A Chronicle of Municipal Discrimination in Jerusalem
The attitude of Jerusalem's City Council under Mayor Ehud Olmert to East Jerusalem is a study in contradictions. Of the 646,000 residents of the city, 209,000 - 33 percent, or one in every three - are Palestinians. Olmert and his religious-nationalist followers are strong believers in what they call "a united, undivided Jerusalem under eternal Israeli sovereignty." Yet, at the same time, the mayor and his rightist coalition, who have been in power since the municipal elections in 1993, show no interest in tackling the ongoing problems of East Jerusalem and its residents. We shall refer in this article to some of the underlying reasons accounting for this contradiction.
As one of those rightist Zionists who lose no opportunity to explain their ideological position on Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert constantly explains in his oratory how deep is the connection with that ancient landscape where the fathers of the Jewish people trod and which, come what may, the Jews must never forget. However, it is not only rightist and religious Jews who, in order to serve their political ends, pay unceasing lip service to these historical ties to East Jerusalem. Though it may have a different tactical approach, the Labor Party shares the same basic concept.
In trying to examine the deeper factors on which the attitude of the municipality is grounded, I will rely both on my own experience as an elected member of the council since November 1998, and on the relevant statistical data.
Jerusalem is a divided not a united city, and perhaps some personal stories showing how the municipality is really run will help to challenge the notion that the city of Jerusalem is united.

Does Olmert Know East Jerusalem?

When I first took up my position as a member of the municipal council, I would continually ask the mayor embarrassing questions concerning the level of services that the municipality provides in East Jerusalem. I consistently inquired which services the municipality provides in villages like Bir Una, Kufr 'Aqab, Mizmoria, etc.; the reply confirmed that the municipality provides no services whatsoever.
On one occasion I asked the mayor what services the municipality provides to Kufr Ein Fu'ad. As usual, he replied that the municipality provides all the municipal services to that particular village, including welfare, education, garbage removal, street lighting, public health, etc. As in former cases, the reply was a falsehood, but this time a particularly grave one: Kufr Ein Fu'ad does not exist and I made up the name in order to test the mayor.
The test to which I put Mayor Olmert was designed not to make him into a laughing stock, but to prove how little he knows about East Jerusalem, something of which I have been aware for some time. In popular language, one could say that he doesn't have a clue about that part of the city. In this respect, mind you, the mayor is no different from a large part of the Israeli public, including West Jerusalemites. Many of them are not acquainted with East Jerusalem or its neighborhoods. From their point of view, most of the villages in East Jerusalem mean nothing, neither in the geographical, nor in the emotional context. The average Israeli has never set foot in most of the East Jerusalem neighborhoods, which appear like a dangerous twilight zone, associated rather with the Kasbah in Hebron than with an area within the jurisdiction of Jerusalem.

Does Ehud Olmert Want the Public to Know What Is Happening in East Jerusalem?

In 1999, the Meretz faction in the council was refused permission to hold a photographic exhibition in the City Hall of photos by the Jerusalem Palestinian photographer Mahfouz Abu-Turk. The photos dwelt on the subject of the destruction of houses carried out by the municipality and the Ministry of the Interior in East Jerusalem. We had no alternative but to show the photos in the three rooms of the Meretz faction in City Hall, where we could hang any photos of our choice.
The effort which the mayor invested in preventing the exhibition is a good reflection of his overall policy of concealing the reality of East Jerusalem from the public eye. The lack of familiarity with what happens in East Jerusalem serves the mayor's interests all along the line. He prefers that the Jewish public remain ignorant of what goes on in the Arab or Palestinian part of the "united city." Nearly 300 Palestinian houses were demolished in Jerusalem between 1987 and 2000 by the municipality and the Ministry of the Interior. In West Jerusalem, some demolition orders were carried out, but only of an extra room or a porch, not the whole building. The reason for the prevalence of so-called illegal construction in East Jerusalem is, of course, that the Israeli authorities adopt a policy of refusing building permits even though all the land involved is owned by the would-be builder. The result is that 2,000 demolition orders, affecting 12,000 housing units, are in effect for East Jerusalem, meaning that over a third of East Jerusalem residents live under the threat of house demolition. This figure of 2,000 demolition orders is four times larger than the figure for building permits granted since 1967.

