Friday, March 16, 2007

City of Peoples

In anticipation of a fabulous contest of the imagination that challenges people to elucidate their vision for the future of Jerusalem, I joined up with an Ir Amim tour of the separation barrier in East Jerusalem a few days ago. For four hours, our tour leader informed us about the causes and effects of the wall that runs through the eastern parts of Jerusalem. This organization takes a decidedly humanitarian stance, taking into account the civilian needs of people on both sides of the civilizational divide.

I should commence by stating my general point of view on the current state of the wall, as it pertains to the political entity of Jerusalem, Yerushalyim, Al-Quds. The wall seeks to cut off most of the Arab population of north, east, and south Jerusalem from the future state of Palestine. (It is a important to note that public discourse refers to all of pre-1967 Arab Jerusalem as “East”). The wall, as it currently exists in East Jerusalem, is a grave mistake that pre-empts any Palestinian attempts to create a contiguous state with a thriving Al-Quds metropolis at its center. The so-called Jerusalem envelope plan is an ill-advised way to thwart what ought to be the nucleus of Palestine.

While the idea of the wall in and of itself poses innumerble difficulties in terms of the free movement of people and goods, the wall as it stands now is more of a catastrophe than it ought to be. It largely separates Jerusalem Arabs from West Bank Arabs, while also segregating a huge number of West Bank Arabs from Israel proper. If the wall is truly to be built in such a way that respected the Palestian right to territorial justice, there are at least ten Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem that ought to be on the Palestinian side of the fence. If reconstructed in said manner, the wall would render most Arab residents of Jerusalem residents of Arab Al-Quds, which is where the vast majority want to be. It is indeed the case that these folks vote in Palestinian elections and are not Israeli citizens. Some of the neighborhoods that need to be switched over to the Palestinian side (i.e. the wall needs to be rerouted in a very complex and intricate process of territorial segregation) include Shuafat, Beit Hanina, the Arab quarter of the Old City, Abu Dis, and Beit Safafa.

Much of Arab East Jerusalem is made up of urbanized villages that barely connect the various nodes of economic life in the region. The predominant urban core of East Jerusalem is just north of Old City around the Damascus Gate. This needs to become the focal point of Al-Quds. The wall can indeed be rerouted in such a way that would shift approximately 200k Arab Jerusalemites into the sovereign Arab districts of the capital. This must occur, as most of these folks have no desire to be ruled over by the Israeli government. This process is very tricky because of the Israeli inclination to include a maximum amount of Jews and land but a minimum number of Arab inhabitatnts on its side of the separation barrier.

Jerusalem was traditionally the economic, medical, educational, and religious focal point of Palestinian national life. By solidifying its strangehold on the Jerusaelm envelope, Israel is crushing viability of what was once the Palestinian metropolitan core, resulting in the emergence of several other de facto hubs of Palestinian urban life, namely Ramallah and Abu Dis.

The wall seeks to make permanent Israeli control over all of Jersusalem, for a number of political and military reasons. There is a burning desire to make this ancient city, which has changed hands countless times throughout history, the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel. Israeli seeks to fortify Jewish control so that the city is never again threatened by invaders. The myth of containment has convinced too many people that such a future is possible. This fallacy can only last so long. The vast majority of Arab neighborhoods need to be under Arab sovereignty, and the Old City needs to be monitored by a battalion of thousands of international observers under the auspices of the EU, UN, and Arab League.

Recent events in the Holy City have been rather bizarre, since the Judaization of Jerusalem and the simultaneous Al-Qudsization (Arabization) have resulted in a dramatic building race to place irreversible facts on the ground. At the same time as approximately 1% of "illegal" homes are demolished by the Israeli authorities and as the government makes it difficult for Jerusalem residents to maintain their legal residency, wealthy Arab Gulf states continue to promote a very generous subsidy program for Arab construction in East Jerusalem.

Some failures of the Israeli policy in Jerusalem include one fact mentioned above: the wall largely divides Palestinians from Palestinians, making it incredibly difficult to conduct day-to-day business amidst a mind-numbing checkpoint and permitting system. However, many people believe that the Arab popuation is ballooning, due to an influx of workers and of people who merely do not want the wall to cut them off from their jobs and schools in Jerusalem. Some Arabs, God forbid, have been forced to attend Jewish hospitals or move into Jewish neighborshood because they have been cut off from West Bank and need expansion room in East Jerusalem.

