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Life in Occupied East Jerusalem

by Stephen Lendman Friday, Jun. 04, 2010 at 12:15 PM

Israel's repressive occupation

Life in Occupied East Jerusalem - by Stephen Lendman

Founded in 1972, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) is the country's leading human and civil rights organization through litigation, legal advocacy, education, and public outreach. In May 2009, it published "The State of Human Rights in East Jerusalem: Fact and Figures," then a follow-up June report titled, "Life in the Garbage: A Status Report of Sanitation Services in East Jerusalem." Both reports are reviewed below.

East Jerusalem by the Numbers

-- based on 2007 data, the Palestinian population numbered 260.5 thousand;

-- 66.8% of families are impoverished, including 74% of children; over 94,000 "live in a perpetual state of poverty;"

-- since occupying the city, Israel expropriated over one-third of its Arab-owned land;

-- by yearend 2007, over 50,000 exclusively Jewish housing units were built on expropriated land, none for Palestinians;

-- during the first half of 2009, the Jerusalem Municipality demolished 21 Palestinian homes, a process that continues relentlessly;

-- in Arab areas, the city lacks 70 km of sewage lines;

-- about 160,000 Palestinians lack water system connections;

-- Palestinian areas lack 1,500 classrooms; the shortage shows up in the 50% dropout rate; and

-- about 9,000 Palestinians are deprived of school.

Illegally annexed in June 1967, Jerusalem is Israel's largest city. Today, the Separation Wall completely severs the Arab East from the surrounding area, severely impacting its residents' economy, culture political viability, and future.

As an occupier, Israel is responsible for the population's welfare and basic rights under international humanitarian law - an obligation it's defiled for 43 years by failing to budget minimal resources needed to fulfill it.

Instead, it's practiced willful neglect by discriminating in planning, construction, land expropriation, and investment in physical infrastructure, government, and municipal services. As a result, East Jerusalem residents suffer worsening conditions of distress under Israel's plan to dispossess Palestinian residents to make the entire city exclusively Jewish.

"Life in East Jerusalem can be described as a continuing cycle of neglect, discrimination, poverty, and shortages," compounded by military occupation, the encircling Separation Wall, and worsening daily hardships. As a result, most Palestinians don't receive, and can't afford basic necessities most people take for granted.

Most harmed are the elderly, disabled, and children, chronic poverty also taking its toll on stable family relationships, leading to an increase in violence and crime, an unconducive environment for child development, plus causing serious health and nutritional problems. It reflects a deliberate Israeli effort to dispossess Arabs to create more space for Jews - ethnic cleansing, Israeli-style.

Civil Status Obstructions and Denials

After the 1967 Six Day War, East Jerusalem residents became permanent Israeli residents, affording them the right to live and work in Israel without special permits. Under the National Insurance Law, they're also entitled to health insurance and the right to vote in municipal, not national elections.

In addition, permanent residency, unlike citizenship, passes on conditionally to children. For example, marrying someone without permanent residency or citizenship status requires applying for family unification to live together. In fact, however, Israel treats East Jerusalem Arabs as foreigners whose rights can be summarily revoked, denied, or severely restricted.

As a result, residents endure repeated investigations and inquiries to keep proving their legitimacy - so Israel may deny it, an arbitrary, common practice. In addition, time and expense are involved, including for services applications that can take months or years to be considered.

Many Palestinians live outside Jerusalem's municipal boundaries with no Israeli residency status. Severed from the West Bank by the Separation Wall, they're trapped in East Jerusalem with no recognized status. In October 2007, Israel denied them permanent residency, issuing only temporary permits under military authority. Even getting them involves cost and bureaucratic red tape, and those with them may live in their homes, but not work or drive in Jerusalem. Nor can they get education, health, or other services. As a result, they've been ghettoized under severe, unrelenting duress as foreigners in their own homes on their own land.

Obstructing New Palestinian Construction

For decades in East Jerusalem, it's been virtually impossible for Palestinians to get new construction permits, because Israel authorizes all development for Jews, much of it on increasing amounts of expropriated land. Palestinians even trying to get permits face exhausting bureaucratic procedures and costly fees, beyond what most of them can afford.

Israel's 2006 Outline Plan, "Jerusalem 2000," perpetuates extreme discrimination, favoring Jews alone. As a result, Palestinian construction without permits risks eventual demotions and fines, much of it indiscriminate to harass. Yet "unauthorized building is a testament not to an unwillingness to comply with the law....but (to) prov(ing) that the current planning system fails to address....the real needs of" East Jerusalem's Palestinians.

In 2008, the Jerusalem Municipality demolished 85 East Jerusalem structures, a third more than in 2007. Then since January 2009, 1,052 additional demolition orders were issued in the first six months, part of Israel's relentless drive to Judaize the entire city, aided by Attorney General Menahem Mazus' permission to confiscate heavy machinery used for "illegal construction."

