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Decades of neglect leave East Jerusalem mired in poverty, violence

May 14, 2015 3:58 P.M. (Updated: July 26, 2015 3:12 P.M.)
A general view of Jerusalem's Old City from the Mount of Olives.(Charlie Hoyle)
By: Charlie Hoyle

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Decades of chronicunder-funding, discriminatory planning rights, and unequal access to services have left the Palestinian community in Jerusalem mired in poverty, according to statistics published by a civil rights group, with youths subject to increased police brutality and arrests sincelast summer's demonstrations in the city.

Statistics released this week by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel paint a devastating picture of neglect, urban blight and underdevelopment in East Jerusalem, the historic heart of Palestinian life, all a result of nearly five decades of Israeli policies, with over 75 percent of Palestinians living below the poverty line compared to the national Israeli average of 21.8 percent.

The group released the statistics --taken from theJerusalem Municipality, Israeli Police, the Central Bureau of Statistics, and other official agencies -- to coincide with Jerusalem Day, a largely right-wing Israeli national holiday to celebrate the "liberation" and "reunification" of the city following what is internationally recognized as the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

For Palestinians, the day is a painful reminder of their historic loss, displacement, and on goingmarginalization.

Despite having lived under Israeli rule for 48 years, Palestinians are classified as permanent residents, not citizens, and lack political representation at a national level. The community largely chooses to boycott localmunicipalelections -- in 2013 around 1 percent of Palestinians voted -- and are essentially political orphans, with no Israeli or Palestinian political body representing their interests.

The result is recurring neglect of the300,200 Palestinians in East Jerusalem, who form 36.8 percent of the city's total population.

"These (Palestinian neighborhoods) are places where roads haven't been repaired for years, where schools haven't been built, where there is crime and garbage. In that sense you do wonder what the municipalitythinks is the future (for East Jerusalem),"Ronit Sela,Director of ACRI's Human Rights in East Jerusalem Project, told Ma'an.

In terms of public services, 36percent of Palestinian households are not connected to the water network,43 percent of the classrooms in the municipal system aredefined as inadequate, and there is a shortage of 30 kilometers of sewage pipes inPalestinianneighborhoods.

There are only eight post offices in East Jerusalem, compared to 40 in West Jerusalem. Furthermore, Palestinians can access only 9 infant healthcare centers in the city compared to 26 for Israelis, and poverty rates for children are 53 percent higher for Palestinian children, with 8,501 defined as "at risk."

The dropout rate for Palestinian students in East Jerusalem in 12th grade -- where students are 18 years old -- is 33 percent, nearly 24 times higher than the dropout rate in the Hebrew education system, which stands at 1.4 percent, and despiteforming 36.8 percent of the population -- and paying residential and commercial taxes -- only10-13 percent of the overall municipal budget is invested in East Jerusalem,according to rights group Ir Amim.

"Palestinians in Jerusalem suffer first and foremost from the fact there is an on going conflict and Israeli authorities control every aspect of their lives," Sela says.

Social workers in East Jerusalem say that the myriad of social and political problems can often affect individual Palestinian families directly, with many suffering from having one son in prison and another dropping out of school without qualifications, amid a backdrop of economic marginalization.

"East Jerusalem is not a tiny piece of land or territory, but Israeli policies have been to limit the space where Palestinians can reside, to limit the space where Palestinians can have commercial life or industry and, with the separation barrier, fragment the areas where Palestinians are living and where the center of the community is," Sela says.

A Palestinian boy sits next to a bread stall in Jerusalem's Old City.(Charlie Hoyle)

Police brutality, arbitrary law enforcement

Alongsidechronic poverty and economic marginalization, one of the major changes since ACRI's 2014 report on East Jerusalem are the increasingly draconian police and municipal measures introduced against Palestinians following months of clashes following the murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir last July by Israeli extremists.

In the second half of 2014, ACRI reported that over 1,184 Palestinians were detained in East Jerusalem, including 406 children, with indictments submitted against 338 of those arrested.

"Police violence is harsher and the state prosecution is asking for minors to be put under arrest for longer periods of time even before indictments. They keep them in prison custody for longer," Sela says.

Around 314 of the 338 Palestinians served with indictments -- including 122 children -- have been imprisoned since their detention as the charges for "disruption of public order" and riot-related offenses are processed, which adds up to months in jail before a sentence has even been passed.

Israeli police forces have also provided the Jerusalem municipality with the names of hundreds of suspects wanted for alleged involvement in the demonstrations in order to increase enforcement measures against them, ACRI says, essentially a way of blacklisting Palestinian residents in civilian life.

Some of the enforcement measures are childishly arbitrary, with ACRI reporting one example of municipal inspectors issuing a fine for the negligible offense of littering the streets with sunflower seeds.

Other measures, however, are much more serious, with municipal officers issuing demolition orders and fines to Palestinian businesses and homes.

TheHagihon water company, theTax Authorityand the National Insurance Institute are also all involved in enforcingarbitrarymeasures against Palestinian suspects, which were described by ACRI as "collective punishment" and the "abuse of the municipality's enforcement powers."