New construction of Jewish neighborhoods has been furthered by the "collaboration" of certain Arabs who sell land to Jews (an offense punishable by death in areas under PA jurisdiction). Indeed, some two-thirds of West Bank settlements are apparently built on land that was purchased legally from Palestinians. Regardless, those who sell to Jews (in order to reap a greater profit than they otherwise would in the Palestinian housing market) make sure to book a one-way plane ticket to the West before they ink the contract. Meanwhile, Jewish neighborhoods constructed on the "east" side of the Green Line are no longer considered settlements these days. They are regarded as true neighborhoods that are not going to disappear. Palestinians have apparently even conceded that Israel can hold onto Ma'ale Adumim in a peace deal. The many Jewish East Jerusalem neighborhoods such as French Hill, Pisgat Ze'ev, Har Homa, and Gilo will not be evacuated like the Gaza settlements. Israel has produced facts on the ground that cannot be retracted.

Yet, the demographic paradox remains: Arabs are nonetheless flocking to Jerusalem so that they don’t get cut off from families, schools and jobs within Israel. Moreover, the Arab growth rate is staggering.

One must always consider the sometimes ineffable reality of coexistence in the street, places of employment, and elsewhere. Though minimal, it still lives on in Jerusalem, a city that is 1/3 Arab. The existence of two viable and secure states side-by-side could be enriched by the construction of new shared public spaces on the future "no man's land" that will straddle the wall. The wall, if and when it is rerouted to encompass the vast majority of Arab neighborhoods, will still be a horribly ugly method of to cloistering an unfortunate population. However, this is the reality that has come to pass.

Do security considerations trump political ones? The irrefutable reality is that Jerusalem suffered the brunt of the 2nd Intifada - 30% of suicide bomb attacks carried out in Israel. The Israeli state entertains the right and responsibility of molding a security apparatus that keeps its citizens safe. The wall has indeed been successful on this front. It is arguable whether the following factors have had more or less impact than the wall in the reduction of attacks on Israel: the death of Arafat, Hamas' hudna, intelligence successes, and the economic attrition of the Palestinians. Additionally, the wall has also dramatically reduced car thefts.

Nonetheless, the construction of the wall in East Jerusalem is one of a series of destructive, unilateral steps that have led to the de facto annexation and consolidation of Israeli control over Jerusalem. Despite the clear need to negotiate the implementation of official policies, Israel has not been able to engage successfully with an Arab peace partner.

Israel has done somewhat of an opposite move around Pisgat Ze’ev to the north. It has unilaterally cut off poor, unwanted Palestinians in the Shuafat refugee camp (who possess Jerusalem ID cards and live within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem) from the rest of the city by building the wall around the north, west, and south of this slum. In 1967, Israel thought it wanted to include this area within Israel by annexing it, along with the rest of the other Arab neighborhoods of the Jerusalem municipality. Alas, now Israel has unilaterally place this hood on the Palestinian side of the wall.

The facts on the ground demonstrate that the Jerusalem municipal boundaries are a function of military planners who have always sought control of topographically commanding areas. The south Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo is one example, which ensured that Jewish neighborhoods such as Catamon (vulnerable to shelling in the pre-1967 years) could no longer be menaced from the south. Har Homa is also an example of a neighborhood that makes little to no economic sense (and is also outside the "real" city) but was created due to territorial needs. The added security benefits ostensibly outweighed the costs of linking this area up to water, gas, and electric lines.

In most of the Jewish Jerusalem areas that have been created since 1967, a suburban quality of life pervades. Industrially prefabricated and quickly constructed houses betray an utter lack of aesthetic grace but nevertheless result in efficient and functional bedroom communities.

The Ir Amim tour mentioned that the fence is okay in certain places. When the wall has a minimal effect on the physical integrity of a given Palestinian village, then it is much more palatable. Where the wall allows for relatively hassle-free checkpoint passage through no longer crude, makeshift structures but through permanent international border crossings, one is reminded of how Israel is mapping out the future of the East Jerusalem, and of how the Palestinians have not successfully mounted a campaign to capitalize on their assets.

One pervasive problem has been the tacit approval given by the Israeli government private citizens to develop previously virgin lands, further rendering any sort of wall re-routing impossible. The apartment complex of Nof Tsion in Jabal Mukaba is one example of this, which would complicate my proposed re-routing by placing a new Jewish housing development on what ought to be the Arab side of the fence. In addition, developments on the west side of the fence near Abu Dis pose the same problem. The Israeli government must force politically influential developers to halt such construction, as it will complicate future efforts enormously.

