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.
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.
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.
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.
- Report on East Jerusalem Infrastructure and Services (B’Tselem)
- Jerusalem Municipality Budget Analysis for 2013: Share of Investment in East Jerusalem (Ir-Amim)
- Report on East Jerusalem (UNISPAL)
- East Jerusalem 2015: Facts and Figures (ACRI)
- Letter from ACRI to Jerusalem police describing 2014 siege on Issawiya
- 2011-2015 statistics on home demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem (UN-OCHA)