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Jerusalem: The undivided capital? Open in fullscreen

Ben Clarke

Jerusalem: The undivided capital?

Israeli police guard a checkpoint at the Jabal al-Mukabbir neighbourhood of East Jerusalem [Andalou]

Date of publication: 16 January, 2017

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Comment: For the Israeli establishment, unification is not about equality under the law, it is a political tool used for propagating idealised recasts of history, writes Ben Clarke.

"Now let's play a game called 'I Spy', where you look for any sign of government infrastructure or services," says Yahav as we gaze over the Palestinian neighbourhood of Jabal Mukabbir in East Jerusalem.

"If you see a public building, if you see a park, if you see a main road or a bridge or a tunnel, if you see any physical sign of the existence of government please shout it out" he requests mischievously.

Yahav, an Israeli Jew, has spent the last 10 years working with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, dedicated to "ending the prolonged Israeli occupation over the Palestinians," and he makes no attempt to hide his obvious contempt for the political establishment that seems intent on making that ambition ever more elusive.

"I can start," he declares, answering his own question, "the separation wall - a giant infrastructure project!" The eight metre high barrier bisects Jabal Mukabbir, separating families and leaving half the residents on what is effectively the "West Bank" side of the wall, with no right to travel into the Jerusalem Municipality. 

Although Yahav accepts that there is some government spending in East Jerusalem neighbourhoods, driving through Jabal Mukabbir and any other Palestinian town, there is a palpable difference to Jewish West Jerusalem, which is part of the same municipality: More litter strewn on neglected winding roads, less street lighting, fewer recreational spaces, less public transport, and more disorganised buildings deemed "illegal" under Israel's discriminatory laws.

According to The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, more than a quarter of the 300,200 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem reside in neighbourhoods that are disconnected from the city due to the separation wall, and they suffer a severe lack of services and infrastructure as a result; only 64 percent of households in East Jerusalem are connected to the water infrastructure of Jerusalem's water company, Hahihon Corp. There is also a shortage of approximately 30km of sewage pipes.

Only 64 percent of households in East Jerusalem are connected to the water infrastructure of Jerusalem's water company

"There is a very interesting situation… if you listen to Israeli politicians, they're talking a lot about 'the United Jerusalem,'" says Yahav, "If you're an Israeli politician in any one of the major parties and you want to get elected, you pretty much have to say 'I believe in the United Jerusalem, under Israeli rule forever'."

"My problem is the tension between how much we talk about it and how little we do about it, as far as policy, as far as government [is concerned]" he rebukes. It is this ugly contrast that has created an unabashed paradox in terms of Israeli rhetoric concerning an "undivided Jerusalem" and the disparity fuelling policies that continue to escalate ethnic, social and economic divides.

Thus, when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declares that "Jerusalem will never again become a wounded and divided city" there is no cause for celebration amongst the three quarters of Palestinian residents in Jerusalem who live below the poverty line.

Likewise, Education Minister Naftali Bennet's recent announcement that 2017 will be the year of "Jerusalem's unification" in the education system was surely met with derision by the Palestinian inhabitants who suffer from a 33 percent dropout rate amongst 12th grade students and for whom 43 percent of school classrooms are defined as inadequate.

It is this ugly contrast that has created an unabashed paradox in terms of Israeli rhetoric concerning an 'undivided Jerusalem' and the disparity fuelling policies that continue to escalate ethnic, social and economic divides

For the whole Israeli establishment, unification is not about equality under the law and parity in resource allocation, it is a political tool used for propagating idealised recasts of history, and plain and simple nationalistic indoctrination; a tool that would be much less effective without the backing of powerful friends.

And in the so-called "anti-establishment" billionaire President-elect Donald Trump, they have found a very powerful and ill-informed friend, more than happy to fortify the paradox.

Trump's pledge to move the US embassy

Much has been written about Donald Trump and his mercurial approach to governance, but it is his forays into Middle East policy that are perhaps his most capricious.

At the start of last year he defied mainstream US convention by refusing to choose "a side" in the Palestinian/Israeli "conflict" and asserted his "neutrality".

Yet, just one month later, in a sycophantic soliloquy at the AIPAC conference in Washington, Trump performed a comprehensive U-turn; he blamed the Palestinians for the stalled peace-process, he questioned the role of the UN, and he promised that his administration would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

It seems unlikely that Trump's new pro-settlement ambassador to Israel has explained the catastrophic implications that will be seen as deliberately inflammatory by the Palestinians

Earlier this month, emboldened by Trump's pledge, three Republican Senators (including Trump's former presidential rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio) introduced legislation to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's official capital and to move the US embassy there.

That this move would effectively contravene the recent UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemns all measures aimed at altering the status of the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, is apparently of no concern to Trump. After all, with regard to the UN, "things will be different after Jan. 20th".

