Jerusalem 2013: High-tech Alongside Hovels

Life-science and other firms are heading for the capital, where large Haredi and Arab communities still live in poverty.

Jerusalem Day 2013 finds Israel's capital in transition. High-tech companies have discovered the city, job growth is convincing university graduates to stick around, and the status quo on shutting down the city on Shabbat has been shattered.

Still, the passing rate of Jerusalem high-school graduates on the national matriculation exam has plummeted, spending on municipal services in the city's east is far below standard, and many people in the large ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities remain poor with paltry job prospects.

Jerusalem is Israel's largest city, both in terms of population and size. It has around 800,000 people, roughly twice as many as Tel Aviv, which covers 40% as much land as Jerusalem.

But only about half of Jerusalem's residents in 2012 worked, compared with 63.6% across Israel, according to figures published by the Central Bureau of Statistics this week ahead of Jerusalem Day. The city's unemployment rate in 2012 was 7.8%, compared with 6.9% nationwide.

Jerusalem is 35% Arab and 32% Haredi, the groups with the country's lowest labor-force participation. Meanwhile, there aren't enough jobs in the city, and not enough industrial and technology centers.

Still, Jerusalem is experiencing job growth. Between 2009 and 2011, 30,000 new jobs were created in the city; in 2012 another 17,000 were added, according to the statistics bureau and the municipality. Also, the number of employers in Jerusalem has climbed 25% since 2005. Despite the job shortage, 85% of Jerusalemites work in the city; this number is just 63.4% for Tel Aviv.

More options for secular residents

Four years ago Jerusalem elected secular Nir Barkat to take over from Haredi Uri Lupolianski as mayor. Now Teddy Stadium holds soccer games on Saturdays. The city is also about to inaugurate new nightlife areas to be open Friday nights.

The Carta parking lot near the Old City is now open on Saturdays despite violent demonstrations by the ultra-Orthodox. Soon nightlife areas will be open on Friday nights and Saturdays in the old railway station compound and the Abu Tor neighborhood.

Jerusalem officials are also engaged in another struggle, perhaps the last one between the Haredim and secular people over the city’s character. In a month, the Cinema City chain is due to open shop in the Holy City. The Jerusalem city council, which lets Teddy Stadium be open on Saturdays and Jewish holidays, has made a similar decision for Cinema City. Left-of-center parties in the city hope new Finance Minister Yair Lapid will agree.

East Side, West Side

Since 1967 Jerusalem's population has tripled, with its Jewish population growing 159% and Arab population surging 327%. Broken down by religious affiliation, the city has 499,400 Jews (62%), 281,000 Muslims (35%) and 14,700 Christians (2%), 12,000 of whom are Arab Christians. The remaining 1%, around 9,000 people, are classified as having no religion.

East Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods suffer from underfunding compared with Jewish neighborhoods in the western part of the city, according to an analysis of the 2011 municipal budget by the NGO Ir Amim. The nonprofit group, which seeks to promote equality and a diplomatic solution for Jerusalem, did its analysis in cooperation with city council member Meir Margalit (Meretz). According to the study, only 10.7% of the city's 2011 budget of NIS 4.7 billion found its way to East Jerusalem, even though these neighborhoods make up 38% of the city's population.

According to these figures, the social-services budget for the east beyond the Green Line is just 12.6% of the city's social-services budget (NIS 64.8 million of NIS 513 million) – even though 78% of families in the these neighborhoods are defined as poor.

Still, the municipality says that in recent years it and the Transportation Ministry have invested NIS 500 million to upgrade roads and build a new transportation infrastructure in the east. They have invested another NIS 400 million in the educational system in the eastern part of the city.

The Jerusalem municipality says the report's figures are inaccurate, marred by the group's political agenda. "The report's attempt to hide from the public the massive investments that all city residents benefit from and to omit the special funds and investments allocated to the eastern side stems from political interests. It bears no semblance to the truth," said city hall.

High-tech innovation in the Holy City

In recent years, Jerusalem has become a high-tech center, with an emphasis on life sciences. The city’s main industrial zones are Atarot, where 200 companies employ around 5,000 people, and Har Hotzvim, where about 280 high-tech companies employ around 10,000 people. In addition, Hebrew University has a high-tech village with about 20 companies that employ about 400 people, according to the Jerusalem Development Authority.

The authority gets most of its funding from the central government. It has offered benefits to companies, students and workers, thanks to which firms are coming from the center of the country, and university graduates are staying.

Itzik Ozer, the authority’s director of business and industrial development, said that in addition to Har Hotzvim's planned expansion, new industrial zones at Givat Shaul are in the late planning stages. Arik Grebelsky, the chairman of the Jerusalem branch of the Manufacturers Association, said the biggest obstacle to industrial development was the shortage of land.

“Har Hotzvim is getting full while demand is exceeding supply at Atarot, an industrial zone that people used to flee,” he said. “Over the past two years we’ve seen a pretty big change. Companies that weren’t willing to go near Jerusalem now find it attractive."

AP
Jerusalem’s light rail travelling through Jaffa Road, the main commercial thoroughfare of West Jerusalem
Emil Salman