What a pity that we can’t convert into shekels the lip service public figures have been paying for 40 years to the slogan “united Jerusalem.” The sea of words that has been spilled over the biblical reference to Jerusalem as a city that has been “joined together” could have filled the deep and gaping chasm between East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem.
As every year, the joy of Jerusalem Day, which is commemorated today, will skip over a significant portion of the city’s residents. All that is left of the annexation of Palestinian neighborhoods to the western, Israeli part of Jerusalem is a dry Knesset law, government decisions that lack substance, and the blue national identity cards that symbolize Israeli residency.
Jerusalem Day reminds a third of the 730,000 residents of the ostensibly united city that they are second-class citizens – or, worse still, a “demographic problem.” Israel has separated them from their brothers in the West Bank and has made no effort to give them the feeling that they are wanted here.
After listening to the flowery speeches of the politicians and city leaders about the removal of barriers between the eastern and western sections of Jerusalem, the celebrants are advised to cross the line that marked the city’s border until the Six-Day War. A few hundred meters from the Western-looking areas of West Jerusalem, they will discover neglected neighborhoods and dilapidated infrastructure, poverty and overcrowding, unemployment and despair. These are the outcome of 40 years of deliberate discrimination. In practice, more than 30 percent of Jerusalem’s population receives just 10 percent of the city’s budget.
In the new neighborhoods established for the Jewish population in the “united Jerusalem,” not one child stays home because of a shortage of classrooms. By contrast, some 15,000 children in East Jerusalem are not registered with the education authorities in the city due to a shortage of more than 1,300 classrooms. It’s no wonder that half the high school students in East Jerusalem drop out of school.
East Jerusalem is also home to 75.8 percent of the poor children in the city. Some 22 percent of East Jerusalem residents – about 31,600 people – are under the care of the municipality’s welfare services, and 62 percent of families there live below the poverty line.
The construction of the West Bank separation fence has allowed the government to revise the borders of Jerusalem, which were drawn in the heat of the city’s capture, and separate from hastily annexed Arab neighborhoods. However, the politicians are sticking to their shallow slogans. Fearing that their rivals will accuse them of dividing Jerusalem, they perpetuate the deprivation of a third of its residents; some 55,000 East Jerusalem Arabs who hold blue identity cards and live in the “Jerusalem envelope” area have found themselves on the other side of the fence, cut off from the city’s municipal center.
Ehud Barak was the first prime minister who suggested dividing the city based on the principle of what the Jews have the Jews get, and what the Arabs have the Arabs get. The Clinton plan, the Geneva Accord and the Arab peace initiative also propose a similar basis for dividing the city. It would befit Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was a senior partner to the failure when he served as mayor of Jerusalem, to replace the slogan of unity with a reasonable and fair policy for division of the city.
Reprinted from Ha’aretz