In Jerusalem, Jews Want Sanitation and Palestinians Want to Build Homes

As Israel marks Jerusalem Day, new study shows large gaps between needs of the city’s Jewish and Arab residents

Palestinians watch a family house destroyed by Israeli authorities in east Jerusalem's neighborhood of Silwan, Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Mahmoud Illean,AP

Tens of thousands of young members of the religious Zionist movement will march through the city’s streets and on Ammunition Hill Sunday in celebration of Jerusalem Day. In the Knesset, politicians will promise to keep the city unified and to see to the quality of life of its residents. But how do Jerusalemites define themselves and quality of life, and how does this differ for secular Jews, ultra-Orthodox Jews and for Palestinians?

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A new study by Michal Korach and Tami Gavrieli of the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research draws a clear portrait of Jerusalem and the gaps between its two parts, 52 years after they were merged.

The researchers, whose study was commissioned by the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry and the Jerusalem Development Authority and is being published for the first time here, used tools including focus groups, interviews and surveys to gather information from members of the cities’ varied populations. The most interesting conclusions touch on the differences between these groups.

Secular Jewish respondents said “clean surroundings” was the most important factor determining their quality of life in the city. Efficient public transportation was second, followed by high-quality education; parks and playgrounds; a sense of belonging to a community and governability, meaning the presence of city employees in their neighborhoods and a sense that their concerns would be heard.

Jaffa Street in Jerusalem
Emil Salman

Haredim cited the same factors, but in a different order: Public transportation was first, followed by clean surroundings and properly maintained school buildings. A significant number of Haredi children study in buildings that have not been adapted to suit their needs.

For the city’s Palestinian residents, the priorities were completely different. Korach and Gavrieli say that before the questions about quality of life can be answered, two problems that arose repeatedly in the course of their research must be addressed.

The first has to do with identity: Do residents of East Jerusalem identify as Palestinians, or as Arab citizens of Israel, and who is responsible for their quality of life, the municipality and the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority? Most Palestinians have the status of permanent residents of Jerusalem, but are not citizens of Israel. This entitles them to social welfare and medical benefits and the right to vote in municipal elections but not the Knesset election.

“Nobody has our back, we have neither mother nor father, we fall between two stools,” one respondent told the researchers in an interview. The second problem is a sense of desperation, uncertainty and lack of control over their own lives. “Some also live under the constant threat of the demolition of their home, because it was built illegally,” the researchers write. One interviewee said they “felt like royal subjects.”

When pressed to respond to the quality of life questions, the Palestinian respondents said the top factor for them was “the possibility of building homes.” East Jerusalem has an enormous backlog in construction permits, making it almost impossible to build legally. Number 2 on the list was the quality and maintenance of physical infrastructure, including roads, sidewalks, streetlights and the sewer system. Next on the list were cleanliness and the presence of neighborhood parks.

The researchers stress that personal security did not come up as an issue for respondents, with the exception of some residents of Jewish neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city that border Palestinian neighborhoods, such as Pisgat Ze’ev and East Talpiot.