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Inside the labyrinth: a daytrip to East Jerusalem

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The Israeli rule of occupation and apartheid is at once the most concrete and most intangible thing in the world. For the concrete, it is a set of segregated roads for Jews and Palestinians; a maze of military checkpoints and armored police stations; loud demolitions of Palestinian homes. For the intangible, it is a nest of multi-layered bureaucracies controlling movement and residence, dangerously flexible laws and improvised on-the-ground military order.

In a short stroll through East Jerusalem, one gets a distilled view of the concrete and the intangible of Israeli rule. In East Jerusalem, you can point to discrete apartheid spots, where the Jewish settlement ends and the Palestinian neighborhood begins. Where the road is no longer paved, where the sidewalks are abruptly cut, and where the public gardens and traffic islands are absent. In East Jerusalem, occupation and apartheid are the most tangible things in the world.

The end of Jericho Road at the separation wall. (Photo: Yarden Katz)

The end of Jericho Road at the separation wall. (Photo: Yarden Katz)

We traveled from West to East Jerusalem with Yahav Zohar from Green Olive Tours. To a Martian, it may appear like teleporting from a first to a third world country. But both West and East are governed by the Jerusalem Municipality. Jerusalemites on both sides pay the same taxes to the municipality, though Israelis and Palestinians are governed by a different rule of law.

East Jerusalem residents make up a third of Jerusalem’s population but receive 10% or less of the municipality’s annual development budget. It shows in its crumbling infrastructure. It is impossible to miss the black drinking water tanks on Palestinian rooftops, which residents pay for because of the lack of a reliable water and sewage system.There is a shortage of schools, garbage collection, and other vital public services.

In East Jerusalem, we see the old Zionist myth of “making the desert bloom” in a disturbing urban form. Nof Zion, a Jewish luxury apartment complex-settlement, is a West Jerusalem island built inside the Jabal Mukkaber neighborhood. Nof Zion enjoys paved roads and pristine sidewalks, and the full range of public services. It has a sewage system provided by the Jerusalem Municipality. Requests by Palestinian neighbors to connect to it were denied. Step outside the tight perimeter of Nof Zion and you’ll be back in sidewalk-less, unpaved terrain.

At the junction of Jericho Road and Ras Kubsa, we hit the separation wall that cuts off Silwan from the Palestinian towns of Abu Dis and Eizariya. The wall severs the continuity of East Jerusalem with the West Bank and suffocates the movement of enclosed Palestinian residents. The graffiti on the wall read, “If we build walls to solve our problems, we make a labyrinth of the whole world.”

The intangible forces are also at work in East Jerusalem, making a bureaucratic labyrinth for its residents. The majority of East Jerusalem Palestinians hold residency cards (only 12% have Israeli passports), which can be revoked arbitrarily by the state. Since 1967, over 14,000 residency cards have been revoked by the Israeli government. The laws regulating residency status are used to divide and discourage unions between residency card holders and Palestinians in the West Bank. Netanyahu and his Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan also pushed for residency revocation as a form of punishment, and as general threat. The “Judaization” of Jerusalem describes these ongoing efforts to displace the Palestinian population, and promote Jewish expansion in its place. It happens by building Jewish-only settlements, while refusing building permits to Palestinians, and implementing evictions and home demolitions. In 2013-2014, a total of roughly 500 Palestinians were displaced from East Jerusalem due to evictions or home demolitions.

View of Issawiya from Mount Scopus. (Photo: Lauren Surface)

View of Issawiya from Mount Scopus. (Photo: Lauren Surface)

Up on Mount Scopus, there is a panoramic view of Issawiya, and other Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. From the enlightened halls of Hebrew University and Bezalel Academy of Arts, the Palestinian living conditions are in plain sight. The police blockades of the neighborhoods (such as the siege on Issawiya) and the wave of night arrests of children (which are illegal under Israeli law and reported even on Israeli TV) are no secret. Few Israelis would ever set foot here, though, to witness first hand how the other one third of Jerusalem’s residents live.

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Divestment from this brutal enterprise, and other facets of the occupation, is possible. For example, the Dutch firm Royal HaskoningDHV pulled out of a project with Jerusalem Municipality to build a sewage treatment plant beyond the Green Line. The firm stated that “future involvement in the project could be in violation of international law”, and canceled the project with encouragement by the Dutch government. International pressure of this sort is essential, since Israeli Jews for the most part don’t really know — and don’t want to know — what happens in West Jerusalem’s backyard.

Selected sources

Yarden Katz

Yarden Katz is a fellow in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School.

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4 Responses

  1. bintbiba on June 30, 2015, 1:42 pm

    Yarden Katz,

    Many. many thanks for revealing to all the utterly vile , ugly soulless-ness of what has been turned into the unholi-est of so-called holy cities !