In addition to the mass arrests -- the largest number in East Jerusalem since the Second Intifada -- police tactics have become notably more aggressive since last summer's demonstrations, with the increased use of black sponge-tipped bullets since the summer, a harder, heavier, and more dangerous variant of the blue sponge-tipped bullet, which had been used almost exclusively before last year's unrest.

Use of the black variety of the bullets has been responsible for the loss of vision in at least one eye of five Palestinian children during the end of 2014, the youngest of whom was six-years-old.

One youth, 16-year-old Muhammad Abd Al-Majid Sunuqrut, was killed in September after being struck with the riot control measure in East Jerusalem, which is used almost exclusively against Palestinians.

ACRI also reported that at least three journalists clearly identified as media workers were hit in the head, face and shoulder by sponge bullets during demonstrations, in contravention against orders prohibiting aiming at the upper body, or children.

The police tactic has also caused arm fractures, jaw fractures and internal injuries such as spleen tears, with one 30-year-old Palestinian born blind since childhood in one eye left completely blind after being shot with a sponge-tipped bullet.

Directives for use of the more dangerous black bullet were only drafted in January 2015 after a request from ACRI, a full six months after their regular use against Palestinians.

Israeli police also regularly used "Skunk" water in Palestinian neighborhoods, spraying the putrid-smelling liquid into houses, restaurants, and cars, with many residents having to temporarily evacuate their homes until the smell subsides.

In October and November, Israeli forces blocked the main entrances to three major Palestinian neighborhoods -- almost unthinkable in the West Jerusalem neighborhoods of Rehavia or the German Colony -- restricting the movement of 50,000 Palestinians.

In April, Israeli police then used cement blocks to seal the neighborhood of al-Tur following clashes, preventing the movement of residents and hindering crucial services such as ambulances and school buses.

Graffiti of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City.(Charlie Hoyle)

Struggling to stay in the city

Alongsidechronic poverty and punitive police and municipality tactics looms the constant threat of displacement, with Palestinians struggling to remain in the city amid legislation which prohibits planning and building, and punishes violations with eviction and demolitions.

In 2014, 98 structures were demolished and 208 Palestinians wereforciblydisplaced, ACRI says.Since 2004, over 2,115 Palestinians have been left homeless by demolitions in East Jerusalem.

Around 20,000 houses -- accounting for 39 percent of EastJerusalemhomes -- lack a building permit and therefore could be issued a demolition order by the municipality at any point, leaving Palestinian familiesvulnerableand unable to plan for the future.

The residency status of 107 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem was also revoked in 2014, adding to the14,309since Israel's 1967 occupation of the city, meaning Palestinians whose families date back centuries in the city are no longer allowed to return.

Despite five decades of Israeli polices designed to slowly displace Palestinians in Jerusalem, the community forms nearly 40 percent of the city's population,leaving it unclear as to what the municipality, and indeed the government, has planned, considering that it will unlikely ever concede political control of the Old City.

In 2014, Israel's government approved for the first time in history a five year plan for East Jerusalem with a budget of 300 million shekels ($78 million).

However, a third of the budget was to be allocated to "security," with the remaining 200 million not nearly enough to reverse decades of deliberate neglect.

"In order for real and meaningful changes to transpire, a fundamental change of attitude must take place among Israeli authorities," ACRI said in the report.

"They need to see the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem as human beings whose dignity must be maintained, whose lives must be protected and whose human rights must be promoted, even as the conflict continues to bleed on the streets of Jerusalem."
Tibi / Tubas
Decades of terrorism, clashes, and refusal to reach an agreement with Israel is what has left "East Jerusalem mired in poverty and violence" !!
14/05/2015 18:26
jabe / Canada
Tibi you continue to spout utter nonsensical comments. We are totally aware of who the criminals and terrorists are - state terrorism and racism exercized by a rogue state, named Israel. Your misrepresentation of the truth continues to be reprehensible!
14/05/2015 20:23
Nothing is unified about Jerusalem. The statistics bare that fact.
15/05/2015 01:08
spb / usa
Jabe jabe, don't let you tongue control your thoughts. I stay in Jerusalem for 10 days every 4 months. I have not seen much change promoted here. Things looks 'normal' as if it was 1967
15/05/2015 03:07
Tobias / USA
The "Poverty and Violence" in the Palestinian community are the "Fruits of the Seeds", which Palestinians so ardently planted with their own hands, for so many decades, that nothing else could grow !!
15/05/2015 03:46
Rabab / USA
The Palestinians are second class citizens and areas in which they live are slums compared to Israeli inhabited areas. Also, random police brutality, harassment and detention is unacceptable in what is considered a country looking for peace.
22/05/2015 03:02
Outlier / USA
A place in limbo. Palestinians should acknowledge they will never gain sovereignty over any but a tiny enclave in East Jerusalem. Once Israel encompasses the rest, watch it bloom.
24/05/2015 21:48
spb / usa
good news, i'll stay in Jerusalem for 2 week during September. could send you pictures of the East side story
28/05/2015 14:17
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