DevMode
My work as a city councilor has brought me face to face with a wide range of rather mundane topics: city taxes, sewage, potholes, school-building budgets, and emergency repair work. None of them is glamorous, and few would make the headlines. Yet it is these mundane topics which determine the quality of urban life for the citizens of the nation's capital. And, for the time being, these topics form the arena where ideology and public policy are turned into day-to-day reality.
In the endless onslaught of committee meetings, budgetary papers, and personal complaints, I try to focus on three broad areas of human rights. One of these concerns the religious rights on non-Orthodox Jews who are beset by attempts of the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox to disenfranchise them. The rights of women are another area of concern: boasts about the excellent legislation guaranteeing women's rights do little to hide the fact that Israeli women are deeply discriminated against in almost all walks of life. This monologue is addressed to my activities in a third area of ongoing concern: the rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Ingrained Discrimination

Continuing discrimination against Arabs is ingrained in Jerusalem's politi¬cal culture, a sort of accepted blemish we are trained to see and overlook. It characterizes the workings of this city in every walk of life, ranging from the macro to the minute. My file cabinets are literally overflowing with exam¬ples in every sphere: economics, housing, employment, taxation, education, welfare, health, city planning, construction, roads, buses, sewerage, street lights. Glance at any of the basic services to which a Jerusalem resident is entitled as a fundamental civil right, and the imbalances jump out at you.
Unfortunately, the immensity of the problem and its pervasive history have blinded even the most liberal of Jerusalem's citizenry to its existence. The virtual forest of problems has simply disappeared into the landscape of broader pressing issues of national rights and rhetoric. Globalize a prob¬lem enough and it disappears from the city agenda. My job, by and large, has been to find ways to make the Council members begin to see the indi¬vidual facts and faces again.
My desk is strewn with files, each concerning a different facet of the problem. In this monologue, I will take you through a random sample of them. Wading through the minutiae, one gets a pretty good view of the city's inner workings. Taken as a whole, these samples comprise a damn¬ing indictment of discrimination so ingrained that it is no longer conscious or deliberate. Yet its presence is felt daily by the Palestinians who make up one-third of Jerusalem's population.

Taxation Without Services

First, let's take a look at a brief report on tax collection and expenditure. City governments live from "milking" the local residents. Here, it must be admitted that the Palestinian sector makes for a pretty lean cow. Palestinian neighborhoods are beset by socioeconomic hardship and over¬crowding; families are large. For these reasons, the Palestinian third of the population only contributes about 20% of the income going into the munic¬ipal coffers. In light of the clear economic disparities, this is considered even by the city's tax collectors to be a pretty good showing.
The city's success in tax collection from the Palestinian sector is remark¬able for many reasons. Not the least of these is the almost complete absence of street signs in the Palestinian quarters. An inability to locate Arab _addresses is a frequent justification offered by telephone repair people and city work crews for their low performance rates in Palestinian neighbor¬hoods. (Indeed, it has been said that if a fire engine were to be called to Palestinian neighborhoods like Harat el-Wusta, Midron Bashir, or Sa'dyia the fire fighters would have a great deal of trouble locating the house with the emergency.) Surprisingly, the city's tax collectors seem to get to houses and collect the rates with relative ease.
The city's zeal in milking is not matched by equal energy when it comes time to deliver the cream. Cities pay back in services, not real dollars, and tagging the services which go exclusively to Palestinian neighborhoods is a hazy business. Nonetheless, it appears that about five percent to 10 per¬cent of the total city budget goes back to the Palestinian sector. That means that for every Palestinian dollar the city takes, it gives back 5 to 10 cents. Like any good dairy, the city feeds its leaner cows skim milk, and ships the cream elsewhere.
The disparity between money taken out of the Palestinian neighbor¬hoods and money placed back in them takes on a greater significance if one recalls the background of poverty which besets the Palestinian quarters. Poorer neighborhoods need disproportionally more services and expendi¬tures, but the Palestinian ones seem to get less. How much less is hard to say. Even Jerusalem's most faithful servants recognize that it is by and large a needy city, especially when it comes to services for families, youth and children. A memo from the Social Services Department laments that about 27 percent of the city's Jewish children live below the poverty line (about $250 a month), making Jerusalem one of Israel's poorest cities. But note: absolutely no mention is given in the memo to the status of Palestinian children!
The reason no statistics are available is that the situation in East Jerusalem has never been surveyed. In general, any city document about Jerusalem is actually referring to "Jewish" Jerusalem: the other side is an area neither seen nor heard. The Palestinian neighborhoods are simply invisible, and receive services accordingly.
The lack of services is in many cases all too obvious. It doesn't take long to count the parks, community centers, or swimming pools in Palestinian neighborhoods, nor to count the functioning street lights or drains. The number of child psychologists and family social workers allocated, the number of available hospital beds, the number of kindergarten classrooms, the number of baby clinics: all fall woefully below their parallel in the Jewish neighborhoods. The equation is simple: if you don't see the need, you don't have to spend the money on services.
The syndrome of the invisible Palestinian minority reaches its munici¬pal heights in Palestinian neighborhoods like Kfar Akab, situated in the northern part of the city. Unfortunately, this neighborhood seems to have fallen off the city maps of the various departments in the city which are charged with their welfare, although it remains on the maps of the tax col¬lectors. In Kfar Akab, the residents enjoy the unenviable "independence" of financing their own roads, their own garbage disposal, and other basic services for which their city tax dollars should have paid.