Indeed, even if we disregard the UN's myriad resolutions, some of which were voted for by the USA, it would still represent a wilful neglect of international law.

Read More: Symbolic but spineless: UNSC resolution on Palestine-Israel

This policy would act as a tool of legitimisation for Israel's contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and it would validate Israel's continued violation of the Oslo Accords, which recognises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit.

It seems unlikely that Trump's new pro-settlement ambassador to Israel has explained the catastrophic implications that will be seen as deliberately inflammatory by the Palestinians. His chances of brokering the "ultimate deal" will evaporate.

Opposed to the apparent intention, rather than endorse a united Jerusalem, this policy will only serve to intensify gargantuan divides.

Jerusalem: A truly divided city

On nearly every social, economic and legal indicator there is a huge disparity between Jewish West Jerusalem and Palestinian East Jerusalem: Education, health, opportunities for professional employment, resource allocation from the municipality, the right to build, welfare spending (just 4.4 percent of Jerusalem Municipality welfare spending is allocated and spent in East Jerusalem).

And let us look at the right to political participation. Despite the de-facto annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel in 1967, deemed illegal by international law, through an administrative sleight of hand, the vast majority of Palestinian residents of are not granted the right of citizenship in this undivided "capital".

In a perverse ode to Orwellian doublespeak, the Israeli government has created a special term for these people: the 'present absentees'

Thus, Palestinians in East Jerusalem - that is the indigenous population under illegal Israeli control - are treated as non-Jewish immigrants to Israel. This means that 300,200 Palestinian residents, except for a very small number (approximately 3,500 managed to obtain citizenship from 2002-2012), do not even have the right to vote in Knesset elections.

Needless to say, the 200,000 Jewish settlers living in East Jerusalem are afforded citizenship and universal suffrage.

And why aren't the Palestinian residents furnished with citizenship? Because to do so would, one; weaken the Jewish majority and the carefully gerrymandered political constituency of the state, two; make them harder to expel, and three; risk providing them with a minimal legal right of redress.

With reference to the whole of the occupied territories, Yahav explains this phenomenon as we pass by some old Arab buildings that are now occupied by Jewish families from the USA, "Most of the land property in here was seized under the Absentee Property Law of 1950… If we give these people Israeli citizenship it makes it at least a little more difficult to stop them coming back to reclaim their properties, which is most of the land and homes of the State of Israel."

The law designates "absentees' property" as the land belonging to the Palestinians who were all expelled by Zionist forces by mid-1949. Even those who remained within the State of Israel, and now, those that are residents of annexed East Jerusalem, are still defined as "absentee" by the law.

In a perverse ode to Orwellian doublespeak, the Israeli government has created a special term for these people: the "present absentees".

Even on a basic social level, the manufactured segregation of two communities is blindingly evident and intentional

Even on a basic social level, the manufactured segregation of two communities is blindingly evident and intentional; the Israeli state cannot risk Jewish communities mixing with Palestinians as to do so would risk fostering solidarity between the populations, and the holistic strategy to dehumanise Palestinians would be voided.

"The people of West Jerusalem don't go into these [East Jerusalem] neighbourhoods - except the Old City to eat hummus and just behind the Old City in Wadi al-Joz to fix cars for cheap," explains Yahav. "The people of West Jerusalem, overwhelmingly don't know these neighbourhoods, wouldn't be able to say their names, to place them on a map."

There of course is a great degree of psychology behind this self-enforced segregation, but its unconscious nature has been deliberately fostered by policy decisions, and not just from within Israel. So, explains Yahav, "If you have a phone that can connect to the internet, and you go right now, and you look at Google Maps, and you try to find out where we are, you will see that here (West Jerusalem) the streets have names, and here (East Jerusalem) they don't. This on Google Maps is a big grey block."

And the political custodians of this united and divided city are playing their part too, "If you ask the Jerusalem Municipality for a Jerusalem map, it ends at the Old City… There is [sic] basically no maps of Jabal Mukabbir, of Isawiya, of Umm Tuba."

"These people know about these places, about as much as you do. They have no voters here, they have no ribbons to cut here, there is no reason for Israeli politicians to ever come here… So we have these great dramatic statements about how important it is to us, and we have a situation where it looks like the government has completely forgotten this (East Jerusalem) exits… we have this very great divide between the rhetoric and what is actually happening."

Only the most arrogant and egregious politicians can gaze over the towns of East Jerusalem - literally divided by a wall - where the residents enjoy different and insufficient legal, civil and political rights, and continue to peddle the absurd notion of an "undivided Jerusalem".


Ben Clarke is a law graduate and independent correspondent. His work has featured in Middle East Eye, Mondoweiss and others.

Follow him on Twitter: @benclarke121

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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