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Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Arabs of "East Jerusalem" who want to integrate with Israel

Excerpts from a lengthy report in Ha'aretz:

A year ago, for the first time, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel postal service established a post office in the village of Isawiyah, which lies below Mount Scopus, within the municipal boundaries. Along with the opening of the new branch − part of a plan to improve postal services in East Jerusalem − the village streets were given names and the houses received numbers. These developments followed a petition to the High Court of Justice, submitted by residents with the aid of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. But the municipality could not find a site for the post office, since most of the buildings in the village were illegal structures, so their future was thus in question.

Finally, a site for the post office was improvised between the support pillars of the neighborhood sports center.

However, on the night before the scheduled festive dedication of the new branch, which the mayor was to attend, the site was torched and slogans against normalization and collaboration with the municipality were scrawled on the walls.

“In the morning I get an urgent call from the residents,” Tsachar says. “They say: ‘Don’t ask − people tried to burn down the place.’ When I got there I found 20-30 people milling around and cursing: ‘Look what the sons-of-bitches did.’ I told them it was not a problem, because the structure was made of iron. ‘It’s just scorched a little. We can clean it up and go ahead with the ceremony,’ I told them. They organized and cleaned it up, and to this day the post office is operating just fine.”

Barkat showed up that day as scheduled to dedicate the site. His convoy was subjected to some stone-throwing on the way, but the local mukhtar, Darwish Darwish, joined a group of villagers who positioned themselves near the car to protect the mayor and the other officials.

The story of Isawiyah’s post office is a microcosm of the contrasting trends unfolding in East Jerusalem. Along with the nationalist radicalization, widespread support for Hamas and violent clashes reported in the media, far-reaching changes are taking place among the local Palestinians. These processes can be described as “Israelization,” “normalization” or just plain adaptation. The Israeli authorities, with the Jerusalem Municipality at the forefront, are encouraging and in some cases fomenting this process, and displaying surprising bureaucratic flexibility along the way.

Examples of this trend are legion. They include: increasing numbers of applications for an Israeli ID card; more high-school students taking the Israeli matriculation exams; greater numbers enrolling in Israeli academic institutions; a decline in the birthrate; more requests for building permits; a rising number of East Jerusalem youth volunteering for national service; a higher level of satisfaction according to polls of residents; a revolution in the approach to health services; a survey showing that in a final settlement more East Jerusalem Palestinians would prefer to remain under Israeli rule, and so on.

But dry statistics tell only a small part of the story; other elements are not quantifiable. For example, there is the pronounced presence of Palestinians in the center of West Jerusalem, in malls, on the light-rail train and in the open shopping area in Mamilla, adjacent to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. These people are not street cleaners or dishwashers, but consumers and salespeople. Another phenomenon is the growing cooperation between merchants in the Old City and the municipality.

Everyone involved in developments in East Jerusalem agrees that a tectonic shift is occurring, the likes of which has not been known since the city came under Israeli rule in 1967. Opinion is divided about the source of the change. Some believe it sprang from below, propelled by the Palestinians’ feelings of despair and their belief that an independent state is not likely to come into being. Others think it is due to a revised approach to the eastern part of the city by Israeli authorities, spearheaded by the municipality. Everyone mentions the separation barrier, which abruptly cut off Jerusalem from its natural hinterland − the cities and villages of the West Bank − as a factor that compelled the Palestinians in Al Quds ‏(“the holy sanctuary”) to look westward, toward the Jews.

The huge light-rail project, which cuts across the city and greatly facilitates access from the eastern neighborhoods to the city center, is also contributing to the transformation. Most of these changes are occurring below the radar of the Israeli public, but their consequences could be dramatic, particularly with regard to the possibility of dividing Jerusalem − and the country. It is very possible that Jerusalem has already chosen the binational solution.

1. Education

Three months after Israel captured East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, the new school year began. The government, which by then had already annexed the eastern part of the city, sought to implement the Israeli curriculum in its public schools. However, the teachers, parents and principals adamantly refused. They launched a strike that became the symbol of the struggle by the Arabs of East Jerusalem against Israeli attempts to normalize the occupation. The strike persisted for two full years, until Israel finally capitulated and agreed to allow the Arab schools in Jerusalem to continue teaching according to the Jordanian curriculum. In time, that was superseded by the curriculum of the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinians view that victory as a milestone in their resistance to Israel’s annexationist thrust. However, the triumph has begun to erode of late. Increasing numbers of parents now want their children to obtain an Israeli matriculation certificate, and more and more high-school graduates are attending special colleges that prepare them to enter the Israeli academic world. At present, there are three schools in East Jerusalem geared toward Israeli matriculation, while in others special programs are being launched with the same aim.

A school in Sur Baher, for example, initiated a track for Israeli matriculation last year. The school expected about 15 students to register, but 100 signed up − and the number is likely to grow in the years ahead.

2. Housing and water

There are hardly any water meters in East Jerusalem, because most of the homes were built without a permit, and it is prohibited to supply water or install a meter in an illegal structure. About two years ago, again after an appeal by ACRI, the municipal water corporation, Hagihon, came up with a creative legal solution. Instead of calling it a “water meter,” it’s now called a “control device.”

The change of name made it possible to circumvent the law and install water meters and a water supply system in thousands of homes − and to start charging for the service. About 10,000 of the devices have been installed in the past two years. Hagihon has also received hundreds of requests from families that want to disconnect from the Palestinian water network, which still supplies water to some of the northern sections of East Jerusalem, and tap into the Israeli grid. The reason: The water supply by the Palestinian company is sometimes erratic.

