The coronavirus crisis has given the national and local governments and their agencies exceptional opportunities to work for the good of East Jerusalem residents and earn their trust. Fear of the virus and the fact that it’s seen as a common enemy have created a favorable moment among Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.
Some agencies, like the police, have grossly wasted this opportunity. In one incident, police confiscated a food truck sent by an organization in Kafr Qasem; in another, they closed a clinic because it operated with help from the Palestinian Authority; and in a third, they conducted a demonstrative operation to remove PA signs from Kafr Aqab, which lies beyond the separation barrier.
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The Jerusalem municipality, in contrast, has taken advantage of this opportunity for successful cooperation. Mayor Moshe Leon initiated and maintained close contact with the directors of East Jerusalem hospitals and assisted them, including in getting equipment. The municipality also launched a major food distribution operation and coordinated the establishment of coronavirus testing centers with the Health Ministry and Magen David Adom ambulance service.
Palestinian activists reported getting an attentive ear from the municipality and the mayor. Some have been extravagant with their praise, even comparing Leon to Teddy Kollek, who is remembered in East Jerusalem as the last mayor who genuinely cared about its Palestinian neighborhoods.
This isn’t the first time Leon has shown his ability to free himself of the fossilized views about East Jerusalem generally held by state agencies. The latter see everything through the lenses of politics and security. Unlike both his predecessors and most cabinet ministers, Leon isn’t acting just to prove that he’s bolstering Israeli sovereignty or contributing to the “unity of Jerusalem.” This was true when he paid a visit to Malek Issa, the boy who lost an eye when he was hit by a policeman’s sponge-tipped bullet, and it was true when he froze house demolitions in the Isawiyah neighborhood.
Nevertheless, Leon’s real test still lies before him. Food baskets and even drive-through virus testing stations are important, but East Jerusalem’s real problems require much more. Its neighborhoods need new planning that will include giving them additional land and massive investments in infrastructure. Home demolitions must be halted, given the situation in which people can’t get permits to build legally. The Judaization of Palestinian neighborhoods and Jewish settlement there must end, as must the police’s demonstrative but misbegotten operations there.
The neighborhoods beyond the wall must be cared for; they are home to 100,000 people who deserve the same treatment as residents of the Jewish neighborhoods of Rehavia and Beit Hakerem. The looming economic crisis, which is expected to hit East Jerusalem especially hard, must be thoroughly addressed. And all this must be done together with the area’s authentic leadership, rather than by seeking a fake leadership in the form of various kinds of “VIPs.” These are the tests that lie in wait for Leon, and for the national government as well.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.