Does the Mayor Relate to East Jerusalem Neghborhoods as an Integral Part of the City?

One of the outstanding examples of discrimination toward East Jerusalem residents is in the area of infant welfare centers (tipot halav) that the state must provide to all according to the National Health Law. Official figures from the municipality indicate that in East Jerusalem there are only five such centers, catering to about 2,500 infants. The Israeli Bureau of Statistics records that there are 8,000 infants in East Jerusalem entitled, according to their age, to benefit from this service. The conclusion is that some 5,500 infants are denied services or use private services that don't fall under the supervision of the Ministry of Health.
In connection with an appeal I submitted on this issue to the Supreme Court, in June 1999, I asked the mayor why there are no infant welfare centers in every neighborhood of East Jerusalem, as there are in the western part of the city. His reply was made up of the usual string of clichés to which we are accustomed, but it included one sentence that showed his real attitude. In his words, because of infrastructure difficulties and the lack of roads, "it is not possible to establish infant welfare centers in all the villages around Jerusalem." The mayor, though he was of course aware that my question related to neighborhoods within the jurisdiction of Jerusalem, called them "villages around Jerusalem." This reveals that for him they are not an integral part of Jerusalem, to which he must provide services and for whose welfare he is responsible.
If they are merely "villages around Jerusalem" and not neighborhoods, why does the municipality impose upon them urban municipal rules rather than those for villages, which are in a different category? Why is the municipality so determined to impose Israeli sovereignty upon them, instead of handing them back to their legitimate owners, namely the Palestinian Authority (PA)? It was not a slip of the tongue that made the mayor speak of "villages around Jerusalem." This is how he perceives them and one only has to see the lack of municipal services in these villages in order to understand that this is how he treats them - as areas for which he is not, in effect, responsible.

In the Municipal Budget, Is Ehud Olmert prepared to Invest in East Jerusalem?

While Jerusalem is one of the poorest cities in Israel, East Jerusalem is more than twice as poor as West Jerusalem. About one-half of East Jerusalem's population, i.e., 112,700 people, live under the poverty line, as compared to 91,000 (21.7 percent) of the population in West Jerusalem (the weekly local newspaper Jerusalem, December 22, 2000).
In East Jerusalem, there were 97,200 children in 1999, of whom 68 percent (59,500) were living under the poverty line. In West Jerusalem, 28.9 percent (45,200) lived under the poverty line.
Since taking office, Olmert understood what his predecessor, Teddy Kollek, apparently had failed to understand: that in order to strengthen the Israeli hold over East Jerusalem, one must invest there. In fact, Olmert has invested much more than Kollek, but much less than East Jerusalem deserves.
One of Olmert's first acts as mayor was to order a survey of the situation of municipal services to East Jerusalem. The survey, which was the most comprehensive ever undertaken, was designed to provide evidence that in Teddy Kollek's days the situation was no less than catastrophic. Rather than a working paper, the document was meant to provide an alibi, setting out to rebuff accusations that Olmert was responsible for the neglect in providing services. In summing up the survey, Olmert wrote an instruction to the then-director general of the municipality to correct the injustices and to reduce as far as possible the disparities in services provided to West and East Jerusalem. The survey completely refutes the image that Kollek fostered at home and abroad as a liberal who cared about East Jerusalem. However, the figures also show that nothing has changed during the seven years of Olmert's mayoralty.
The conclusion can only be that there is a large gap between the present mayor's declaration and practice. According to the former, he is out to equalize services between the two parts of Jerusalem; according to the latter, the municipality is continuing to implement a discriminatory policy toward East Jerusalem. This last assumption is fortified by an examination of the money invested in improving the infrastructure in East Jerusalem, which shows that the investments come from government sources and not from the municipality. To his credit, Olmert did indeed acquire the money from the government.
However, if we examine those aspects in which the municipality could correct the discrimination from its own budget, such as reallocation of the municipal manpower, nothing has changed. Here, Olmert could have implemented a policy of gradually decreasing disparity between the two parts of the city, aiming at doing away with it in the course of five years. With this in mind, municipal employees could gradually have been transferred from West to East Jerusalem, changing the ratio of services provided. This would imply not moving Jewish employees from the West to the East of the city, but putting into effect a policy whereby vacant positions in the West (through retirement, etc.) would be reallocated to the eastern sector. Olmert prefers to maintain the present discriminatory position. As noted, as far as investment aimed at minimizing the gap is concerned, the mayor's declarations are not matched by any appropriate action.