Fighting the Perilous and the Picayune

Trying to redress these imbalances is a relentless battle with the beast, on a field that ranges from perilous to downright picayune. Perilous may sound like a loaded word in light of the humdrum nature of city services. And it is only when tragedy strikes that we begin to remember the meaning of the city's public works and preservation activities. Unfortunately, all too many tragedies have arisen in Palestinian neighborhoods. In recent years, the rainy seasons have seen the collapse of a number of cracked, but untend¬ed, retaining walls, with major Palestinian casualties.
Some of these incidents have made the headlines, but many go unno¬ticed. Take the case of eight-year-old Samar, who went out walking with her mother in Silwan just after the first rains of 1994. The flow of runoff waters dislodged soil and stone on the slope above her, and she was killed by a rush of falling stones.
Samar's death didn't make the news. In fact, the municipal authorities at first were completely unaware of the event. Local phones were out (tech¬nicians balk at going to work in Palestinian neighborhoods), and besides, none of those involved knew that the city makes emergency services available in cases like this. The best that the city welfare could do when it was brought in was to tell Samar's mother she could submit an appli¬cation for family assistance.
And the other cracks in the wall where Samar fell? To this day, they remain, along with hundreds of ominous cracks in public works all over East Jerusalem. When the next rain or snow hits, another group of name¬less Palestinian residents may find themselves paying more than tax dol¬lars as the price for municipal neglect.

Municipal Blindness

Dealing with some of the minor instances of municipal neglect can help one to trace the outline of municipal blindness which stands in part behind this sad state of affairs. For me, the awakening took place during th,e "great toilet roll debate." One day during Kollek's administration, I was sitting in a supervisory committee which had the great honor of reviewing the sta¬tus of public toilets. I had the temerity to ask how many rolls of toilet paper the city dispensed. The official's answer intrigued me: "Forty-eight rolls every 72 hours in the western part of town, but none, of course, in the east¬ern quarters. "Why?" "It isn't necessary, since the Arabs aren't used to modern flush toilets."
A rowdy debate ensued; it had, I am gratified to report, positive results.
Directives went out to install flush toilets with plastic seats, and to insure the regular provision of toilet paper to all the city's public toilets, regard¬less of the ethnic origin of their users. But this is all besides the point.
The point is that among tens of participants in this debate, not one was an Arab. Furthermore, not one of the participants had really any first-hand information about the status of public bathrooms in that sector, or the hygienic habits of their users. None of the speakers was out to actively deny Palestinians toilet paper. Rather, they were blind to the basic facts of life of the Palestinian citizens. Indeed, the sole useful source of information at the meeting was provided by the Palestinian who serves councilors their tea. He thought the discussion was so funny that he almost dropped his tray.
This anecdote suggests that part of the blindness could be rectified by Palestinian members in the municipality's workforce. The municipality, it should be recalled, is one of the city's biggest employers. Nearly 7,000 workers are on its payroll. Simple arithmetic suggests that if the city were to employ randomly, nearly 2,300 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem would be city employees. Yet the facts show that Palestinians make up fewer than 140 of the total staff, and 100 of the permanent city work force. (Since the string of recent security closures which have separated Jerusalem from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, even these paltry numbers are declining.) Furthermore, these workers tend to fall into the lowest paid and most menial jobs, with little access to policy-making channels. As such, the city departments lack even this simple source of insight.

