escaping the war), outside Jerusalem. According to Israeli estimates, the percentage of Palestinians in the city was 25.8%. Officially, Israel has been seeking through several means (see below) to keep the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem below 30% (some say 27%) of the total population of "united Jerusalem."5 This policy failed when the Palestinians managed to exceed this percentage in 1999 (31.1%) and again in 2002 (not less than 33%) according to Israeli statistics. Palestinian statistics reflect even higher percentages.6 Despite Israel’s demographic policy in Jerusalem, the demographic trend is clearly in favor of the Palestinian population. This has become obvious since 1996 when the growth rate rose from 2.9% to 4% in 1999, while Israeli growth declined from 1.2% in 1996 and to 1.1% in 1999.
The Israeli policy of "demographic monopoly" was carried out through the transfer of some of the Jewish population from West Jerusalem, along with new immigrants from abroad and other parts of Israel, to the newly built Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. It is not clear whether the Jewish population in East Jerusalem has exceeded the 50% mark or not at this point, as the published figures lack accuracy and are influenced by politics on both sides. At the same time, we must recognize that, while East Jerusalem was very attractive to the Jewish population for several reasons, it gradually lost its attraction for the Palestinians due to a number of push factors.
The Birth of a Civil Society
With the collapse of the Jordanian administration in East Jerusalem in the wake of the Arab defeat in the 1967 war, the Palestinians in the city began to organize themselves in order to protect their interests (and those of the West Bank and Gaza) on the political, socioeconomic, administrative and service levels through the formation of civil society institutions. The Israeli civil law imposed on the city was very helpful in this respect; whereas it was impossible to establish an institutionalized Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as they were subjected to Israeli military rule, which prevented the development of civil society.
One of the earliest institutions established in Jerusalem soon after 1967 was the Islamic Higher Council, which saw itself as a representative of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and a guardian of the Islamic holy places in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Others began to restore the educational system and establish schools independent of those administered by the Israeli municipality. Similar organizations were set up in the health, social and youth sectors. Unions for professionals and workers were established, as well as charitable societies and media organizations. The result was that Jerusalem began to lead the occupied territories politically and became the administrative, cultural and services center of Palestine.
Like so many Palestinian organs, Orient House rose gradually to prominence. It began as a research center, the Arab Study Society, established towards the end of the 1970s by the late Faisal al-Husseini to front for his political activities as a Fateh representative and PLO member. While the society continued to work on documentation and research on Jerusalem and the Arab-Israeli conflict, it also evolved into a major political voice for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem and, on certain issues, for all Palestinians in the occupied territories. Al-Husseini, capitalizing in part on the reputation of his illustrious family history,8 managed to gain high credibility among the population. The late 1980s saw him rise from a local Palestinian leader to an international figure through his preparation for the peace process negotiations at the Madrid Conference for Peace in the Middle East. In fact, it is very difficult to imagine the breakthrough in the peace process (1990-1991) without taking into account the role Orient House played on every level — among Palestinians in the occupied territories and in the Diaspora (especially the Palestinian leadership in Tunisia), as well as on the Israeli and U.S. fronts.
The rise of Orient House is to be seen as the result of a long institution-building process of civil society, as well as filling the vacuum created by the Israeli decision to dissolve the Arab municipality and other Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem. Thus, Orient House became a political and institutional umbrella for the Palestinians in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories. It was also ample demonstration of the failed Israeli control in East Jerusalem.
A State within a State
The Palestinians in East Jerusalem have managed to develop a sociopolitical network with which to counter Israel’s negligence to address their daily needs and, at the same time, to resist the annexationist policies that sought to dilute their national rights. This ran the gamut from political forums and conflict resolution mechanisms, to a sort of shadow municipality, to social services and institutional networking. All of these efforts led to some form of independence of East Jerusalem from Israel. The process turned the "united capital" into two separate cities, living together but divided. As Michael Roman notes, "In Jerusalem, a Jewish or Arab identity [has become] attributed not only to individuals and neighborhoods but to practically every public institution and economic entity. Indeed, this refers not only to national, religious or other culturally related institutions, such as schools and theaters, but also to each hospital, hotel, or taxi cab."9
To a certain extent, Palestinian Jerusalem was until the late 1980s the major urban center of the West Bank. It was home to the major social institutions, the most specialized hospitals, the most developed markets, and to renowned educational and research centers. In addition to being the spiritual heart for both Muslim and Christian communities in Palestine, it is the center of the leading religious institutions.10
The Peace Process
With the launch of the Madrid Conference in 1991, Israel embarked on steps for the implementation of its own vision of peace, disregarding the negotiating process. The first was the establishment of a permanent checkpoint between the Gaza Strip and Israel. This was followed in 1993 by isolating Jerusalem from the West Bank and requiring all Palestinians to obtain permits to enter Jerusalem. Since then East Jerusalem has been isolated from its kindred territories, leading to a steady deterioration of the situation in the holy city.
