Jerusalem Still Suffers From Divisions, 50 Years After War
Israel is marking this week the 50th anniversary of its capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war – an event it celebrates as the “unification” of its eternal capital.
But for Palestinians, there is little to celebrate. They also claim east Jerusalem as their capital, and live in neighborhoods under Israeli control that suffer from poverty, neglect and poor services.
These stark contrasts are on display this week. Parades, light shows and festivals are being held throughout the city as Israeli Jews celebrate the capture of Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordanian troops half a century ago. The victory was hailed by Jews as marking the symbolic return of control over Judaism’s holiest sites after 2,000 years in exile.
The Old City is home to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, and the adjacent hilltop compound revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, the spot where the biblical Temples once stood. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Jerusalem.
Palestinians revere the same hilltop compound as the “Noble Sanctuary.” This compound, home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and gold-topped Dome of the Rock, is Islam’s third-holiest site.
The conflicting claims to this tiny patch of land lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They also have helped turn Jerusalem into a city of jarring contradictions – from beautifully restored archaeological sites, gleaming pedestrian malls and bustling nightspots in renovated Jewish areas to the potholed streets, overcrowded classrooms and impoverished neighborhoods in Arab sections of east Jerusalem.
After the 1967 war, Israel annexed east Jerusalem and some neighboring West Bank villages and declared all of expanded Jerusalem to be its capital. The international community has never recognized that annexation and considers east Jerusalem, like the West Bank, to be occupied territory.
Even this week’s visit by President Donald Trump failed to put the issue to rest. Despite professing his deep support for Israel, he has backed away from a campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy to the city and pointedly rebuffed Israeli requests to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the city.
After 50 years of Israeli control, Jerusalem remains deeply divided in many ways. Here is a look at the contradictions of modern Jerusalem:
The city has 883,000 residents as of the end of 2016, according to provisional figures provided by the Jerusalem Center for Policy Research, a research center that compiles data for the municipality. Sixty-three percent of the population is Jewish, while 37 percent are Palestinian Arabs. Many of the Jews – some 200,000 – live in new Jewish areas in the occupied east.
Jewish Jerusalemites have automatic Israeli citizenship. Palestinians hold residency rights, allowing them to work and granting them access to Israeli health care and social benefits. They also can vote in municipal elections, though most boycott the balloting. But they are not citizens and cannot vote in national elections. A small but growing number of Jerusalem Palestinians have begun to apply for Israeli citizenship – a process that they say is bureaucratic and far from certain.
Seventy-nine percent of Arab families lived in what Israel defines as poverty in 2015, according to the Jerusalem center. The definition is around $2,000 a month for a family of four. Only 27 percent of Jewish families are in poverty, the center said.
The average class size in a Palestinian classroom is 37 students, compared to 22 in state-run Jewish schools, according to the center. While the city has begun to build additional classrooms for Arab students, Ir Amim, an advocacy group that promotes coexistence and equality in the system, estimates that there is a shortage of 2,672 classrooms. Some 13 percent of Palestinians drop out of school, compared to 1 percent in state-run Jewish schools, the group says.
Before the June 1967 war, Jerusalem was just 38 square kilometers (15 square miles) in area. After the postwar annexation, its area expanded to 108 square kilometers (42 square miles). Jews and Arabs overwhelmingly live in separate neighborhoods, with nearly all Palestinians located in the eastern part of the city. Israel has also ringed east Jerusalem with Jewish housing developments to cement its control. These developments are de facto neighborhoods of the city, enjoying the same schools and public services as other areas, despite being considered illegal settlements by the Palestinians and most of the world. Palestinians, meanwhile, struggle to get permissions to develop their areas and in dozens of cases each year, their homes are demolished for illegal construction.
Just 10 percent of the municipal budget is devoted to Palestinian areas of the city, resulting in reduced services across the board, according to Ir Amim. As a result, Palestinian areas receive disproportionately fewer services across the board, including education, fire and rescue and health care. For example, there are about 1,000 public parks in west Jerusalem. East Jerusalem has just 45, according to the B’tselem human rights group. Among those hardest hit: the estimated 80,000 Palestinians living in neighborhoods placed behind the Israeli-built separation barrier.
Yair Assaf-Shapira, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, prefers to think of the city’s problems as “gaps,” not divisions.
“Are Jerusalem residents of all kinds and all groups receiving the proper level of services? Are there people who should be receiving specific help who are not receiving it?” he asked. “This is the conversation we should have.”
Assaf-Shapira said the problems plaguing the Palestinians include neglect and discrimination, but also go further. A historically high birthrate and low participation in the work force, particularly among Arab women, have also contributed to the high poverty rate.
Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox population also suffers from poverty, in large part because of the decision by many males to spend their days studying religious texts instead of working.
But Assaf-Shapira sees some hope for the city. Jews and Arabs mingle in public spaces like malls and playgrounds far more than they used to, the education rate is improving in the Arab sector and the birthrate among Palestinian women has slowed.
“The gaps are huge. Huge challenges are faced by the municipality and the state trying to narrow or close these gaps,” he said. “Still, I think there are many reasons for optimism.”