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A City Divided

The Baltimore Sun

Jerusalem -- Israel is marking the 40th anniversary of its capture of East Jerusalem and reunification of the city in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war with a year full of festivities. The Old City walls are dressed up with twinkling blue and white lights. Millions of dollars have been budgeted for parades, concerts, fireworks and other events celebrating Jerusalem's unity, including a group hug of the city's Jews, Christians and Muslims.

But this year, once again, Jerusalem's residents are left to wonder what the party is all about. More than reminding its citizens of how much they share, the anniversary exposes their city's growing polarization and the apparent futility of Israel's long effort to claim Jerusalem as its own.

Once known for its protective fortifications that have kept out invaders over the centuries, Jerusalem today is defined by a series of barriers and checkpoints that are dividing its citizens and creating new obstacles to peace. A recent poll found that 62 percent of Jerusalem's citizens don't think their city is united.

"Although we celebrate 40 years of unification, this is not a case of unification. This is a clear indication of two separate cities here in Jerusalem," said Shlomo Hasson, professor of geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "The separation manifests itself in separate commercial centers, separate transportation systems, separate cultural centers and very little social contact between Palestinians and Israelis."

Jerusalem has changed hands many times over the centuries, as it fell to Muslim, Christian and Jewish conquerors, and its status remains one of the most contentious and emotional issues blocking resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For Israelis, capturing the Old City and the holy sites of East Jerusalem in 1967 was the fulfillment of centuries of yearning to reclaim the city as the eternal and united capital of the Jewish people.

But the past 40 years did not erase the Palestinians' claims to Jerusalem - a center for commerce and culture for the West Bank and the site of the third holiest site in Islam - as the rightful capital of their future state.

Seeking to tighten its grip on Jerusalem, Israel has aggressively expanded the city's Jewish population and curbed the growth of Arab neighborhoods during the last 40 years. But the latest statistics show that Israel is waging a losing demographic battle. Palestinian population growth outpaces that of their Jewish neighbors by about 1 percentage point each year. Jewish residents, meanwhile, are fleeing their capital at a rate of 6,300 per year in search of lower housing prices, jobs and often a more secular lifestyle.

In 1967, when Israel annexed Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem and nearby Arab villages, quadrupling the size of the city, 74 percent of the population of 266,000 was Jewish and 26 percent Arab. Forty years later, the city has grown to 732,100 people and the Jewish majority has dwindled to 66 percent and the Arab population has increased to 34 percent, according to a new report by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

According to one study, if Jerusalem's borders remain unchanged, the proportion of Jews would decline to 60 percent of the population by 2020. Within 25 years, another study predicted, the Arab-Jewish population will be evenly split.

Kicking off the celebrations last month, the mayor of Jerusalem struck a divisive note when he fretted publicly over the demographic threat posed by his Arab constituents.

"Jerusalem could, God forbid, end up not under Jewish sovereignty, but rather that of Hamas," Mayor Uri Lupolianski told Israel's prime minister, according to the Israeli press.

He warned that the Islamic militant group that was responsible for scores of bombing attacks in Israel and which won Palestinian elections last year could take over the city without firing a shot.

"We need a plan, and not crumbs, so that Jerusalem will remain Israel's capital forever," he said.

As demographic forces reshape the city, so do security concerns. During the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, Jerusalem bore the brunt of the violence, with 171 people killed in 38 suicide bombings. Seeking to defend itself from attacks, in 2002 Israel started constructing a separation barrier dividing the West Bank from Israel.

While the stated purpose of the barrier is security, it also serves Israel's demographic and political goals. The serpentine path of the barrier cuts off sections of the city's northern neighborhoods, walling out some 55,000 Jerusalem residents, or about one-quarter of the city's Palestinian population, according to Ir Amin, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to finding a joint agreement on the future of Jerusalem.

The barrier's path separates families and cuts off students from their schools, workers from their jobs and Muslim worshipers in the West Bank from Jerusalem's holy sites.

"For people who live just 2 kilometers from this place, Jerusalem has become a myth," says Rami Nasrallah, an urban planner who is a member of the board of directors for the International Peace and Cooperation Center in East Jerusalem.

The 250,000 Palestinians of East Jerusalem inhabit a strange netherworld between Israel and the West Bank. As Jerusalem residents, they are entitled to the benefits of Israel, including social security and heath care. But they don't hold Israeli passports and are not allowed to vote in Israel's national elections.

While city officials claim that Jerusalem is united, inequality between Palestinian and Jewish residents has created deep divisions in the city. Jewish neighborhoods receive a disproportionate amount of public money for parks, libraries and other local government services while Palestinian neighborhoods are largely ignored, lacking sidewalks, streetlights and basic services like sewage and garbage bins. Increasingly, East Jerusalem has become a center for crime and drug use.

According to a study by the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, East Jerusalem has 33 percent of the population yet receives just about 9 percent of the municipal budget. West Jerusalem, with 67 percent of the population, gets about 91 percent.

Palestinians are partly to blame for their situation. In protest of the occupation, they don't vote in municipal elections, leaving the city council to be controlled by Jerusalem's increasingly religious, conservative Israeli residents.

Still, the benefits of living in Jerusalem outweigh those of making a home in the West Bank, where jobs are difficult to find and wages are significantly lower. As the separation barrier has gone up, thousands of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who have moved to the city's outer suburbs are pouring back into the city, afraid of being separated from their jobs, schools and families.

"Some in the municipality thought if we make Palestinian life hard they will leave the city. But it's clear they don't know the Palestinian mentality. Palestinians won't leave the land," says Meir Margalit, a former Jerusalem city council member.