The Gradual Collapse of East Jerusalem
Clearly, East Jerusalem has paid a hefty price for the peace process. From the outset, the closure was imposed on it, divesting it of its position as an Arab metropolis, isolating it from its hinterland, driving it to increased dependency on Israeli markets and institutions, and intensifying the pressure on its population. Indeed, the situation in Jerusalem is so explosive that it is liable to erupt any day. The main contributing factors are the sealing of the city, the acceleration of Jewish settlement activity and expansion, the deportation of its inhabitants, the closure of Palestinian institutions in the city, the redefined city boundaries, the decline of the rule of law, and 40 years of Israeli demographic policy.
The features of Israel’s scheme for Jerusalem and its environs are only now beginning to surface in the wake of a series of successive plans that are blatantly interconnected. The Israeli government and the Jerusalem Municipality have exploited the world’s preoccupation with 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has tied together all of its earlier moves. We can identify the following actions and plans, which will impact not only the political solution of the Jerusalem issue, but also the socioeconomic development of East Jerusalem, leading to its isolation from the West Bank and to the fragmentation of most of its neighborhoods. These can be summarized in the outer ring settlements, the inner ring road, the ring road, and the separation wall.
Israel’s practices, its settlement policy and the closure are not the only factors accountable for the collapse of the Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority (PA) and the international community are also to blame. The PA, bound by the agreements with Israel, invested only indirectly and irregularly in Jerusalem. Before the PA in 1995, several Arab funds were channeled to supporting and maintaining the continuity of most of the Palestinian social, educational, health and political institutions in East Jerusalem. These funds, in addition to the Israeli investments, had raised East Jerusalem’s living standards to a level surpassing those of the rest of the occupied territories. After the establishment of the PA, the priorities shifted and the financial support was channeled mainly to the establishment of PA institutions and the improvement of its infrastructure. It would be very difficult to argue that the PA invested in Jerusalem to the same degree as it did in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Furthermore, the rise of Ramallah as a de facto PA “capital” has attracted institutions and skilled labor away from East Jerusalem. Businesses followed, drawn by Ramallah’s growth as a market promising rapid development, offering attractive investment laws and an escape from the high Israeli taxes in Jerusalem. The closure of Jerusalem since 1993 has slowly led to a tangible development in the satellite neighborhoods outside the municipal borders, such as Ezariyya, Abu Dis, A-Ram and Bir Nabala.
The deterioration process reached its peak with the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada and the collapse of the tourism sector, which was a major source of income for East Jerusalem. The untimely death of Faisal al-Husseini was a further setback for the city. Since his death, the city has been grappling with a leadership problem. None of the plethora of aspiring leaders has been able to fill his shoes and to gain the trust of the people, or to assure the continuity of his services to the city.
Israel took advantage of this situation and issued orders for the closure of several institutions, among them Orient House, the Chamber of Commerce, the Small Projects Office, the Department of Land and Mapping, the Old City Rehabilitation Committee and other vital institutions that served the citizens of Jerusalem. The closure of Orient House and the collapse of other related and unrelated institutions led to the dismantling of the invisible Palestinian security forces that worked under the umbrella of Orient House (tolerated by the Israeli security establishment, and sometimes in cooperation with it). These forces had given the Jerusalemites a sense of security and provided a mechanism for conflict resolution. Indeed, most of the internal conflicts among Palestinians in Jerusalem had been solved through the good offices of these forces.
With the eruption of the al-Aqsa intifada, the Israelis focused their attention on security issues, leaving public order in East Jerusalem virtually in the hands of nobody. The Israeli police in Jerusalem and the municipality admit that crime is on the rise. They claim that the lack of investment on all levels is at the root of such negative developments. As usual, it is the lack of money and resources that get blamed for the situation, and not the asymmetrical investment, the negligence and the socioeconomic push factors to which East Jerusalemites are subjected.
More Refugee Camps
The factors discussed above have led to a rise in poverty in East Jerusalem. We do not have clear and reliable statistics about East Jerusalem; I am, therefore, forced to rely on empirical observation. The closure of Jerusalem, the settlement activity, the intifada, the separation wall, the land confiscation, the lack of allocated land for housing, the lack of public investment — all of these factors have affected the city in a very dramatic way. In spite of all that, many Palestinians have left their dwellings in the satellite neighborhoods (mainly located in the West Bank), looking for housing in East Jerusalem.
