When the wounded victims of a terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue arrived at Hadassah University Hospital 10 days ago, one of the doctors who treated them was Dr. Abed Kalila. Only when he left the trauma room did Kalila learn that the perpetrator of the attack came from his own East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal Mukaber.
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“My heart broke to think of the wounded,” said Kalila, 41, one of the hospital’s senior surgeons.
In an interview with Haaretz, Kalila sought to give a different picture of Jabal Mukaber than the one portrayed in the media. He is one of seven siblings, five of whom are either doctors already or in medical school. The other two are engineers.
“On the street where I live, no exaggeration, there are seven doctors,” he said.
Yet that same street, he noted, has no sidewalks, like most streets in East Jerusalem. And a demolition order has been served against his father’s house.
Moreover, though Kalila is an Israeli citizen, two of his five children are not, due to bureaucratic problems.
“What’s the difference between me and you?” he demanded. “I don’t invest? I don’t work? I don’t contribute to society enough? So you begin to ask yourself questions. Where do I belong? I want to work and raise my children, but on the other hand, I’m a Palestinian, and I have an obligation toward my society. Most people want to receive what they deserve and live their lives.”
Kalila’s dilemma is shared by almost all East Jerusalem Palestinians. In recent months, other Israelis have seen Jerusalem’s Arab residents primarily through the prism of violence – children throwing stones and men committing lethal terror attacks. But East Jerusalem society is far more complex than this simplistic portrayal.
In recent years, this society has been undergoing two seemingly contradictory processes. On one hand there is a growing identification with Islam and Palestinian nationalism. On the other hand, there is growing integration into Israeli society and closer ties with western Jerusalem – a process Haaretz has termed Israelization, though Palestinians consider this term controversial.
The trend toward integration is evident, inter alia, in education. Parents increasingly want their children to learn Hebrew, study the Israeli curriculum and take the Israeli matriculation exam instead of the Palestinian one. More East Jerusalem residents are also choosing to study in Israeli universities rather than abroad.
In addition, East Jerusalem Arabs are no longer largely manual laborers: They work in academia, sell clothing in fashionable stores or even start their own businesses. The taboo against applying for Israeli citizenship is waning as well, and there are now about 1,000 applicants a year (of whom about half actually receive citizenship).
This growing integration is very visible. Increasingly, Arabs can be seen on the light rail, in the malls or walking about downtown Jerusalem.
The generally accepted explanation for this process is the forcible separation between East Jerusalem and the West Bank that Israel created when it erected the separation fence, coupled with the long period of time – almost 50 years – that has elapsed since Israel annexed East Jerusalem. Members of the younger generation, whose parents were also born into this reality, now seem to be seeking normal lives.
Mayor Nir Barkat and Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Naftali Bennett welcomed this trend. They believed that the thorny problem of Jerusalem could be solved if Israel embraced the city’s Palestinian residents and assisted their process of Israelization. And for a moment, it seemed to be working. The last few years were relatively quiet; tourism boomed; and under Barkat’s leadership, the municipality started trying to address East Jerusalem’s longstanding problems in areas such as planning, education and infrastructure (though with very limited success, due to both a lack of funding and right-wing opposition).
In late June, a plan for the “economic and social development” of East Jerusalem was submitted to the cabinet. Out of a budget of some 300 million shekels ($77.2 million), about 200 million was earmarked for improving the lives of East Jerusalem residents and strengthening their connection with Israel, including by investing in Hebrew education, employment and infrastructure. The remaining 100 million shekels was earmarked for improving security in the city’s eastern half.
But on July 2, just three days after the cabinet approved the plan, East Jerusalem teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir was murdered by Jews in a brutal revenge attack for the previous month’s kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens – and East Jerusalem exploded in violence that has yet to die down.
Various theories have been advanced to explain the contradiction between the growing process of Israelization and the outbreak of violence, between Dr. Kalila and his neighbors, the Abu Jamal cousins, who perpetrated the synagogue attack. The most common theory is that the Israelization process has nothing to do with ideology, but only with lifestyle: Just as Israeli Arabs have become more “Palestinian” in their worldview and identity even as they have become more educated and better integrated, East Jerusalem residents also haven’t become less Palestinian just because they speak Hebrew, study with Israelis and want an Israeli passport.
“There’s no contradiction between these things,” said Dr. Amnon Ramon, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. “The decision to apply for citizenship is a personal one. Every person decides for himself. This is part of having a divided society with no leadership.”
Another factor is that their tacit acquiesce to a united Jerusalem has made the difference between the city’s eastern and western halves all the more glaring. None of Kalila’s Jewish colleagues at Hadassah return home to a half-paved street with no sidewalks and no regular trash collection. Becoming more familiar with western Jerusalem has made East Jerusalem residents even more aware of the ongoing, institutionalized discrimination from which they suffer. And this clearly doesn’t help calm the atmosphere.
Other explanations include the ongoing expansion of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, the poor education system in the eastern part of the city, poverty and the humiliations Palestinians have suffered from young Jewish racists and right-wing activists in the downtown area, or from security forces in their own neighborhoods.
To all this must be added two other factors that helped ignite, or at least poured fuel on, the flames – the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks earlier this year, which left East Jerusalem Palestinians with no political horizon, and the growing demands by some Israelis for a change in the status quo on the Temple Mount, one of the most sensitive sites for the city’s Palestinian residents.
“It’s an issue of accepting one’s fate,” Dr. Hillel Cohen, an expert on Palestinian society from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said. “There was an understanding that at the moment, the best option was to be under Israel, but even those people still had remnants of self-respect and nationalist sentiments. They were willing to suspend this, to lower their heads, but on condition that certain lines aren’t crossed.
“For instance, everyone knows that the houses have no [construction] permits, but Israel doesn’t demolish them; it’s an unwritten agreement,” he said. “Another extremely important unwritten deal is over Haram al-Sharif, the Temple Mount, where the understanding is that de facto management of the site remains in Muslim hands. Now they feel that this contract is being violated.”
Jawad Siyam, head of the Wadi Hilweh Popular Committee in East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, added another element to the picture.
“The Jerusalemites feel alone – that the Palestinian Authority has abandoned them, that the Arab world has abandoned them – so they’re taking their fate into their own hands,” said Siyam, who has become a prominent East Jerusalem leader. “The young people feel that they aren’t succeeding in protecting their women and their holy sites.”
As an example, he cited Abdel Rahman al-Shaludi, who killed a 3-month-old baby and a woman last month when he drove his car into a crowd of passengers waiting at a light rail station. “He was 20, he was supposed to love life, he was supposed to have hope,” Siyam said. “But you don’t realize how much pressure was put on him. A few weeks before the attack, they entered his house, arrested him, beat him and humiliated his mother. I don’t think what happened afterward was by chance.”