Does Ehud Olmert Feel That Jewish Sovereignty over the City Is Assured?

For more than two years, a donation of over U.S.$ 5 million by the government of Japan has been waiting for the municipality to confirm the project for which it is earmarked. The money was donated in order to pave the A-Ram-Ramallah road, which has become highly dangerous to all those using it. Most of the road is within the area of Jerusalem's jurisdiction. The request to carry out the work was submitted to the mayor by the UNDP (UN Development Program), which is authorized by the United Nations to provide development assistance to the Palestinian Authority.
Needless to say, neither the Jerusalem municipality nor the government of Israel is capable of financing the paving of the road from its own budgets and the municipality would welcome the financing of the project. Yet this became a political problem of the first order for the municipality and, when the request was submitted by the UNDP, the mayor's bureau took fright.
First of all, it claimed that this international organization was known to be "pro-Palestinian" and it was thus in no hurry to accept the donation. Second, it raised an administrative objection - that the organization was not authorized to operate within the borders of the State of Israel. (Formally, this was so, but following the intervention of some Knesset members, the objection was withdrawn.) The third pretext was that the Palestinian Authority was involved in the project through one of its economic departments, the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR), and that the PA must not be permitted to gain ground in establishing a foothold in Israel. The problem was solved when the UNDP officially announced that they were taking PECDAR out of the picture so as to facilitate things for the municipality and promote the project without further delay.
Now the mayor's bureau came up with the ultimate pretext: issuing a work permit to an international organization (and a pro-Palestinian one at that) damages Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem. This laid bare the real reasons for all the municipality's objections to the project - the fear that granting a work permit to the United Nations raises doubts about Israeli control over East Jerusalem. If sovereignty depends upon paving or not paving a road, these fears do bear witness to the extent to which Israeli control is indeed flimsy. Up to the time that this article is being written, the problem remains unsolved, even though a representative of the Israeli government recommended to the mayor of Jerusalem either to accept the donation and start the project, or to carry it out at the expense of the municipality.

Is the Attitude to East Jerusalem Founded on Racial Prejudice?

During my two years in the municipal council, I became acquainted with all the people associated with the work in East Jerusalem. From my numerous conversations with them, I can say with a high degree of certainty that they are not acting out of racist motivations. Most are good people, not driven by any nationalistic or extremist-religious drive and some are classical Labor Party voters. Yet with all this, one cannot conceal the fact that discrimination certainly exists in providing services to East Jerusalem. There is no avoiding the view that, according to the accepted definition, such discrimination on a national or religious basis is called "racism"; in other words, the municipal policy toward East Jerusalem is by definition a racist policy.
However, the "Jerusalem experience" and its implications seem to have created a revised category of what can be called a "gray racism." This is founded on inertia rather than hatred. It is manifested in a lack of concern and sensitivity, in which a mixture of bureaucracy and budgetary pressures creates a situation that is racist, even though it lacks that emotional dimension among the people involved that usually characterizes racist regimes.
When the financial resources are limited and the administration has to determine priorities, it naturally veers toward those who are closest to it, those who are most vocal and those who constitute a potential pool of voters in upcoming elections. In all of these three criteria, the Arabs don't qualify. Moreover, it is usual to accept that "Charity begins at home" and if Jerusalem is one of Israel's poorest cities, for Olmert this means giving priority to the Jewish over the Arab poor.
This sort of problem poses a real test of moral strength in the choice between two alternatives: either to adopt an egalitarian policy in spite of the pressures, or to take the easy way out and opt for a racist policy. Regardless of their inclinations, the senior officials in the municipality have lost the ability to differentiate between good and bad. Consequently, in failing to face up to the reality and disowning responsibility, they completely fail the moral test. Now that the future of the city is on the negotiating agenda, the choice between what is morally permissible or not can no longer be avoided in resolving the future of Jerusalem.

