Opinion

Take Down That Wall in Arab East Jerusalem

Concerns about demographics shouldn’t lead to a division of Jerusalem, but rather to measures that would stem the outflow of Jewish residents from the city

Palestinian teenager Mohammad Jaabari works at a carwash in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Wadi al-Joz, November 17, 2017.
\ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

In one of the impetuous acts he was known for, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approved the building of a wall — the separation barrier — within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, separating the Shoafat refugee camp and the Kafr Aqab neighborhood from the rest of Jerusalem. Like the infamous Berlin Wall, it divided one part of the city from the other.

The result causes great inconvenience to the local people, who must go through checkpoints to enter Jerusalem’s other areas. This includes not only those who work in Jerusalem’s other areas but also children attending schools away from where their families reside.

But that wall brought about another regrettable result. Whereas East Jerusalem’s residential areas have suffered criminal neglect for 50 years, with the wall Shoafat and Kafr Aqab have been completely abandoned by the municipality and the police. They in effect have become a no-man’s-land where drug trafficking and other crime flourish, and anarchy prevails. Neither the government nor the municipality seemed to care about the fate that befell the residents, most of whom are by law recognized as permanent residents of Jerusalem and thereby of Israel, and continue to have the option of applying for Israeli citizenship.

The appalling conditions created by the wall also made housing in these areas cheaper than in the rest of East Jerusalem, and brought about unlimited illegal construction of housing. The result, as should have been anticipated, was a massive influx of Palestinians into these areas from surrounding regions beyond Jerusalem’s municipal borders. With these areas abandoned by the Israeli authorities, this influx has continued unchecked for 15 years, and the number of Palestinians within Jerusalem’s city borders has ballooned.

The government has now finally decided to make large-scale investments in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods in an attempt to substantially improve the infrastructure such as the water supply and sewage system, as well as the schools. After 50 years of neglect this is going to be a huge undertaking and stretch over a number of years.

It is only now that some of the decision-makers have woken up to the demographic consequences of the wall. They are concerned that the influx of Palestinians into the Kafr Aqab and Shoafat areas has substantially changed the demographic balance between Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem. Some demographic projections indicate that in time Palestinians might even constitute a majority in the city.

For this they believe they’ve found a solution: Administratively move Kafr Aqab and the Shoafat refugee camp outside the Jerusalem borders, while maintaining Israeli sovereignty over the areas and establishing separate municipal councils in these neighborhoods. Presumably the neglect of these areas will continue once they are left to their own devices. And all this has happened without asking the opinions of the residents. The mistakes by the Israeli government in putting up the wall will have to be paid for by the Palestinians who have been forced to live behind the wall.

The legality of the planned measures affecting Israeli residents who have an option to apply for Israeli citizenship is questionable. Changing municipal borders based on questionable demographic projections is unprecedented in Israel. Concerns about demographics shouldn’t lead to a division of Jerusalem, but rather to measures that would stem the outflow of Jewish residents from the city.

Such measures should have been taken a long time ago and are urgently needed at the present time. The project for the division of Jerusalem needs to be reconsidered. The wall that separates the city and has had such deleterious effects should come down. Take down that wall.