News Roundup

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There were two pieces in the news the past few days that I want to pass on.

1 – Leonard Fein, founder of Moment magazine and well-known op-ed writer, recently published an important column outlining developments going on right now in Jerusalem that will make a two state solution impossible within the next 12 to 24 months. I covered this in a post on January 16th titled A Virtual Tour of Jerusalem. You might want to click on that title to view it in conjunction with Fein’s column below since the virtual tour will show you on a map what he is discussing.

You can read the full article, ‘Decapitating’ Palestine, Killing Peace, at http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/decapitating_palestine_killing_peace_20120208/ . Here are some excerpts:

“This needs to be said as urgently and as clearly as possible: Israel’s settlement policy in and around Jerusalem is not merely controversial; it is calamitous.  Unless it changes, it will within a year render a two-state solution to the conflict impossible….

But most Jews, according to survey results, here and in Israel, prefer a two-state solution, even if they think it unlikely in current or readily foreseeable circumstances. 

Because my concern here is specifically with Jerusalem and its relevance to a two-state solution, I set to the side all the controversial and all the illegal (according to Israeli law) Jewish outposts and settlements that dot the West Bank, all the violence that emanates from more than a few of them, all the land theft they have practiced and all the current governmental efforts retroactively to legalize them….

In East Jerusalem the pace of Jewish construction now borders on the frenetic.  The goal is so thickly to expand the Jewish presence in what was traditionally the heart of the national Palestinian community and so to encircle the remaining Palestinian neighborhoods as to separate Jerusalem completely from the rest of Palestine.  It amounts, from a Palestinian perspective, to a policy of decapitation. 

Thus, if building projects now under way or already approved are completed, it will not be possible for Palestinians from Bethlehem to Jerusalem’s south or from Ramallah to its north, to access Jerusalem.  And if, as seems likely, Israel finally begins active development of the area known as E1, East Jerusalem will be hemmed in on all sides.  It will not be available as the capital city of a new Palestine, nor as Palestine’s commercial and intellectual center. The northern half of the West Bank and its southern half will have been bisected, Palestine will successfully have been cantonized, transformed into a set of disconnected towns and villages. Palestine will not be a viable state. 

The acknowledged leading expert on what is happening in and to Jerusalem is Daniel Seidemann, founder of Ir Amim (A City of Nations). In his own writings and in the work of Ir Amim, it is made clear that the grim prospect of a de facto separation between all of Jerusalem and the Palestinian hinterland is no longer a distant hypothetical; it is around the corner. Seidmann himself is convinced that by 2013, currently unfolding facts on the ground will have destroyed the prospect of a two-state solution.”

I wonder how many rabbis and other Jewish communal leaders in America or in other countries are aware of this? I suspect very few. For sure the average person in the broader Jewish community is not. I hope they wake up soon. As always, I encourage you to forward this on.

2 – To gain some insight into how some of Israel’s policies have devastated Palestinian life in East Jerusalem, here is an interesting article from the Los Angeles Times about one neighborhood that was severed from the rest of Jerusalem by the separation wall: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-jerusalem-barrier-20120207,0,4118563.story

Reporting from Jerusalem— With a fire extinguisher in his hand and a cellphone pressed to his ear, principal Sameeh abu Rameelh battled an electrical fire in his Jerusalem high school’s computer lab while pleading with the fire department to come to his aid.

But when the emergency dispatcher heard that the school was in Kafr Aqab, separated from the rest of Jerusalem by a 36-foot-high concrete wall, he told Abu Rameelh that firetrucks wouldn’t cross Israel’s separation barrier without army protection.

The principal turned to the West Bank city of Ramallah, hoping Palestinian Authority fire crews would help. Sorry, they responded, but they were not permitted to enter Jerusalem.

Eventually, Abu Rameelh said, he and some volunteers put out the blaze. No one was hurt, but the lab, with 40 computers and desks, was gutted….

A Tale of Two Cities

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“The day Jerusalem was liberated was the day that the city heaved a sigh of relief and began to spread its wings, for the benefit of its Arab and Jewish residents alike….We will never again allow Jerusalem to become a separated, bleak and divided city.“ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

When Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke those words at the Jerusalem Day ceremony in 2010, he was already too late. Unbeknownst to his audience, Jerusalem had already become bleak and divided.

This is a tale of two cities, one rich with parks, well cared for neighborhoods and tourist attractions; the other impoverished and deprived of even basic services. And as for a united Jerusalem spreading its wings for the good of Jews and Arabs alike, well, you decide below on the efficacy of that claim.

As background, as I covered in a post on January 16, A Virtual Tour of East Jerusalem (I urge you to “take the tour” if you haven’t done so already), Israel annexed in 1967 all of what had been East Jerusalem plus 28 nearby villages and incorporated them into the municipality of Jerusalem.

Fast Forward to 2012:

Let’s see how the Palestinian population has fared 45 years later when compared to Jewish West Jerusalem.

Population: There are 303,000 Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem, one-third of the population, out of a total of 835,000 people in the Jerusalem municipality (2009 data).

