Jerusalem is once again exploding into the headlines with scenes of strife and suppression. Several conflicts have exacerbated tensions across the city in recent months and ignited clashes with security forces: the shooting of a right-wing Jewish activist, perennial conflicts over the Al Aqsa mosque, and more ruthless bulldozing of Palestinian homes. The scenes of unrest, the hails of rubber bullets and hundreds of arrests have sadly become part of the violent rhythms of everyday life in this Holy City.
Yet behind the latests spasms of violence is a slow-burning crisis that has been imposed over generations, as a new report on East Jerusalem’s topography of inequality makes clear. Separated from the rest of the Holy City, the majority-Arab East Jerusalem simmers with poverty and social unrest.
The report, published by the independent labor group WAC-Maan, describes East Jerusalem as a “socioeconomic disaster,” in which chronic poverty is not just ignored, but promoted by two Israeli welfare institutions, the National Insurance Institute (NII) and the Employment Bureau (EB). These welfare agencies are tasked with delivering public assistance to all Jerusalemites. But for Palestinian communities, advocates say the bureaucracies act as gatekeepers to social entitlements, under “a government policy to push Palestinians beyond the wall” and, paraphrasing the government’s messaging, “strengthening Israeli sovereignty in the territories of East Jerusalem.”
Under a program to “develop” East Jerusalem, WAC-Maan says the real mission is not social service delivery but a systematic impoverishment, and ultimately cleansing, of local Palestinian enclaves, which then invites takeovers by Jewish residents. Meanwhile, WAC-Maan argues that the funding behind the “development” provisions is so small that “it cannot achieve any real change beyond showcasing Israeli sovereignty.”
In a microcosm of the war-torn landscape of the Occupied Territories, East Jerusalem is blockaded by a Separation Barrier. On the side of the annexed territories outside the Barrier, according to WAC-Maan, households are cut off from public services. On the other side, within the main area of East Jerusalem, there has been haphazard construction and “development,” but the net effect on poor Arab residents has been to keep the community divided. In addition to extremely high poverty, access to utilities is heavily constrained in neighborhoods outside the barrier, where residents report “extremely low water pressure or even no water at all for days at a stretch.”
Joblessness is epidemic. In 2011, just 37 percent of local Palestinians participated in the workforce, about six in ten men and just 14 percent of women.
WAC-Maan organizer Erez Wagner tells The Nation that since the protests have erupted in recent weeks, the whole community has been destabilized. As Arab residents face a phalanx of security patrols on the streets, “it’s a very explosive situation.” But beyond the street protests, even for those just trying to work, “because of the unrest, we saw a lot of employers don’t want the Arab workers.”