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East Jerusalem: Did you know?

Some of the extreme costs of living on the other side of the fence

An articulate, British-accented woman stood facing a group against the backdrop of east Jerusalem. The location affords a good view of the security wall and of Abu Dis on its other side. “They only come to Palestinians’ homes and check the drawers for underwear to establish if people are really living there,” she railed.

It’s true. We do. Residency confers the right to receive National Insurance payments and there are random checks for fraud. The “look in the underwear drawer” method is also used, however, to establish whether claimants for the single mother payment are actually living with their husbands. Perhaps she didn’t know?

East Jerusalem: I knew that roads, water, educational facilities, unemployment figures, access, schools, parks, lighting, sidewalks, you-name-it are incomparably poorer.

I wanted to learn more.

I went on a Free Jerusalem tour of Shuafat  – a Palestinian refugee camp-cum-established, poor neighborhood trapped between a wall and a wall. We were welcomed by a marching band (!) and saw and heard a little of what lawlessness and municipal no-man’s land looks like for the 100,000 people living there. It included rusting, burnt out cars on the streets, towering residential blocks built without building codes and ten-year-old boys driving cars. I learnt that if there is a local murder, Israeli police investigate the crime scene…by phone. Shuafat is great for criminals, murderers, pirate builders and ten-year-old boys.

It is not safe for phone or electricity company employees, building inspectors or police to enter Shuafat. While I identify with the frustration of the residents, there’s no way I would trust going in on my own.

I wanted to learn more.

I learnt there are 101 kinds of permits governing Palestinian movement. (My then-in-the-army son told us once of an old man who had a permit to go through a checkpoint, had already been to three, but couldn’t understand where the right one was. By phone, my son confirmed his story was true. If you’ve tussled with Israeli bureaucracy, try that on for size.) I didn’t know that permits were checkpoint specific.

I learnt that the security fence has pushed rents sky high in Arab neighborhoods on this side of the wall because ….. you’re on this side of the wall. Jewish Neveh Yaakov and Har Homah are now more mixed than ever before because rent is lower in Jewish neighborhoods on this side of the fence. I had no idea.

To learn more, I met a municipal adviser on east Jerusalem. He was sincere both in sharing my frustration and in wanting to share what else is going on. He shared that the Jerusalem municipality now has an Arabic Facebook page for east Jerusalem.

It shows that 1M shekels was spent on cleaning up piles of garbage, 2M on road repair and 700,000 more on holiday lighting for Ramadan. But the roar of the crowd is not what one might expect. The only positive comment I saw had seven negative responses.

Another proud post on the same municipal page about a 160M new roads project in the east of the city has the declared goal of increasing access to the center. All 247 comments are negative. There is, to put it delicately, very little trust voiced.

Years ago, in Melbourne, the roads authority put a freeway through my childhood home. Outside of Jerusalem in Mevasseret, residents unsuccessfully protested the roadworks from the freeway that would change the entrance to their neighborhood. This is the kind of thing that governments do. Here, because of the weight of Jewish-Arab relations, the freeway in Beit Safafa felt acutely painful to local residents. It’s really about trust.

Mr. Adviser also shared that the municipality is now working with eight community centers in east Jerusalem, including Shuafat. I had no idea. Community centers do two things; they provide leisure and cultural activities and are also the coordinating link between local government and local residents. Where to put lighting, dumpsters, roads, kindergartens, etc., now happens in conjunction with local reps also in east Jerusalem. Beit Hanina has become the model for cooperation they hope to achieve in the others. The overall picture is pretty grim but perhaps this will build a little trust?

Netanyahu has just declared the expansion of two Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. Do you know what that will do for trust?

About the Author
Helen Gottstein is a presentation training specialist and an actress. Presentation training and performances available for bookings in Hebrew and English. helengot@gmail.com
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