To summarize the current dilemma, it is important to evince a few points. The Arabs of East Jerusalem vote in Palestinian elections and refuse to become Israeli citizens. They do not vote in Jerusalem municipal elections, and thus there are no Arabs in the city’s government. While some do not pay taxes, most do because the repeipt of tax payment is proof of Jerusalem residency and therefore means that the government cannot banish you from Jerusalem. However, there is a clear disparity in government services provided to Arab neighborhoods. This development issue may not just result from disrimination, yet it is important to address this dichotomy. One striking example of the disparity is the dilapidated North/South road in East Jerusalem, which is a pock-marked road to nowhere compared with the Israeli counterpart in the western part of the city. Therefore, Jerusalem is truly two cities. And, I propose that if the wall is to exist, the wall should do a better job of running between the two Jerusalems. The wall should allow for a united Arab Al-Quds, separate and distinct from Jewish Jerusalem.

Though these solutions are odd and perhaps also impractical, it is clear that sovereign states need not be territorially contiguous. Some parts of East Jerusalem might become either Jewish enclaves on the Palestinian side of the wall or Arab enclaves on the Israeli side of the wall. Though complex to solve, citizenship and jurisdiction issues can be sorted out. As for territorial contiguity, such difficulties aren't insurmountable. Hebrew University was an Israeli enclave in Jordanian East Jerusalem until 1967. Next, Gaza and the West Bank will inevitably be part of one Palestinian country connected by a sunken highway. Though they will not be physically adjacent, these entities will still be united under the Palestinian red, black, and green. Armenia and Alaska are two other examples where states do not enjoy territorial continuity but where workable solutions have provided for stability and predictability in quotidian life.

On the ground, tunnels and bridges that bypass the "other" in the West Bank and Jerusalem will allow for two states to exist simultaneously in three dimensions, which is of course not possible to express easily on a two dimensional map. There is an ongoing reality that necessitates compromise on issues such as roads, airspace, land use and development.

On the one hand, while crowding leads some Arabs to leave East Jerusalem, many just build illegally and risk demolition. There is continuous fear of house razing by the Israeli authorities. (ICAHD is an organization that works to combat blatant housing discrimination in Jerusalem). East Jerusalem Arab artisans, farmers, and traders have limited access to West Bank markets. Econonomic suffocation has been acute, but it remains a notable fact that Arab East Jerusalemites have a vested interest in not terrorizing. Thusly, evidently no bombers have come from Arab East Jerusalem.

Next, the Ma'ale Adumim problem east of Jerusalem is very difficult to resolve but is workable under my plan. At 53 sq. km., it is bigger than Tel Aviv. While incendiary and unnecessary, the E-1 plan to build industry, housing, parks, and a university is doable as long as there is a Palestinian highway that links Ramallah and Bethlehem and overpasses the Israeli extension into the east. It is necessary to draw a map of this to show what it would actually look like.

Through it all, it is crucial to recognize the impermanence of the wall. It might last 20 years, or perhaps even 50 years. But, it is just like its predecessor in Berlin that divided the poorer, ideologically-distinct, and subaltern east from the more prosperous West. It will come down eventually, once there is a general consensus about the inanity of arbitrary dividing lines and once World War IV has come to a decisive end. The wall will be finished one day. However, in the meantime, the wall is a necessary evil to keep suicide bombers out of Israel, to keep Jews from settling in the rest of Palestine, and to maintain healthy distance between the two peoples. It is a truly lamentable state of affairs, in which a small minority ruins the potentially hatrmonious relations that began to ferment from 1994 to 2000 and that were completely shattered by the 2nd Intifada.

The wall seeks to minimize the demographic threat posed by robust Arab population growth. As an economically prosperous metropolitan region, the Jerusalem municipality naturally needs to absorb cheap labor from the surrounding areas. Workers flock to the city to fill the void left by Hasidic people who don’t work, and paradoxically, to build many of the rapidly growing Jewish neighborhoods. Indeed Arab construction crews have built much of Israel, the separation barrier, and the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

In sum, the conflict lives on. The City of Peoples exists, self-divides, and expands. Jerusalem is a beautiful balagan.

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