Blatant Neglect of Services and Vital Infrastructure

Chronic sanitation facility shortages threaten health and life, partly the result of garbage left on streets and in illegal dumps throughout East Jerusalem. More on this below.

In addition, vital infrastructure is neglected and inadequate. As a result, roads are studded with potholes. The few existing sidewalks are in serious disrepair, causing damage to people and property. Public parks and recreational facilities are a rarity. Few municipal forms are in Arabic. The postal service barely functions. A mere seven facilities serve over 260,000 residents compared to 50 in West Jerusalem.

Sewage and drainage infrastructure is dilapidated, the result of years of neglect. Some neighborhoods have no connection to the system, relying instead on cesspits. In other areas, facilities are antiquated and poorly maintained.

Lacking over 70 km of sewage lines, liquid waste at times flows close to homes and children's play areas, severe weather exacerbating the problem. Despite repeated complaints, this and other problems aren't addressed, nor is there any intent to institute improvements. Even when residents are willing to subsidize the cost, bureaucratic delays obstruct commencement of needed work.

The Separation Wall exacerbated the problem, destroying several kilometers of sewer lines during construction. Only those affecting the Shuafat-Ras Hamis refugee camp were repaired after repeated requests.

Lack of Fresh Water

About 160,000 East Jerusalem residents aren't connected to the municipal water system, well over half the population. As a result, their choices are to rig makeshift connections to water mains, to legally connected homes, rely on stored containers, or buy privately-supplied water at unaffordable prices.

The situation creates risks. Water pressure is weak and unreliable. Stored amounts can be contaminated, and lacking a clean, fresh supply makes residents vulnerable to infectious diseases and prevents them from maintaining proper hygiene levels.

A Critical Classroom Shortage

East Jerusalem's education system hasn't kept pace with its population growth, four times its 1967 size. As a result, around 1,500 new classrooms are needed, and 400 more by yearend 2010. Because of a lack of facilities, only half of all school-age children are enrolled in municipal schools, mostly in overcrowded, unsafe facilities, some of them makeshift.

The alternative is to rely on private Jerusalem or West Bank schools, what most families can't afford or reach. Pre-schools are also affected. As a result, 90% of 15,000 three and four year olds have no facility whatever. East Jerusalem has only two municipal pre-schools, with a combined 55-children enrollment. Another 1,900 attend a few dozen private facilities, charging high tuitions, unaffordable for most parents.

Deficient Welfare Services

Despite East Jerusalem's high poverty level, affecting over two-thirds of its residents, only 22% receive social services, because of under-funding and discriminatory neglect, threatening the system with collapse.

Police Brutality and Human Rights Violations

Human rights organizations, like ACRI, get regular complaints about police and Border Patrol brutality and harassment. Investigations are seldom conducted, nearly always ending in whitewash, absolving the offenders.

ACRI represented one resident attacked by police, despite displaying no hostility or violence. They dragged, tear-gassed, and handcuffed him, broke his arm, then kicked and beat him. During Cast Lead, over 200 protesters were beaten and arrested, many of them children, and some detainees were assaulted in their homes in the middle of the night, then forcibly taken away.

In addition, various Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations were targeted and shut down, allegedly for unsubstantiated security reasons, in fact, to prevent them from operating.

Free Movement Restrictions and Checkpoint Harassment

Over 100,000 East Jerusalem residents on the Separation Wall's east side have been disconnected from the city. In February 2009, A-Ram checkpoint was closed, leaving Atarot (Kalandia) only, linking northern neighborhoods to the city's center. Atarot also provides residents on the Wall's other side with municipal and urban postal, national insurance, and employment services.

Yet congestion makes crossing "unbearable," and despite promises to alleviate it, residents face long waits, from one - two hours, to get through in either direction. Worse still, the public transportation lane was cancelled, forcing passengers off buses to proceed on foot. As a result, students heading for school are affected. So are car owners allowed passage only through private lanes, but not their passengers (including the sick, elderly and pregnant), forced to get out and walk.

Checkpoint harassment exacerbates the problem, including verbal and physical abuse by soldiers and private security employees. "In East Jerusalem, far from the eye of the public and the media, the authorities (behave) toward residents in a manner that would be inconceivable anywhere in Israel" toward Jews.

Appalling East Jerusalem Sanitation Conditions

East Jerusalem neighborhoods are bleak, the result of "garbage strewn all over the streets and trash bins (filled) to overflowing, broken down, and leaking." Sanitation, in fact, is so poor, it got special mention in the State Comptroller Report stating:

"Cleanliness in East Jerusalem is much worse than in other parts of the city. Municipal attention to (basic) cleanliness and care of East Jerusalem is deficient and reflective of ongoing neglect....There is a need to clarify the jurisdiction of the State of Israel and the City of Jerusalem with regard to meeting the needs of this population, and enhancing coordination between the government ministries and the municipality."

