Some East Jerusalem Neighborhoods Are More Equal Than Others

Despite all the talk of a 'united Jerusalem,' residents of Kafr Akab and Shoafat refugee camp are still separated by a wall

The separation barrier near the Shoafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem.
Emil Salman

The good news is that after 50 years of neglect, the government is finally allocating a substantial budget for investment in the infrastructure of the East Jerusalem neighborhoods in an attempt to make life livable for the residents there. The bad news is that there is a rumor that two of the neighborhoods – Kafr Akab and the Shoafat refugee camp – are not included in this project, and are to be left in their present, miserable state. If this is true it will be an unpardonable mistake. There is still time to reconsider.

Kafr Akab and the Shoafat refugee camp, like the other East Jerusalem neighborhoods, were included in the municipal borders of the city and declared to be within the borders of the State of Israel by a government decision taken in 1967. The Palestinians there were recognized as permanent residents of Israel and given the option of applying for Israeli citizenship. They carry Israeli identity cards to this day and are entitled to the benefits of residents of the state and are obliged to meet the obligations that come with the status. There is no difference between their status and that of the Palestinian residents of other East Jerusalem neighborhoods. Why, then, wouldn’t the government decision apply equally to them?

Of course, there is one difference. Walls were built some years ago that separate residents of Kafr Akab and Shoafat refugee camp from the rest of Jerusalem. Why did someone who talked high and mighty about a “united Jerusalem” decide to build a wall inside the city, causing great difficulty to the residents of these neighborhoods, and in effect create the impression that they were being abandoned? In any case, that injustice committed in past years cannot serve as justification to continue years of neglect in those areas.

I hope nobody in the government is toying with the idea of canceling the residency status of the Palestinians residing in Kafr Akab and Shoafat refugee camp, or withdrawing the option they have of applying for Israeli citizenship. That would be morally inexcusable, and probably illegal as well. Better to give consideration to tearing down the wall that isolates them physically from the rest of the city in which they live, while being required to pay municipal taxes for services they do not receive.

While on the subject of the injustices perpetrated by the government and the municipality on these residents of Jerusalem, the Ministry of Interior might review the process of granting Israeli citizenship to those East Jerusalem residents who have attempted to exercise this option. They will find that in the majority of cases the process seems never-ending and that there is at present a backlog of many thousands who have been waiting for over a year to receive an adequate response to their application.

It seems that some of the civil servants in the Interior Ministry are doing their level best to discourage the applicants from proceeding with their application, or to deny them the right to which they are entitled. They may be imagining that they are making their miniscule contribution to fighting the “demographic demon” that people on the left are always talking about. They better go to work and carry out their duties.

Yes, there is something that the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem can do themselves to draw the attention of the powers-that-be to their plight. They could participate in the Jerusalem municipal elections. They will be surprised how quickly the Jerusalem municipality will begin paying attention to their complaints. And government ministers as well will begin to visit them. After all, it is all politics, and democracy does work.