Table 1: Comparison of Allocation of Municipal Budgets to West and East Jerusalem*
Dept & No.
of Employees
Allocated to
East Jerusalem
% of
Social affairs

Table 2: Some Typical Figures
West Jerusalem
East Jerusalem
Community workers and
counselors with street gangs
Educational psychologists
Senior citizens' clubs
Public libraries
Welfare bureaus
Community centers

Table 3: Other Services (Budget in NIS)
West Jerusalem
East Jerusalem
Beautification projects
Development budget

Table 4: Summary of Allocations of Budgets to East Jerusalem for Social and Related Services (Budget in NIS)
East Jerusalem
Social and related services

* Both because of a reluctance to reveal the figures, and due to the way in which the budget is presented, it is hard to ascertain the exact amounts invested in East Jerusalem. The departmental budgets presented here show a true picture, but this material excludes the budgets for the Executive (Hanhala), the treasury and logistics (which together account for 40 percent of the total budget). While some items like house demolition in East Jerusalem (nearly 1 million shekels a year), or the wages of East Jerusalemites working in West Jerusalem are not included, the figures given here reflect the real contribution of the municipal budget to East Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Institute Statistical Yearbook; the municipal budget for 2001-2002; material provided to the writer and to other councilors by Mayor Olmert and departmental directors; B'Tselem.

Jerusalem: In Their Own Words

"I am looking after the Jewish majority… the majority in Jerusalem. That is why we are here, to take care of that."
Teddy Kollek, while mayor of Jerusalem, from minutes of Jerusalem Municipal Council meeting, January 24, 1982.

"I don't want to give them a feeling of equality. I know that we cannot give them a feeling of equality. But I want, here and there, where it doesn't cost too much, and where it is only an investment of money or something, to give them nevertheless a feeling that they can live here. If I do not give them this feeling, we will suffer."
Teddy Kollek, Municipal Council meeting, December 27, 1987.

"We didn't carry out what we said. We spoke repeatedly of equal rights - empty words. [The Arabs] were and remain second- and third-class citizens. For Israeli Jerusalem, I did something in the last 25 years. For East Jerusalem? Nothing."
Teddy Kollek, then-Jerusalem mayor, in an interview in Ma'ariv, October 10, 1990, following the Temple Mount killings.

"The planning and building laws in East Jerusalem rest on a policy that calls for placing obstacles in the way of planning in the Arab sector - this is done in order to preserve the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs in the city, which is presently in a ratio of 72 percent Jews versus 28 percent non-Jews."
Amir Cheshin, former advisor on Arab affairs to the mayor of Jerusalem, in Kol Ha'ir, December 9, 1994.

"Jerusalem will not be on the negotiating table with the Palestinians at any time in the future. Jerusalem was in the past only the capital for the Jews and it is first-class nonsense to create something like Berlin… Israel's agreement to the Oslo Accords was intended to remove Jerusalem from any negotiations. Other compromises are necessary in order to avoid the need for compromises over Jerusalem.
Shimon Peres in The Jerusalem Post, February 13, 1996.

"Jerusalem is the focus of all [our] fears, memories, prayers and hopes… Balance in Jerusalem can in no way be based on any denial of Jewish sovereignty over all Jerusalem, as was formulated since the liberation and reunification of the city in 1967."
Mayor Ehud Olmert in the City Council in Jerusalem, December 3, 1999.