The building restrictions and absence of zoning and master planning in East Jerusalem has caused a housing crisis, forcing people to live in conditions much worse than what they have been used to. The acute housing shortage has led to the construction of many unplanned and “unlicensed” buildings. This is more frequent in disadvantaged neighborhoods, where more apartments have been added to already poorly built houses (Silwan and A-Thuri). These neighborhoods are in the process of becoming slums.
The most interesting example is the Shu’fat Refugee Camp. The number of officially registered refugees, according to UNRWA, does not exceed 6,000, but the actual number of those now living in the camp (according to social workers, youth clubs and stakeholders in the camp) exceeds 17,000. If this is accurate, it means that around 11,000 inhabitants have become de facto refugees, living in miserable social conditions.11 The same phenomenon is unfolding in three additional communities: A-Thuri, Silwan, Wadi Qaddum — and, less obviously, in Wadi al-Joz.
The Old City
The Old City of Jerusalem is becoming the focal point in recent attempts at finding solutions. The developments in the Old City in recent years are the consequence of an accumulation of misguided policies by British, Jordanian and Israeli governments. Today the majority of the Old City’s population, mainly Muslims, is poor. This involves all poverty-related problems: unemployment, drugs, family violence, sexual abuse and petty crime.
The Old City is densely populated: almost half of the 0.871 square kilometers that make up the Old City provides residence for its estimated 36,000 inhabitants, while the other half consists of religious places — the Haram al-Sharif being the largest — and public buildings, such as schools, hospices and market places. This situation is reflected in the Old City’s small-sized residential units. Statistics show, for example, that around 60% of the units in the Muslim Quarter average 40 square meters, while 25% are less than 20 square meters. Coupled with an average family size of 6.3 persons, this conveys the gravity of the living standards. This high population density is an indicator of the high poverty rate in the Old City as a whole and the Muslim Quarter in particular.
Living standards as well as density, the physical condition of buildings, public services, and social characteristics differ from one quarter to the other. The Muslim Quarter has the highest population density and lowest public services, while the Armenian Quarter has the lowest density (close to the Jewish), and the Jewish Quarter enjoys the highest level of public services and facilities.
The Old City also suffers from the on-going political conflict that adversely affects the livelihood of its inhabitants. In recent years, it has seen a rising emigration rate among both social and economic elites, thus leaving behind less fortunate families. Equally seriously, the situation is leading to the destruction of the cultural heritage of the city, which also has enormous international value.
The question that every politician should ponder is not only the form of political solution for Jerusalem. The real question is: Can the city that lives under the above-mentioned conditions — regardless of whether it remains open, or whether it will be divided and how — really provide good neighborliness or be conducive to any kind of coexistence?
1 The land of Jerusalem was annexed, but not the people who are living on it.
2 The border of the city has undergone several stages aimed at controlling as much space as possible with the least possible Palestinian population. As a result of the continuous expansion of the city borders, Jerusalem became the largest city under Israeli administration and larger than many world capitals.
cording to the 1952 Israel Law of Entry
4 The issue of participating in the municipal elections is still controversial among Palestinians. The minority sees in it a civil right that can help Palestinians not just to affect their daily life and to improve living conditions and maybe to influence the political future of the city. The majority consider such participation a form of legitimizing occupation, annexation and Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and a façade for Israel’s anti-Palestinian measures in the city. I have to admit here that the issue was rarely discussed in a comprehensive form, and it was very much affected by the boycott policies taken in the aftermath of the 1967 war.
the demographic discussion, see Michael Dumper, The Politics of Jerusalem since 1967 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), pp. 53-72.
th Palestinian and Israeli statistics are derived from estimations, which make all statistics somewhat unreliable.
7 Orient House is a very important case study, but it is not the only one. Similar cases can be found in Gaza, such as the Palestinian Red Crescent headed by Haidar Abd al-Shafi, who became in 1991 the head of the Palestinian Delegation to the Madrid Conference and later led the negotiations in Washington DC.
isal al-Husseini is the son of Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini, who lost his life in 1948 defending Jerusalem. His death became emblematic in Palestinian history.
9 Michael Roman, “Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem between Conflict and Coexistence,” in Israelis, Palestinians Coexistence in Jerusalem (Milan, 2001), p. 40.
or more details, see Salim Tamari, “Jerusalem: Issues of Control and Sharing in a Sacred Geography,” in Israelis, Palestinians Coexistence in Jerusalem (Milan, 2001), p. 71.
11 The general phenomenon of the refugee camp is that when the inhabitants upgrade their income, they plan to leave the camp to find accommodation in the nearby city or village. The only cases that we possess, that are similar to Shu’fat camp are from Lebanon. In Lebanon, many Palestinian refugees have left the refugee camps and went to Europe, the USA and the Arab Gulf States, and were replaced by poor Lebanese and Syrians.