Out of bounds
After Israel annexed the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to the reunited city 40 years ago, Palestinians in the Shuafat refugee camp became Israeli residents. Now Israel wants to put them on the other side of the fence.
On Tuesday of this week, convoys of vehicles made their way through the streets of Jerusalem. From early in the morning, thousands of celebrants ascended to the capital for the 40th anniversary of the city's unification. This time even the traffic jams did not annoy the inhabitants, whose nerves are often wracked by the plethora of events that are held in their city.
A few kilometers from the city's center stretched another traffic jam, this one caused by a number of buses that had set out from the Shuafat refugee camp for the Nakba (Palestinian catastrophe of 1948) commemoration in Ramallah. This year the two events took place on the same day. The other cars were just stuck at a roadblock. It should be noted that the Shuafat refugee camp is also within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem and its 20,000 inhabitants hold the blue identity cards of residents of the city.
There is, of course, nothing new in these two pictures, which represent a polarized reality. Only the fact that both of them occurred simultaneously, that on the day that the 40th anniversary of Jerusalem's re-unification was commemorated the Nakba was also marked, afforded them for a moment a sad, cynical, despairing significance. "On days like this I don't like to leave the camp," says Hader Dibs, 43, the secretary general of the refugee camp services committee. "At times like this I prefer to remain off to one side, temporarily. Altogether, we are temporary people."
Within this temporariness, Jerusalem is the more constant factor in Dibs' life, as it is in the lives of his fellow refugees in the camp. Every several years, the hand of fate seems to descend and move them from one place to another, like pieces on a chessboard. In 1948 his family was expelled from Beit Latif, near Beit Shemesh, and settled in the Old City of Jerusalem. In 1966 they were transferred to the Shuafat camp, under an agreement between Jordan, which ruled the city at that time, and the United Nations. They were promised an improvement in their living conditions, but in fact they were sent to live in small hovels.
Over the years the 540 families in the camp became 20,000 people, living on 203 dunams (roughly 500 acres), and now they are once again slated to be moved. This time the intention is not to move them physically, but rather to move the separation wall in the area in a way that will put the camp outside the municipal jurisdiction of Jerusalem. Despite the blue Israeli identity cards held by residents of Shuafat, the Israeli authorities have now decided that they are not in fact Jerusalemites.
Were the situation not so sad, it might be quite funny: Just when the negative immigration from Jerusalem is being totted up and the number of leavers is being counted (17,000 men and women this year), 20,000 people are waging a determined struggle for their right to remain in the capital.
But these people, Palestinians, are not wanted. There is no better proof of this than the separation fence that is planned to cut the neighborhood off from Jerusalem. In the meantime their case is being clarified in the High Court of Justice, the Ir Amim association is helping them in their public struggle and the fence at their doorstep is standing unfinished.
Truth be told, Shuafat residents don't get much from being part of Jerusalem. Everyday matters in the camp are run by the UN, not by the Jerusalem municipality. Perhaps it is better thus: The inhabitants of adjacent Ras Hamis, also residents of Jerusalem who are about to be transferred to the territories by the fence, are served by the municipality. That is to say, they aren't served. Many of them leave their garbage on the boundary between their neighborhood and the refugee camp so that the UN will collect what the municipality ignores.
Dibs says that in fact he would like to celebrate Jerusalem Day, but not the one that is being celebrated now. "To be a Jerusalemite - for me that's everything," he says. "I was born here and I grew up here and all my family is from here. I have someone in every neighborhood of the city - Beit Safafa, Beit Hanina, Jabal Mukaber. There is no road that I don't know and not a day goes by when I don't go up to pray at Al-Aqsa. I know all that talk about how we want to remain Jerusalemites because of the National Insurance, because of the benefits. That's nonsense. We pay more than we get. I don't want money, I want control. I want Jerusalem as my capital city. I want the Palestinians to control it, not the Israelis and not the Jordanians. Just us. And I am talking about the 1967 borders, not about the whole city. I heard that [Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert says that the camp is not part of Jerusalem. What is that supposed to mean? The camp is part of Shuafat and Shuafat is Jerusalem. Where is he bringing that history from? I am more of a Jerusalemite than he is."
'The good cop'
As we walk around the camp, the inhabitants frequently address Dibs, whom they know as "Abu Amir," regarding all kinds of issues. He has status here by virtue of his position on the services committee and also by virtue of his struggle against the occupation, a struggle that led him to spend a year and a half in an Israeli prison. From the neighborhood activity and from the arrest he acquired two acquaintances. One, a man known as Abu Samer who spent a lot of time moving around the neighborhood, would play table tennis with the inhabitants and would also invite them to interrogations by the Shin Bet security service. Years later Dibs saw Abu Samer on television, and he was none other than MK Israel Hasson of Yisrael Beiteinu. The second acquaintanceship was "Amir," the interrogator who questioned him at the jail at the Russian Compound. Dibs named his eldest son after him. "He was the good cop," he explains.
Ibrahim Bakri also has a pedigree in the camp. His father was the first of its inhabitants to be sent to prison because of membership in the Palestine Liberation Organization. Bakri, who was born in 1948, remembers well the day the Jordanians and the UN moved them from the Old City to the camp. He remembers the trucks that came to take them away, the people who were forcibly taken out of houses and the dinar that each truck received for carrying out the task. "No one in the world needs us," says Bakri sadly. "Not the Arab world, not the Western world. All we have is this land where two peoples are now living in fear, and instead of living together are competing as to who will get rid of whom. It isn't Jerusalem Day that is being celebrated today, it's the occupation of Jerusalem."
Bakri, a welder who has done a lot of work in West Jerusalem, has a practical suggestion: With part of the new budget of $1.5 billion that was approved for Jerusalem this week, a new Temple will be built, at a location somewhat distant from the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This seems to him a plan that is far preferable to the construction of the fence that will once again transform the inhabitants of the camp, all of whom are Jerusalemites, into de facto refugees.