By Meir Margalit
Much has changed in East Jerusalem over the past decade – to the point of becoming intolerable. When Teddy Kollek was Jerusalem’s mayor, its Arab citizens were disadvantaged, but their honour was scrupulously defended. They felt that at least they received civilized treatment. Recently though, several moves have made their lives unbearable and- the most difficult to bear- they feel their honour is being trodden underfoot. Ten plagues are being inflicted on East Jerusalem’s Arab citizens, and they cannot be ranked by gravity.
The first plague: the option of lawfully building a home has become almost impossible. Here, the difficulties have been accumulating for years: proving ownership, the absence of infrastructures, low building percentages, the reduction of areas permitted for construction – all of these have worsened due to the migration of scores of families across the separation fence into the `right side`, risking the loss of their blue (Israeli) identity cards.
The second plague: the separation fence – has not only created a wave of internal migration, but has cut the migrants off from their families, relatives, and loved ones. Matters have become highly complicated and a family visit which in the past entailed a short journey of minutes has become a `journey into the unknown`, in which no one can guess how long it will take to reach the destination, or to return from it. Everything depends on the mood of the soldier standing at the checkpoint.
The third plague: in tandem, the Interior Ministry has intensified the campaign of confiscating identity cards from people whom it maintains are living beyond the municipal borders. Many find that one day their citizenship status has been revoked without their knowledge, and they must retain a lawyer’s services to get it back.
The fourth plague – the Interior Ministry continues to prevent East Jerusalem residents from uniting with their families or spouses and are forced to live in the town without permits, almost in an underground, out of fear of being arrested by the police.
The fifth plague: the settlers are completely unrestrained in their attempts to take over every spot of land in the city`s eastern half. Their irritation has intensified with the rumours and headlines about a political process that is taking shape. Very recently, without any qualms, they have removed entire families from their homes, imposing fear everywhere they go.
The sixth plague: the destruction of homes which threatens thousands of families. This is not because the municipality is capable of demolishing such a huge number of homes, but because none of the thousands of families who received demolition orders knows who the blow will land on, and when their turn to lose their home will arrive. In this situation, every family lives on borrowed time and the stress is a form of torture.
The seventh plague: the economic crisis has caused calamity in the eastern city, with close to 70% of all families there living below the “poverty line”. In the absence of any prospects for improving the situation, they have very little to lose.
The eighth plague: the humiliating attitude of the Border Police, which has become unrestrained and ever more violent, gross and hot-headed. Its soldiers disdain everything that appears Arab, and injure the deepest sensibilities of Arab citizens.
The ninth plague: the archaeological excavations that the state is carrying out close to the Temple Mount, both in the Givati car-park and in El Wad Street, are generating immense concern among those who believe they are intended to cause the collapse of mosques. It is a belief nurtured by their `intimate` knowledge of the settlers who are conducting the excavations and the nationalist-Messianic agenda that motivates them. It may not be true, but in East Jerusalem even a feeling or a rumour can ignite a conflagration.
The tenth plague: the low level of municipal services, ranging from garbage collection, to the education system which determines their inferior status. Every time Arab citizens cross to the western part of the city and see how great the divide is between their own standard of living and that of their Jewish neighbours, it is seared into their awareness.
Apparently most Israelis prefer not to know what is happening in East Jerusalem, but the city’s leaders would do well if they rethink their policies before the huge explosion – of which we’ve seen just a short “trailer” in the past few days.
Dr. Meir Margalit, Member of the Jerusalem City Council for the Meretz faction.