Laura Wharton
Laura Wharton
Jerusalem City Councilor, adjunct lecturer in political science

And now is time to learn about Jabel Mukaber

The neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber

The Israeli public has begun to learn a bit about the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrach, where Palestinian refugees were settled by Jordan and the U.N. in the 1950s, and from where right-wing extremists are now trying to evict them and turn them once again into refugees. Israelis have also begun to learn something about the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, where another messianic group is aiming to demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes in order to make El-Bustan into “the King’s Garden”, a park adjacent to a settlers’ compound, in the midst of the neighborhood of 20,000 Palestinians. Now is time to learn about Jabel Mukaber.

Jabel Mukaber is an East Jerusalem neighborhood of approximately 30,000 residents. The roads are in terrible condition, there are almost no sidewalks and no street lights — except in a small Israeli compound of approximately one hundred families, where the roads are new and well- lit sidewalks lead up to the front door of the luxury apartments. Jabel Mukaber lacks schools, kindergartens, and day-care centers. There is not a community center or a swimming pool, nor is there anywhere in all of East Jerusalem (in the west there are many). There is not a single playground.

What else can one find in the little compound of Israeli Jews in Jabel Mukaber? Not only are there facilities found nowhere else in the neighborhood, but a swimming pool is already planned. This area, and this area alone, is connected to the Israeli electricity grid, whereas the surrounding tens of thousands of Palestinians are dependent on the unstable and outdated infrastructure of East Jerusalem. Beyond that, on behalf of this small settlement the Israeli authorities expropriated local land — in order to build a ritual bath and a synagogue, and for the latter the municipality has already budgeted 4.5 million shekels of taxpayer’s money. In other words, the people of Jabel Mukaber are funding the synagogue, but the city doesn’t build mosques.

The laws which have been put into place are now being used to evict the residents of Sheikh Jarrach, in violation of promises given to the international community in 1967 to recognize exchanges of property and ownership in the land conquered in the Six-Day War. Homes are under threat of being razed despite international law (and basic humanitarian considerations) which make this unacceptable. And now public resources and funds are being used to deepen the gaps in the infrastructure in services between east and west, with discriminatory preference given to Israeli settlers over local residents, rather than being used to narrow them.

It is certainly true that conditions in East Jerusalem are improving in certain areas. More roads are being paved and more classrooms are being built. Yet the overwhelming support being given to Israelis who openly advocate the eviction of Palestinians, who do not hide and baldly speak of their intent to displace and replace the local residents, and the extreme inequalities in the treatment of one population over another, is untenable.

Last week the Mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Leon, attended a ceremony celebrating the setting of a cornerstone for the expansion of the settlement in Jabel Mukaber, a building project called “Nof Zion”. At the ceremony appeared the rabbi of the city of Zfat, Shmuel Eliahu, who was charged with racist incitement: in 2020 the Supreme Court sent him to be disciplined in a rabbinical court (see decision 7150/16). If nothing is done to intervene, all over Jerusalem such provocations are likely to continue. The utterly unjust misallocation of resources, the ongoing incursions of Israelis into what is according to any peace proposal due to be part of Palestine, and the unabashed racist actions and talk of settlers are rapidly turning Jerusalem from the pride of Israel into a source of shame. And no one should be surprised if these actions are not left without a response.

About the Author
Dr Laura Wharton is a member of Jerusalem's City Council as a representative of Meretz and an adjunct lecturer in the political science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Born in the U.S., she immigrated to Israel after receiving a B.A. in the government department of Harvard University and then served a full term in the Israel Defense Forces. She subsequently completed an M.A. and a Ph.D. at Hebrew University. For research that later served as the basis for her book "Is the Party Over? How Israel Lost Its Social Agenda" (Yad Levi Eshkol, 2019) she was awarded the Prime Minister's Prize in Memory of Levi Eshkol. She is a mother of two and has been living in Jerusalem for more than two decades.
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