Poverty: 65% of Palestinian families live under the poverty line as compared to 31% of Jewish families. (This is 2008 data. Economic conditions in East Jerusalem have gotten much worse since then so these figures have deteriorated further.)

Children:  74% of Palestinian children live under the poverty line compared to 45% of Jewish children. (Also 2008 data)

Schools: Average class size is 32 students in East Jerusalem versus 24 students in West Jerusalem. School buildings are neglected, often run down. The Jerusalem municipality’s own statistics listed 50% of East Jerusalem’s classrooms to be sub-standard in 2009 (704 out of 1,360) including 221 that were deemed unfit.

In addition, due to an estimated shortage of 1,000 classrooms in the municipal schools there, an estimated 11,000 Palestinian children (12% of school age children) did not attend school for the 2009-2010 school year due to lack of space. Tens of thousands of others were forced to attend private schools, which posed a severe financial burden on the mostly impoverished population. In 2008, the per-student budget allocation for elementary school children in Jewish West Jerusalem was 400% higher that in East Jerusalem: 2,372 NIS (New Israel Shekels) per Jewish student versus 577 NIS per Palestinian student.

Given all of this, it is not surprising that there is a 50% drop out rate for Palestinian children compared to 7.4% in the Jewish sector.

Several recent court rulings have ordered the Jerusalem municipality to build more classrooms and to increase the East Jerusalem school budget. How these rulings will be implemented is a question that will unfold over time.

Pre-school: There are roughly 15,000 three and four year olds in East Jerusalem. Despite the importance of early education on child development, 90% of them are not enrolled in a pre-school educational program. This is not for a lack of interest. There are only 2 municipal pre-schools in East Jerusalem compared to 56 in West Jerusalem.

Land: One-third of the land in East Jerusalem has been expropriated by the Israeli government from Arab owners since 1967.

Housing: As of 5 years ago, over 50,000 housing units for Jewish residents has been built on this expropriated land. That number is larger today. No housing has been built for Palestinian residents.

Housing density for existing homes in East Jerusalem is almost double what it is for Jewish residents: on average, 1.9 people per room versus 1 person per room. It is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits to construct new houses or to repair existing ones due to discriminatory policies. The result is massive illegal construction without safety inspections and the constant threat of demolition by the government.

View of East Jerusalem neighborhood

Municipal Services: There are minimal municipal services provided to East Jerusalem residents. A simple walk through neighborhoods will reveal decrepit roads and sidewalks, and few public parks or playgrounds. Hundreds of streets are not provided with trash collection services that results in trash piling up everywhere.

Street scene in East Jerusalem

Water connections: 160,000 Palestinian residents, over half the population, have no legal connection to the water network. Either they jury-rig connections to the water mains or they use stored water in containers.

Sewage: Estimates state that East Jerusalem is in need of 50 kilometers of new main sewage lines. Entire neighborhoods still use cesspools, not ideal for densely packed urban neighborhoods, and existing sewage facilities are antiquated and poorly maintained. It is not unusual for sewers to overflow and for sewage water to run above ground close to homes.

NOTE: These last few items pose a risk to public health from infectious disease but they continue to be ignored by municipal authorities.

Postal service: 10 post offices serve Palestinian areas compared to 42 in West Jerusalem. Mail delivery is only partial and sporadic making commerce more difficult.

In addition, Palestinian residents face the ongoing menace of home demolitions and eviction, especially in the neighborhoods directly abutting the Old City where the government works closely with several ideological NGOs to evict Palestinians and replace them with Jewish settlers (For details, see my posts of January 2 and January 10).

Home in East Jerusalem shortly after being demolished. Note pile of rubble in the background.

The construction of the Separation Wall, as noted in previous posts, has disrupted the flow of commerce by severing neighborhood from neighborhood and all of East Jerusalem from the nearby commercial centers of Ramallah, Bethlehem, and the rest of the West Bank. This has caused massive economic dislocation and impoverishment.

Separation wall in Jerusalem. Note how it splits this neighborhood in two, severing all connections.

The data above is just a sampling of the comparisons between Palestinian East Jerusalem and Jewish West Jerusalem. For those interested in more details, you can read a full report that was produced by The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an organization that fights for the rights of all Israelis. (For more details, see http://www.scribd.com/doc/31806771/Report-May10-ACRI-Human-Rights-in-East-Jerusalem-Facts-and-Figures Scroll down to page 38 for English). A preface to the report sums it up as follows:

“Israel’s policy for the past four decades has taken concrete form as discrimination in planning and construction, expropriation of land, and minimal investment in physical infrastructure and government and municipal services. As a result, East Jerusalem residents suffer severe distress, and their conditions are worsening.”

“Life in East Jerusalem can be described as a continuing cycle of neglect, discrimination, poverty, and shortages. These, compounded by construction of the Separation Barrier cutting Jerusalem off from the West Bank, have led to the social and economic collapse of this part of the city. A large majority of East Jerusalem residents do not receive, and cannot afford to buy, the most basic services.

