Omar Karmi
The National
May 13, 2010 - 12:00am

Deep inside the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, Adla Jabber shares three rooms with 12 relatives.

The 59-year-old widow needs a car, she jokes, to get to her kitchen, a sparse stonewalled room that doubles as a bathroom. It is outside, 20 metres down a narrow alley. The stove, a rusty two-ring gas heater, hides under a stone arch in the alley, barely sheltered from the elements.

Not that much cooking takes place: Mrs Jabber and her family take meals daily from a charity. “For every day of work, there are 10 without,” she said. Mrs Jabber and her family fall well below the poverty line, which in Israel is calculated as under half the median household income, or, for a family of five, a bit less than Dh5,100 a month.

According to a report on Monday by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), nearly 65 per cent of Palestinian families in Jerusalem share Mrs Jabber’s fate.

Life for Palestinians in Jerusalem is “a continuing cycle of neglect, discrimination, poverty and shortages”, said the report, one of the most comprehensive studies of the socio-economic situation in East Jerusalem released in recent years.

The numbers are dramatic: just under 75 per cent of Palestinian children live in poverty; 160,000 people, over half of Jerusalem’s Palestinian population, have no suitable connection to clean running water, while East Jerusalem currently lacks 50km of sewage lines; school dropout rates stand at 50 per cent, as young Palestinians flee overcrowded schools to seek menial work to support unemployed parents.

But in order to be employed, Palestinians often need to present a clean criminal record. In East Jerusalem, where children as young as 12 are detained and simply participating in demonstrations can lead to arrest, a clean record is a rare thing. Furthermore, according to ACRI, police in East Jerusalem “give themselves the leeway to behave with brutality … in ways that would be unconscionable anywhere else in the country”.

This dire situation can largely be laid at the door of official Israeli neglect, charges ACRI, particularly in terms of infrastructure development. Since Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 – an annexation not recognised internationally – authorities have simply not budgeted for planning for the city’s Palestinian residents.

Palestinians find it almost impossible to obtain municipal licences to expand houses or build new ones. With an annual population growth of four per cent, this has created enormous pressure on the population.

Average occupancy is 1.9 persons per room, as compared with West Jerusalem’s one per room. As a consequence, many structures have been erected without permit, subsequently to be torn down. In 2009 alone, the Jerusalem municipality demolished 80 houses, demolitions that families are often billed for themselves.

The Jerusalem municipality rejects such charges, saying there is no difference between the number of permits issued in East and West Jerusalem. But the municipality includes Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem where there is little restriction on building.

“There is no difference between Jewish neighbourhoods in East and West Jerusalem. The difference is between Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods,” said Ronit Sela one of the authors of the ACRI report. “There are no zoning plans for [Palestinian] East Jerusalem and without such plans you can’t build.”

But drawing up zoning plans is the responsibility of the municipality and the relevant ministries. The fact that since 1967 such plans have not been drawn up, said Ms Sela, had to be seen as an “effort on the part of the authorities to ensure that Palestinians have a hard time and will choose eventually to leave.”

None of this comes as a surprise to Palestinians in Jerusalem.

“Israel is working hard to ensure that by 2020, there will be a 75 per cent Jewish majority,” said Mahmoud Jiddah, who, until it was shut down last year by the Israeli authorities “for security reasons”, worked as a councillor with the Nidal Centre for Community Development. Palestinians currently constitute 36 per cent of Jerusalem’s population.

Mr Jiddah, married 24 years to a woman from the West Bank, has yet to obtain permission for her to live legally with him in Jerusalem. The effort to keep Jerusalemite Palestinians from obtaining residency for their West Bank spouses became official in 2003 with the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law. It is a law that shows, said Hiyyam Elayyan, head of the Al Sarraya Centre for Community Services in the Old City, that “even in the most intimate matter of marriage, Israel interferes.”

“They are pressing Palestinians from every possible angle,” said Ms Elayyan.

Like all Palestinians in Jerusalem, Mrs Jabber vowed never to leave, even if “there is no future for us”. She receives welfare, US$800 a month, but with taxes and bills, “I give it straight back,” she said.

But without a political solution to Jerusalem, said Ms Elayyan, a “huge problem will only keep growing”.

“I see no sign of change,” said Ms Sela. “The current government is definitely not interested in investing in the rights of Palestinian citizens.”


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