“We received so many requests from residents to be connected to the Israeli system,” Tsachar, the mayor’s adviser, says. “Let’s say I am an incorrigible Palestinian nationalist, but I also want to shower. What can I do? In that case, [asking to be supplied with] Israeli water is legitimate and pragmatic, and it will also be available all the time. I can fly a Palestinian flag next to the water container on the roof, but I would rather get the water on a regular basis. Now think about the ‘tower and stockade’ settlements [of the 1930s and 1940s]. Do you think they would have said, ‘We will not build a tower but will hook up to the Jordanian network, because it’s more practical’? Obviously not. So there is a process underway here. It’s something that cannot be ignored.”

The matter of issuing building permits provides another example of the authorities’ administrative flexibility in East Jerusalem. The main problem is that most residents cannot get a building permit because they do not have documents attesting to their ownership of property. To solve this problem, the municipality devised the so-called “Barkat procedure.”

“The problem is that if you don’t have confirmation of land ownership, the whole judicial system is stuck,” says Barkat. “We therefore created a mechanism in which the mukhtars, community directorate and municipality meet, and if they reach the conclusion that there is no reason not to believe someone who says the land is his, he gets a temporary permit.

After 20 years, if no one else claims ownership, it becomes permanent. This is a city in which legal creativity is a must. I would rather be right and smart than right and dumb.”

...
Among the achievements Barkat lists: investments in infrastructure and transportation, planning of neighborhoods, building of schools and more. To illustrate the altered perception on the Palestinian side, he recalls the events surrounding the city-sponsored Festival of Light in the Old City and the behavior of the merchants there. The festival, which focuses on sculptures and performances relating to the theme of light, was held for the third time this year.

“The first year we had a pilot program, only in the Jewish Quarter, and 100,000 people showed up,” Barkat says. “In the second year we held it in the Jewish Quarter and the Christian Quarter, and 200,000 people came. This year it was in all the quarters and there were 300,000 visitors. At first the merchants were afraid to open up for the event, because they got threats. But then they saw that one store opened and then another, and before you knew it they were all open. Everyone made a killing and people got used to the idea.”

3. Health

[I]n one area, the gap between the Jews in the west and their neighbors in the east has almost closed: public health. The past decade witnessed something of a mini-revolution in this sphere in Jerusalem. Until about 15 years ago, the Arabs of East Jerusalem were severely disadvantaged in terms of health care, mainly when it came to the health maintenance organizations. There were few clinics, physicians were unqualified, services were lacking. In the wake of the enactment of the National Health Law, which rewards the HMOs according to the number of members they have and their upgrading of various medical indices − none other than Leumit HMO, which is identified with the Revisionist Zionist movement − decided to enter the market in the eastern city. A major draw was the fact that the East Jerusalem population is young.

Around the same time, whether by chance or not, the Leumit logo also underwent a transformation: The long-time Star of David morphed into a flower. Within a few years, unbridled competition broke out between HMOs in the eastern city, which are run by local concessionaires − for the most part physicians, but in some cases businessmen.

The competition and privatization generated protests by organizations such as Physicians for Human Rights and ACRI. Their concern was that there was substandard supervision by the HMOs and a preference for making a profit instead of improving medical care. In the end, the process brought about a situation in which almost every neighborhood now has a number of clinics that boast advanced equipment. Following a number of cases in which ambulance drivers refused to enter Arab neighborhoods, some of the clinics now have their own forward ER units. In some cases the residents get free transportation to the clinics, free subscriptions to health clubs or free dental care, to ensure that they don’t switch to a rival HMO. ....

Prof. Yosef Frost, director of the Jerusalem district of Clalit, describes the health developments in East Jerusalem over the past few years as an international record.

“Take the quality indices, which are objective and universal, and examine the quality of medical service,” he says. “Four years ago, the indices were extremely low, whereas now they are almost equal to the Israeli national average. Some of the clinics in East Jerusalem are the leaders in the whole district; I could easily put them in the center of Tel Aviv.”

According to Frost, the health quality indices in East Jerusalem rose from a grade of 74 in 2009 to 87 today. That is the same grade the clinics in West Jerusalem receive, and just one point below the national average of Clalit clinics.

4. ID cards

... Interior Ministry data show that several hundred Palestinians from East Jerusalem received Israeli citizenship in each of the past few years. Lawyers who are involved in this process say the queue of applicants is getting longer all the time.

“The shame barrier has fallen,” says attorney Amnon Mazar, who specializes in applications for citizenship. “People have reached the conclusion that the PA will not be their salvation and that Israel is a cornucopia. So they do it for their personal benefit. People who obtain Israeli citizenship are no longer necessarily considered traitors to their nation. It’s the trend. They don’t feel they have anything to be ashamed of.”

The fall of the shame barrier was also discernible in a survey conducted among East Jerusalem residents by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy − an independent think tank − last January. The results were dramatic. One question was, “In the event of a permanent two-state solution, which state would you prefer to live in?” No fewer than 35 percent of the respondents chose Israel, 30 percent opted for Palestine and 35 percent refused to answer.

“It was a surprise,” admits Dr. David Pollock, who conducted the survey. “We thought people would not want to say or admit it, but they did. You can see from the large number of people who declined to answer that it is a highly sensitive issue. So I would say that these figures are the minimum.”
Ha'aretz, being Ha'aretz, quotes Meretz politicians about how it is awful that Jerusalem is being united, which for some bizarre reason they claim kills the two-state solution.

(h/t Anne, Yoel)