But there are few places for Palestinians to live inside the city. Tight restrictions on building in Arab neighborhoods often mean that many Palestinians either move to small, overcrowded apartments or choose to build without permits. There are as many as 20,000 illegal buildings in East Jerusalem and the government demolishes scores of them each year.

By contrast, the Israeli government during the last 40 years has given the green light for some 180,000 Jewish settlers to build communities in East Jerusalem. The neighborhoods restrict the growth of the city's Palestinian neighborhoods and, along with the separation barrier, sever their connections to the West Bank. Much of the world views East Jerusalem as occupied territory and the settlements as illegal.

Critics say the changes under way in Jerusalem are poisoning future negotiations by making the city less viable as a future capital for the Palestinians.

"Israel occupied us, and they are uprooting us for our land and to build Jewish neighborhoods," said Ziad Abu Zayyad, a member of Palestinian negotiating teams and former Palestinian Authority minister.

The city's polarization would appear to make the city ripe for a formal division as was proposed during the failed Camp David peace talks in 2000, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Palestinians concessions on East Jerusalem and authority over the Temple Mount, or what Muslims call Haram al-Sharif.

But there is a deep-seated feeling among many Israelis, especially among the conservative and religious, that their government should not surrender any part of their holy city.

"If the international community cares about keeping Jerusalem as an open city for all faiths, only a free and democratic Israel can protect Jerusalem for all religions," says Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and author of The Fight for Jerusalem.

Yisrael Medad, who lives in Jerusalem, recalls how as a college student in 1966, he would he walk to the top of the building outside the Old City just to get a glimpse of a corner of the Western Wall, which the Jordanians forbade Jews from visiting.

Medad, now director of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, says he is not willing to trust anyone except Israel with guarding his right to worship.

"I believe the city has no other comparable legal status ... except as a capital to the Jewish people," he says.

The strength of that belief among many Israelis could be witnessed last month during the annual Jerusalem Day parade. Thousands of Israelis poured into the streets dancing, singing and waving Israeli flags on their way to the Western Wall.

As the procession passed Palestinian Zakharia Abu Nada's falafel stand in the Old City, he quickly shuttered his doors in protest. "There's nothing to celebrate. On this day we feel sad," said Abu Nada.

Born and raised in the Old City, Abu Nada, 69, says he feels like a stranger in his hometown. He pays his taxes but he says he never sees any improvements in his neighborhood. He rarely ventures to West Jerusalem and is often harassed by police for his identification card, he says.

"We have bad treatment. When there is a quarrel between an Arab and the Jew, it is the Arab who is always blamed," he says. "When I go on a bus, all the Jews look at me in a strange way."

A new poll by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies found that 58 percent of Israelis are willing to make concessions on Jerusalem as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. During the past 40 years, Israelis have done a disservice to themselves and to the city by placing their own religious and political vision on Jerusalem, argues Moshe Amirav, a paratrooper who fought in the 1967 war and author of Jerusalem Syndrome.

"We're sick in this pathology which has to do with looking at politics in a messianic way and looking at the city as a symbol and not as a city," says Amirav.

Amirav argues that after 40 years of failing to make Jerusalem united, Israel should try to divide the city with the Palestinians and give the Old City and its holy sites special status so they are not under any one government's control.

"This belongs to God," he says.

But reaching such a solution for Jerusalem would require Israelis and Palestinians to be actively engaged in a peace process. For now, with both sides weakened by internal problems, there is none.

"In Jerusalem we always find ourselves between vision and reality. In terms of vision we imagine Jerusalem as a city of justice and peace, and obviously all of us want to have an end-state solution that would lead us to two states with two capitals," says Hasson, the professor of geography at Hebrew University.

'The reality is different. The city is full of tensions and conflict. There are national, economic and social and environmental conflicts and very little has been done to improve the situation over the last 40 years," he says, adding, "Reality as it exists now is undesirable and a desirable future cannot be realized. So we find ourselves in a trap."


East Jerusalem residents are required to pay taxes like all city residents. However, they do not receive the same services. The Jerusalem Municipality has continuously failed to invest significantly for infrastructure and services (such as roads, sidewalks, water and sewage systems) in Jerusalem's Palestinian neighborhoods. Since the annexation of Jerusalem, the municipality has built almost no new schools, public buildings or medical clinics for Palestinians. The lion's share of investment has been dedicated to the city's Jewish areas.

Less than 10 percent of the municipality's development budget for 1999 was allocated for Palestinian neighborhoods, although the population there represents a third of the city's residents. The lack of investment has left infrastructure in East Jerusalem in a deteriorated state:

Entire Palestinian neighborhoods are not connected to a sewage system and do not have paved roads or sidewalks.

Almost 90 percent of the sewage pipes, roads, and sidewalks are found in West Jerusalem.

West Jerusalem has 1,000 public parks, East Jerusalem has 45.

West Jerusalem has 34 swimming pools, East Jerusalem has three.

West Jerusalem has 26 libraries, East Jerusalem has two.

West Jerusalem has 531 sports facilities, East Jerusalem has 33.

[Source: B'Tselem, Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories]


Since the 19th century Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority.

Immediately upon reunification, the Jewish portion of the city's population stood at 74 percent and the Arab portion at 26 percent. The Jewish majority in the city has dwindled over the years and now stands at 66 percent.

The population of Jerusalem in 2006 was 732,100, comprising 10 percent of Israel's total population.

Between the unification of the city and 2006 Jerusalem's population grew by 175 percent. Over this period the Jewish rate of growth was 143 percent and the Arab, 266 percent.

In the year 2006, the Jewish population grew by 1.2 percent and the Arab population grew by 2.7 percent.

Between 1970 and 2006 the average rate of growth of the Jewish population of Jerusalem was 2.3 percent and that of the Arab population, 3.4 percent.

[Source: Jerusalem Institute for Israeli Studies.]

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