An Israeli boy watches Jerusalem Day celebrations by Damascus Gate.(MaanImages/Charlie Hoyle)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- As thousands of Israelis march through East Jerusalem on Wednesday to celebrate its capture in 1967, the Palestinian community continues its struggle to survive in a city marked by systematic political, economic, and social divides.
Every year, thousands of right-wing Israelis march through East Jerusalem neighborhoods and the Old City in a national holiday described by Israel's Ministry of Tourism as marking the "liberation" and "reunification" of the city.
But for Palestinians, who make up 40 percent of the population, the day is a reminder of their historic dispossession and compounds their ongoing marginalization from a city which was once the political, economic, and cultural center of Palestinian life.
Over 75 percent of Palestinians, and 82 percent of children, live below the poverty line in East Jerusalem, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
There are huge discrepancies between East and West Jerusalem in terms of education, health, water access, and planning, while Israel has also revoked the residency of 14,309 Palestinians since occupying the city in 1967, with 106 in 2013 alone.
Palestinians in Jerusalem are granted "permanent resident" status, similar to foreign, non-Jewish citizens who choose to live in Israel, and are not Israeli citizens.
Despite forming nearly half of the city's population, only 10 percent of Jerusalem's municipal budget is spent on Palestinians.
"It's increasingly obvious that Israel is doing anything it can within its own legal structures to push young Palestinian families and couples out of town," Micha Kurz from Grassroots Jerusalem, an NGO in East Jerusalem, told Ma'an.
"Not only are living conditions very poor, but healthcare is inaccessible. People can't find jobs, and no new Palestinian neighborhoods have been built (since 1967) while Israel has been building settlements on Palestinian land."
Only 14 percent of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian residential construction, ACRI says, while one-third of Palestinian land has been confiscated since 1967 to build illegal Jewish-only settlements.
The construction of the separation wall has also cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank and forced nearly 100,000 Palestinians in areas such as Ras Khamis, Ras Shahada, and the Shuafat refugee camp to live in "abject neglect" on the outskirts of the city.
Between 60,000-80,000 Palestinians in those neighborhoods have been cut off from a regular water supply for over three months.
Jerusalem Day is a celebration of the Zionist narrative, Kurz says, and is designed in such a way that Israelis ignore the fact that Palestinians have no right to vote nationally, have few economic prospects, and enjoy none of the public services afforded to Jewish residents.
"Thousands of Israelis will be marching through Palestinian neighborhoods shouting: 'It's time you leave this town.' This is what the celebration is about; it's systematic.
"Within the next 10 or 20 years Palestinians will be cleansed out of Jerusalem, politically and economically, but also culturally and religiously. Give it another generation or two."
Erasing the Green Line
Young Israelis march into Damascus Gate waving Israeli flags and chanting nationalist slogans during Jerusalem Day celebrations.(MaanImages/Charlie Hoyle)
Despite being one of the key final-status issues to be resolved in any future peace agreement, Jerusalem Day celebrations promote a clear rejection of the idea that Jerusalem will eventually be shared between Palestinians and Israelis.
"At the same time that the Israeli government claimed to Pope Francis that they protect Christians, reality says otherwise: Jerusalem day is a reminder for everyone that according to the Israeli government in occupied Jerusalem there is no place for Palestinians, either Christians or Muslims," Xavier Abu Eid, a communications adviser with the PLO, told Ma'an.
"The message of Jerusalem Day is that Jerusalem belongs to one people, with no rights for Palestinians, a message which has not been supported by any party in the international community, who have never recognized the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem."
The celebrations entail a march through the Old City in which thousands of young, hardline Israelis parade through the streets triumphantly waving Israeli flags and chanting nationalist slogans.
In the past, the chants have amounted to racist taunting of Palestinians and the atmosphere is charged with nationalist fervor.
Despite the celebrations being embraced by the right, Israel since 1967 has created a city in which the Palestinian population is invisible for most Israelis, with two deliberately separated populations that rarely interact.
"It would require a very serious and far-ranging public service educational campaign to undo the years of propaganda about Jerusalem as an eternal and undivided city," Emily Hauser, a columnist for Israel's Haaretz newspaper, told Ma'an.
Jerusalem Day is a "useful outlet" for expressing the sentiment of the Israeli right-wing, a base which the government relies on, but it also reflects the intentions of the Israeli government, Hauser says.
"I don't think that the current government had any intention in negotiating in good faith, let alone sharing Jerusalem."
Most Israelis in Jerusalem, even the more secular or liberal, would not differentiate between the illegal settlements of Gilo or Har Homa from other Jewish neighborhoods, Hauser says, reflecting the extent to which Israeli government policy has "erased the Green Line."
"People are ignoring something happening a mile from their front door, and their kids are going to have to support it with arms. Nearly 82 percent of Palestinian kids live in poverty. How is that holy? And you are allowing and perpetuating that."
On May 21, 1968, the United Nations Security Council reaffirmed that the "acquisition of territory by military conquest is inadmissible."
The resolution stated that "all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status."
Despite the position of the international community, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday declared before the Knesset that "Jerusalem was reunited and it will never be divided again."
"Celebrating so-called Jerusalem Day is a reaffirmation that the Israeli government does not have the two-state solution as a goal," Xavier Abu Eid told Ma'an.
"There will be no Palestinian state without East Jerusalem as its capital."