Arabic the Unspoken Language

Another factor fueling the blindness is language. Although Arabic is one of Israel's official languages, the Jerusalem municipality views it as one of the unspoken tongues. Documents are rarely printed in Arabic for the conve¬nience of non-Hebrew speakers. City officials frequently overlook the need to publish notices of services in the Arab press. Few city staff members can speak Arabic when the need arises.
The difficulties that ensue from lack of language skills are painful, if not absurd. The mayor of Jerusalem decided not long ago that Jerusalem school children should receive free entrance passes to the city's largest museum. The Hebrew passes were printed up immediately. The organiza¬tional problems in printing Arabic passes held up their distribution for no less than six months. And then, when the Arabic-speaking children finally got to the museum with their passes, they found that none of the guides could speak Arabic.
The list of documents which do not appear in Arabic is extensive. They include flyers describing citizens' rights, listings of emergency service num¬bers, descriptions of city services, and even the official city map. The city departments pride themselves on their efforts at outreach, but do it in Hebrew and English. Thus, Palestinian citizens often do not know their municipal rights, where to get them, or where to lodge a complaint when they don't.
Sometimes I can help them. But my partial success and all too frequent failure have often led me to wonder what would happen if residents in the Palestinian neighborhoods would help in tearing down the cloaks of invis¬ibility. To date, Palestinians have consistently refused to participate in Jerusalem elections and the working of the municipality. Palestinians have argued that this would be tantamount to recognizing the legitimacy of the occupation. Though I understand the logic of this argument, I compare it to similar arguments offered by feminists against serving in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), an ultra-male chauvinist organization. Here, we feminists have recognized that only by serving in it do we, women, have a chance to help mold the future face of our society.

The Politics of the Invisible

Numerous historical arguments can be made for the implicit bias and dis¬crimination which I have met in my work as a city councilor. One I fre¬quently hear is that, with the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israelis found themselves dealing with a backward area which had long been neglected under Jordanian rule, and that these inequities were hard to root out. However, since the barbed wire carne down, and the city was "unit¬cd," the inequities have been exacerbated, not improved. Indeed, the Palestinian residents seem to have become more invisible over time.
As an opposition member of the City Council, I find myself losing my voice over and over again in debates related to Palestinian rights. Again and again, my colleagues and I try to show the powers that be what goes on behind the curtains of their blindness. Our call for accountability on the Council floor has evoked vicious personal attacks: I have been called a trai¬tor, a PLO agent, a liar, and a whore as I uncover the glaring disparity between rhetoric and reality. Yet the call for accountability has, at times, led those responsible for inequalities to alter some of their most blaring dis¬criminatory practices.
In the 28 years of exclusive Jewish rule over Jerusalem, too much has been done which is literally irreversible. The most current example is the ongoing Jewish building in and around the city, a trend which is convert¬ing Palestinians into a minority even within East Jerusalem itself. I believe that anything which could reverse the disastrous results of bias and dis¬crimination should and must be tried.

Comodo SSL