It seems to me that the facts on the ground in East Jerusalem belie the claim that Jerusalem is indivisible. East and West Jerusalem are like two separate worlds, one a modern urban environment, a magnet for visitors, and the other a neglected and impoverished backwater. The demand for a unified city which has been made into a roadblock for peace, the city that tourists are shown with reverence, is a Potemkin Village hiding the truth.

Update on recent Bedouin Home Demolitions:

Two days ago I linked to a late breaking story about a middle of the night demolition of several Bedouin homes. Unfortunately, more details have emerged that make the situation more distressing. In all, six houses were destroyed making many more families homeless than was originally reported. See this update to read what the experience was actually like: http://972mag.com/idf-commits-price-tag-attack-against-activists-resisting-home-demolitions/33866/

Salim Shawamreh's house before it was demolished. See the link above for the view afterwards.

Profoundly disconcerting in the above link was when one of the Israeli soldiers yelled at Rabbi Arik Aschermann, director of Rabbis For Human Rights in Israel who had rushed to the scene, to take off his skullcap because “he was a disgrace to Judaism.” This while the soldiers were escorting a bulldozer from house to house, demolishing them without any advance notice. In the dead of night, entire families – men, women, children and babies, bewildered and disoriented – were evicted into the cold winter rain with no shelter and just the clothes on their backs.

Tzedek tzedek tirdof. (Justice, justice shall you pursue.) Deuteronomy 16:20

A Virtual Tour of East Jerusalem

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Ten days ago I went on a drive through East Jerusalem with Ir Amim, a human rights NGO that works to protect the rights of all of Jerusalem’s residents and to prevent the establishment of facts on the ground from precluding a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the tour we stopped at high lookout points where we saw large areas of intertwining Jewish settlements, Palestinian villages, and the remaining open land in between. The situation on the ground is complex, especially given the rugged geography, so one really has to see it to grasp the situation in a meaningful way.

This poses a huge obstacle to fully understanding the torturous attempts at a peace process. Jerusalem is central to the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis – and every new construction project has symbolic importance and impacts the facts on the ground. Yet, if one has never actually seen the landscapes I saw with Ir Amim, understanding the ramifications of Israeli government actions or the rationale for Palestinian reactions is difficult. So I realized on this tour that most American, and even many Israelis, are at a disadvantage when trying to interpret new developments in the headlines.

To read the rest of this post, see http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-virtual-tour-of-east-jerusalem/

 

A Short Trip to the West Bank, Part 1

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Shortly after I arrived in Tel Aviv two weeks ago I was invited to take a drive to the West Bank with the staff from the B’tselem USA office who were in Israel for a week of meetings and updates. They were going to see a few sites of interest and had an extra seat in their car. So I hopped on the bus to Jerusalem where I joined them.

As background, B’tselem (www.btselem.org) is an Israeli organization that is concerned with human rights in the West Bank. They report on what is happening “under the radar” in the occupied territories by issuing carefully researched reports that document abuses or illegal activity. What I saw during this brief trip has rarely been covered in the media.

Our first stop was the Palestinian village of Al-Walaja which is under the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem municipality. Years ago a significant portion of the village’s agricultural land was expropriated, without compensation, by Israel to build the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Gilo and Har Gilo. The mechanism to do this was to declare the fields military land after which the neighborhoods were constructed. The result was a serious blow to the economy of the village since it was agriculturally based. The farmers affected lost their livelihood with no legal recourse.

Today the separation wall is being built around the village. Its path is between the village’s remaining agricultural land and the houses. This will effectively deny the farmers entry to any of their land although they will be able to apply for temporary three month access permits. However, those often are not granted or renewed and experience in other Palestinian villages has been that, even when temporary permits are issued, soldiers don’t always show up to open the gates through the wall. Obviously farmers cannot take the chance of planting and investing in their fields without assurances of ready access. Thus the wall will effectively deprive the village of its remaining economic viability. In addition, once the land is not worked for three years it is declared “abandoned” and the state can legally expropriate it without compensation (Arbitrarily denying access for security or other reasons for three years is one of the favorite legal mechanism’s to take over private Palestinian land).

In the meantime, the contrast between the Arab village and the nearby Jewish neighborhoods is striking. The roads in the village are old and rutted, there are few if any government services provided, and building permits are almost impossible to obtain so, even if there were funds available, improvements or new construction could not be made legally. As a B’tselem report stated, “Over the years, the Jerusalem Municipality has not provided services to the village, and city officials’ visits to the village have primarily been to document houses built without a permit or to demolish them.” In comparison, the roads for settlers are modern and well maintained, and Gilo and Har Gilo are attractive neighborhoods with parks, playgrounds, shopping, and modern buildings.

A telling symbol is the new separation wall itself. On the side facing the Jewish neighborhoods the wall is covered with a pretty facade of Jerusalem stone. On the Palestinian side it is ugly, grey concrete.

Unfortunately, the experience of Al-Walaja is not uncommon on the West Bank but it is seldom reported in its full magnitude and long-term impact.

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