Progress toward solving this problem is nil, ACRI saying:

Appalling sanitation services reflect "a continuing violation of the rights of East Jerusalem residents to health, life, and a clean environment free of sanitation risks."

ACRI's study showed:

-- entire streets without trash collection or cleaning services;

-- despite the urgent need, neighborhoods lacking sanitation workers;

-- sweeping vehicles don't operate in most neighborhoods, and where they do only serve limited areas;

-- trash bins throughout the city are dilapidated, burnt out, or otherwise in disrepair;

-- public waste receptacles are woefully inadequate in streets, commercial, cultural and other areas;

-- vermin and stray dogs pose an environment hazard, especially to children, the elderly and sick;

-- residents must cope on their own, at their own expense; and

-- neighborhoods most affected are on the Separation Wall's other side where sanitation services are privatized, and absent municipal oversight, don't function properly.

Sanitation Conditions in Selected Neighborhoods

About 15,000 residents live in Tsur Baher and Umm Tuba, most of them getting no trash collections whatever. Only main street bins are serviced, and they're dilapidated, in disrepair, and lack lids or wheels. In addition, most streets lack sweeping services, so trash accumulates in gutters, causing an environmental, sanitation, and health blight for affected neighborhoods, as well as an esthetic eyesore.

"Residents report that in the late afternoon and evening, (stray) dogs regularly prowl the neighborhood, scattering the garbage and terrorizing the residents."

Bir Ayyub Silwan gets partial sanitation services since most streets have no trash bins or waste collections. On the main Wadi Road, only four lidless bins serve the entire area - a central artery linking sub-neighborhoods to others in East Jerusalem, including Jabel Mukaber and Tsur Bahar.

Other streets have some bins, but most have none. Street sweeping is also absent. Residents' only choice is to burn trash at roadsides. On Marajeh Street, people complain about stray cats scattering garbage by day and mice infesting the area at night - a problem especially bad in summer.

Located on the Separation Wall's other side, Ras Khamis services were privatized, resulting in appalling sanitation. Only ten trash bins serve 10,000 residents, all of them rusty, burnt, or damaged. None have lids, and street sweeping isn't done. Residents are thus left with their own ingenuity and resources to cope.

In addition, contract services perform poorly, and nothing is done about vermin or prowling dogs despite regular appeals for help.

Legal Status

Section B of the Municipalities Ordinance's Amended Version addresses sanitation needs, paragraph 242 covering the responsibility to install trash bins and assure waste collections in an orderly manner, stating:

"....the municipality shall undertake the following actions:

(1) take measures to eliminate or prevent any public hazard and undertake inspections to identify existing hazards;

(2) order the collection of rubbish and garbage from every house and set the fees for said collection;

(3) order the inspection, regulation, maintenance, cleaning, and emptying of sewers, drains, lavatories, toilets, septic tanks, passageways, gutters, watercourses, cesspits, and sanitary fixtures;" as well as

(4) keep trash bins in good working order and provide maintenance to prevent health hazards;

(5) keep other sanitation facilities safe and working properly;

(6) ensure street sweeping and cleaning;

(7) prevent waste from accumulating in public;

(8) prevent streams, ditches, watercourses or wells from becoming contaminated;

(9) prevent pipes intended for rainwater runoff from being used for sewage removal or bathroom waste; and

(10) assure inspections to maintain cleanliness.

The Jerusalem Bylaws grant city trash collections solely to municipal workers by mayoral issued permits.

"The Jerusalem municipality is therefore obliged by law to provide sanitation services that include" proper bins and receptacles, collections, street sweeping and cleaning, and extermination of vermin, rats, mice, and other health hazards. City authorities are clearly derelict in their duties, according to law.

East Jerusalem Palestinians are thus gravely impacted under truly appalling conditions - the result of "ongoing neglect and discrimination" by municipal authorities. All city services are affected, the most visible being sanitation ones.

Since its 1972 establishment, ACRI's mission has been to "protect and promote human rights and civil liberties, wherever they are violated by Israel or on its behalf," an enormous challenge against authorities committed to violence, discrimination, harassment, abuse, and the denial of basic freedoms to everyone not Jewish - a testimony to a rogue state's viciousness.

Its longstanding neglect and abuse are especially evident in East Jerusalem and Gaza under siege. But the entire Palestinian population is affected, including Israeli citizens, enduring relentless persecution, discrimination and systemic violence to crack their spirit and dispossess them - something Israel's failed at for over six decades, showing its mindlessness to the Palestinian spirit to endure, survive, and eventually overcome what can't be sustained nor will be, no matter how many more decades of struggle it takes.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at Also visit his blog site at and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

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