  2. JLewisDickerson on June 30, 2015, 2:29 pm

    RE: “The ‘Judaization’ of Jerusalem describes these ongoing efforts to displace the Palestinian population, and promote Jewish expansion in its place. It happens by building Jewish-only settlements, while refusing building permits to Palestinians, and implementing evictions and home demolitions. In 2013-2014, a total of roughly 500 Palestinians were displaced from East Jerusalem due to evictions or home demolitions.” ~ Yarden Katz

    MY COMMENT: That’s why I support making Jerusalem an ‘international city’ pursuant to General Assembly resolution 181 (II) November 29, 1947, which provides for the full territorial internationalisation of Jerusalem: “The City of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and shall be administered by the United Nations.”
    Netanyahu recently made it clear that as far as he is concerned there will never be a sovereign nation-state of Palestine in the West Bank (with, or without, E. Jerusalem as its capital). Consequently, unless Jerusalem is protected by virtue of its being made an ‘international city’ administered by the UN, it is just a matter of time before the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa mosque and numerous other historic sites come under existential threat as Israel’s radical, extremist nationalists (like Yehuda Glick and Moshe Feiglin of the Temple Institute) become more and more determined to completely “Judaize” the city.

    • just on June 30, 2015, 4:31 pm

      +1, John!!!

      Thanks for this depressing article, Yarden.

      I read 3 articles in Haaretz today that are pertinent.

      I know I should be glad that some Israelis are getting out and about to meet Israelis of another faith, but I couldn’t help but recoil from the sense that this was voyeurism and exploitation for shekels:

      “Israel’s hottest new tradition: Ramadan tours
      For Jewish Israelis yearning to get to know their neighbors, activities surrounding this month’s fasting and feasting are becoming a thriving business

      KFAR QASEM – It’s the wrong time of year and definitely the wrong religion. But visitors passing through this colorfully lit town square could easily think they had stumbled upon a Christmas market. That is to say, had they not realized this was the beginning of summer and the holiday being celebrated was Ramadan. …

      Ramadan tours began on a small scale about seven years ago in the Wadi Ara region of the country, which is mainly populated by Arabs, but have since spread to the Galilee and the “triangle.” The driving spirit behind this initiative is Sikkuy, a non-profit organization that promotes Jewish-Arab coexistence. In recent years, Sikkuy has put considerable emphasis on the role of tourism in building bridges, with the Ramadan tours one of its flagship projects.

      In the spirit of coexistence, all Ramadan tours organized by Sikkuy have two guides, one Muslim and one Jewish.

      The government has also recently jumped on the bandwagon, this year launching a major advertising campaign to promote Ramadan tours in the Galilee, in the hoping of bringing more local tourists up there. In addition, some Arab towns, like the seaside village of Jisr a-Zarka, run their own Ramadan tours.

      While Ramadan tours are relatively new, they are part of a larger phenomenon: local travel activities that target culturally curious Israelis interested in observing and experiencing religious rites of all kinds. That would include, for example, the throngs of Jewish Israelis who show up annually for Christmas Mass tours in the Old City of Jerusalem and the many who flock to midnight “Selichot” tours in the autumn where they observe the penitential prayers recited by Orthodox Jews during the month preceding the Jewish high holy days.”

      Read more @ (no paywall)

      *remembering always the massacre of Kafr Qasim*

      Not to mention that many Palestinians are not permitted to enter Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa… even during Ramadan.

      Another was this:

      “Anti-Arab graffiti found near Jerusalem bilingual school
      On last day of the school year, children arrived to find swastikas, hateful slogans sprayed on the wall.”

      The third:

      “Jerusalem was the second-most-expensive city in Israel for hotel rooms, ranking 14th in the world at an average of $210 per night.”

      Notice that they ‘took’ all of Jerusalem and ‘gave’ it to Israel… happens all the time, but thankfully the SCOTUS didn’t give in.

  3. just on June 30, 2015, 9:47 pm


    “Police have for the first time admitted in an official document that they will not escort Israeli ambulances to Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem east of the separation fence, even though these neighborhoods are within the city limits. …

    … The admission was included in the minutes of a meeting between Jerusalem’s police chief, Moshe Edri, and representatives of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel that took place two weeks ago. At this meeting, ACRI raised various complaints about police tactics in East Jerusalem, including use of the “skunk,” a crowd-control device that sprays a malodorous liquid – sometimes even inside people’s houses.

    ACRI also raised the issue of government services in neighborhoods outside the separation fence. Between 80,000 and 100,000 people live in these neighborhoods, and most have permanent residency in Israel. But since the fence was built, most government agencies have stopped serving these neighborhoods.

    Ten years ago, the cabinet passed a detailed resolution to ensure that government and municipal services to these neighborhoods would continue. But most of its provisions were never implemented.

    One service that these neighborhoods no longer receive from Israel is ambulance service. But until now, this wasn’t a declared policy.

    At the meeting with ACRI, however, Edri said the police have no intention of escorting ambulances to these neighborhoods.

    “As a rule, the Israel Police doesn’t guard ambulances on entry, due to the risk to its forces and to the [local] population,” according to a summary of the meeting that his office sent to ACRI. The document added that residents could either call ambulances from the Palestinian Red Crescent or use the “back-to-back” system to transfer patients to Israeli ambulances on the other side.

    Attorney Anne Suciu of ACRI said she was shocked by Edri’s statement. “They always said they go in to escort [the ambulances] and there’s no problem; this is the first time they’ve said there’s no escort, nor will there be,” she said.”

    And there you have it.

    Who says that Israel is not an apartheid and racist state?

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