Is it the isolation and insulation that Israel has imposed on Gaza, or the cynicism with which the decision makers continue to turn the population of East Jerusalem into welfare clients and slum dwellers, and then pride themselves of the national insurance payments they grant them?
Graduates of the Shin Bet security service pride themselves on being able to recite Arabic proverbs, claiming this is the way to win over an Arab interlocutor. If it sounds to you as if I’m a bit envious of the linguistic training they receive, you are not mistaken; in my sort of school – the field – I have been able to memorize only a few Arabic adages.
One I learned from one of the many villagers who was handed an expropriation order for his land. Sitting at the entrance to his home, he looked like he was attending a funeral. “To whom can a grain of wheat complain when the cock is the judge?” he said, in response to my dumb question about what he planned to do.
This saying is useful in situations when all other words fail. For example, in a military tribunal that convicts and detains demonstrators protesting the robbery of their land, like Adib and Abdullah Abu Rahma.
Another adage often quoted goes something like this: “He who lives with a tribe for 40 days will begin to behave like it.” Not exactly, but like the Palestinians, who hold some strange competitions, I have found myself wondering which Palestinians have it the worst under the Israeli rule.
For many years, I thought there was nothing worse than life in Gaza. I even argued my point with a friend, who claimed the absolute worst is to be a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship because “we live in the midst of the Nakba [1948 catastrophe] sites and experience the daily racism masquerading as democracy.”
But for more than a year now, I have been vacillating between Gaza and Jerusalem. That is to say, I have been trying to decide which is worse – the isolation and insulation that Israel has imposed on Gaza (which includes being cut off from water sources and from the cultural, social and family ties those residents have with their People ); or the cynicism with which the decision makers continue to turn the population of East Jerusalem into welfare clients and slum dwellers, and then pride themselves of the national insurance payments they grant them.
A visit to the neighborhood of Isawiyah decided the issue. Heaps of concrete, uncollected garbage, roads that are becoming narrower due to pirate additions to buildings – forced on residents thanks to construction prohibitions and the expropriation of vacant lots – all lies in sight of the Hebrew University campus and the city’s French Hill, which are so green, spacious and civilized.
And now a report from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has confirmed my determination. The report, titled “Unsafe space: The Israeli authorities’ failure to protect human rights amid settlements in East Jerusalem,” is based on testimonies, media reports and official documents. It highlights the loss of personal and collective security in Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods, in the heart of which hostile bodies have settled over the past 30 years – settlers supported by millionaires and religious and archeological associations.
Some 2,000 such people live in fortified, well-guarded complexes in Palestinian neighborhoods like Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City – and there are more to come. Life in Palestinian Jerusalem is shaped by these Israeli statics: 65.1 percent of the city’s Palestinian residents live below the poverty line, as compared with 30.8 percent of the city’s Jewish population; and 74.4 percent of the Palestinian children in Jerusalem live below the poverty line, as compared to 45.1 percent of the city’s Jewish children.
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The city’s Palestinian neighborhoods have a dearth of 1,000 classrooms; 50 percent of the school children drop out; and 24,500 dunams of private land – more than one third of the area annexed to Jerusalem – have been appropriated from the Arab owners, while more than 50,000 housing units have been built on this land for Jews alone.
The authorities who prevent Palestinians from building and developing their lands allocate vacant plots to the Jews, not only outside of the populated areas but also in their very heart. These spaces are allocated for parking or entertainment, archeological digs or construction.
As these neighbors are the authorities’ darlings, confrontations are unavoidable, so the Housing and Construction Ministry provides hundreds of armed guards for the Jews at the public’s expense (some NIS 54 million in 2010 ). When Palestinians complain to police about harassment, they find themselves treated like suspects. When they call the police, they feel like the officers are in no hurry to get there. And when police investigate cases in which Jews are suspected of causing bodily harm, these cases are closed swiftly. In this way, the Palestinians are left at the mercy of the aggressive, belligerent and officially sanctioned invaders.
The guards, who are employed by a private company, think their position permits them to hit people, to act abusively and even to shoot. The people in whose midst these fortified complexes are sprawling are afraid to get in and out; relatives and friends think twice before coming to visit them. These complexes are also characterized by a great deal of noise – digging at archeological sites that goes on until night, and dancing and religious celebrations accompanied by anti-Arab songs.
The ACRI report was presented to the police and the Housing and Construction Ministry for perusal. The legal adviser to the police, Roni Leibowitz, asked the organization to delay publication of the report so he could examine the specific charges, saying seven days was not enough time to conduct a serious investigation.
Nevertheless, his first impression was that the ACRI report “describes the reality in a partial and sometimes tendentious manner… It relates in a forgiving light to serious violent events that took place in the village of Silwan, that by some miracle did not end in death – such as firing from live weapons by a terrorist cell, mass riots, and the throwing of Molotov cocktails, stones, iron bars and other harmful objects at security forces…”
In addition, Leibowitz says the claims of deficient treatment on the part of the police are based solely on “the testimonies of those who were interrogated as suspects in these events, which obviously can lead to an erroneous portrayal of the way the situation developed.”
Ariel Rosenberg, the ministry’s spokesman, firmly denies any claims that guards harass Palestinians and praises their professionalism and the instructions they receive to show restraint and forbearance.
“In the past year,” he writes, “the situation in the area under discussion has significantly worsened and the guards are witness to extremely hostile activity.”
* Amira Hass is a prominent Israeli journalist and author, mostly known for her columns in the daily newspaper Ha’aretz. She is particularly recognized for her reporting on Palestinian affairs in the West Bank and Gaza, where she has also lived for a number of years. The daughter of two Holocaust survivors, and was educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. On Oct. 20, the International Women’s Media Network reward Hass the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award. Hass was the recipient of the Press Freedom Hero award from the International Press Institute in 2000, the Bruno Kreisky Human Rights Award in 2002, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2003, the inaugural award from the Anna Lindh Memorial Fund in 2004 and Hrant Dink Memorial Award in 2009.