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What does the future hold for east Jerusalem?

CM 05/05/2021

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A half-century after the 1967 reunification of Jerusalem, the newly added part reflected neglect: inadequate infrastructure, sidewalks, sanitation – even mail delivery.
Something changed radically for the better three years ago when the capital’s east began a physical transformation – and a growing number of the Arab residents are adapting themselves to the new reality. Local councils fostering civic involvement are forming the human infrastructure for a new local leadership with the potential to change the city far beyond the lines of the east side. This new model bridging civil servants and the population is also gaining traction in the haredi sector, and can lead to more integration – first in Jerusalem, then in the rest of the country.
The local councils, a Jerusalem-specific system, were fashioned by mayor Teddy Kollek, and today constitute a structure that cannot be underestimated, bolstered by academic research conducted by young and energetic scholars at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research in Rehavia.
Trends in haredi and Arab employment and academic pursuits; tourism; the significance of the city as the capital – these are among the topics that the Institute and its researchers examine. The Institute has become a driving force in the phenomenon of a kind of rebirth in the city. Led by Lior Schillat, the staff probes myriad aspects and makes its studies available for all: from decision-makers to residents wishing to understand more. 
In 2017, at the festive government meeting marking the 50th anniversary of the city’s reunification, then-minister for Jerusalem affairs MK Ze’ev Elkin announced the dramatic decision to allocate NIS 2.5 billion for a five-year plan to invest in the infrastructure of east Jerusalem. It was not funding to pave the way for more Jewish residents to live there, but to help the Arab residents reach parity with the quality of life existing in the west side. That decision has generated significant changes – physical and more. 
“More people are involved, both in the municipality and the government, in trying to improve the situation,” says Dr. Amnon Ramon, head of east side issues and studies at the Institute. “It is not done in order to renounce any of the east side, but on the contrary, as part of the understanding that if it’s ours, then we have to take responsibility.”
Ramon notes that for the past few years negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been stuck, but regardless, it seems clear that in the near future Jerusalem will not be partitioned – and its status falls under Israeli responsibility. Furthermore, there are economic factors, pushed by the Treasury and Amir Levy, a former senior official there, such as involving more Arabs in society and the economy (as with Israeli Arabs, for which the Institute was deeply involved in building programs, just as it was involved in finding solutions and building programs to encourage more haredim and Arab women to work).

“Another aspect is political,” adds Ramon. “Elkin believed that politically, Israel couldn’t continue talking about governance and sovereignty without taking responsibility and addressing the neglect in that part of the city.”
Ramon says that today, three years later, we can see the scope and benefit of the investment almost everywhere. One example is the over 15% increase in the number of Arab students who choose the Israeli matriculation program, and through it reach Israel academic colleges and are able to join the Israel job market. 
Observes Ramon, “Today, this is the first choice of the strongest students.”
What will happen in the next five years? 
“It’s is too early to say,” Ramon says. “Will these graduates stop at a glass ceiling on their way to integration in city society? We don’t know yet. It is similar to the issues encountered by haredim who choose to step out of yeshivot and go to the academic colleges – where if at all will it stop? We don’t know yet. 
“One of the keys to advance the process is subsidization by the government and the municipality of preparatory classes for university, for both Arabs and haredim – this is critical. In that regard, it is interesting to note that this year, one of the laureates of the Jerusalem Prize for Tolerance is Beliba Homa, a nonprofit association of religious and secular students who help haredim entering academic courses with English and math, which they never studied at yeshiva.”
How will this move impact the economic situation of Arabs in the city? 
“What will happen if young Arabs take this course and study and graduate, but still end up cleaning houses? It could even be worse. So the question remains: Is the Jerusalem society ready to accept and open its arms to the Arabs and haredim who choose to study and join the employment market?”
IN A recent Zoom meeting held by the Institute with Arab and Jewish Jerusalemites, the level of involvement and challenges faced by Arab local councils came up. For Hani Geet, director of the Abu Tor local council, the Arab staff is trapped between a hammer and anvil. 
“To the residents, we represent the Israeli authorities; to Israeli authorities we represent the Arab residents. We have to navigate between them and serve the residents, who sometimes see us as kind of collaborators. It’s not an easy task at all. The aim is to change residents from ‘civic consumers’ to ‘civic activists.’ This requires a different outlook: urban citizenship, through the daily issues residents are confronted with toward a larger understanding,” explains Geet. 
To that, one has to add that the Arab local councils – seven out of the 30 local councils in the city – suffer financially. They have very low self-income (lack of daycare centers and afternoon programs) but many improve the atmosphere via efforts to establish dialogue and cooperation with local councils on the Jewish side, notes Geet. 
For now, the local councils are considered by Arab society to be agents of the Israeli establishment, against the backdrop of problematic relationships with police and the presence of Jewish settlers with their guards, but increasingly people understand that citizenship is or can be the key for improvement. 
“Will Arab residents continue to see Israelis as an enemy, or shall we move to see the path for more partnership on local issues that matter to us all?” wonders Geet. 
Ramon says the question is exactly this: Will the local councils produce a process ending in urban citizenship, one that goes beyond the differences that separate us? Geet admits that suspicion still exists in some neighborhoods. Perhaps the best way to ameliorate it will be through joint projects – first for Arab society, and later, in partnership with nearby Jewish local councils. 
“For now,” adds Ramon, “the Israeli authorities do not give answers on these aspects, do not answer the fundamental question: Do we see them as partners or not? But it has to come, and soon. Housing solutions could be one of the keys to see if we’re going in the right direction. But for now, the planners in the local councils are not those who decide and promote the changes necessary.”(Right) ON A local partnership path? In the Muslim Quarter. (Corinna Kern/Flash90) (Right) ON A local partnership path? In the Muslim Quarter. (Corinna Kern/Flash90)
WHAT ACTION civil society is taking among Arab residents is a part of a larger picture. Jerusalem is the capital of civil society in Israel with about a quarter of the country’s nonprofits operating in the city, with an annual budget estimated to be as much as $25 billion. They employ as many as 200,000 people – a third of all those employed in the capital. 
These “third sector” organizations have been hard hit by the coronavirus crisis, but the Institute feels the crisis could be used to reinforce and strengthen collaborations among third-sector organizations as well as cooperation between the municipality and the organizations, and has the potential to help transform Jerusalem’s existing social infrastructure into a powerful national social and economic success story.
Jerusalem is not only a major tourist and pilgrimage magnet with a profound historical background that attracts billions across the world, but also a governmental city. Yet according to the Institute, not all the positive aspects of such a status exist today in the capital, and there is a lot that could be improved. 
“A successful governmental city is a capital city in which the governmental sector is a major part of the urban fabric, surrounded by an entire system of enveloping components that constitute the governmental ecosystem,” concludes the Institute staff, examining the reasons for the gaps between the great potential of Jerusalem as a leading government city and the current reality. 
“As a governmental city, Jerusalem suffers from numerous weaknesses, such as an irrational dispersion of government offices throughout the city, a lack of important components of the governmental ecosystem, and the fact that half the public-sector workers do not even live in the city,” states the research, adding that the focal point of these weaknesses is the National Quarter. 
Despite considerable investment in planning and construction of the government institutions that reside therein, the National Quarter suffers from a distinct disconnection from the urban fabric, a feeble public transportation infrastructure, a complete lack of commercial spaces and an obvious underutilization of the public space. In that regard, the major miss would be the lack of a central location and attractiveness of the National Quarter, good accessibility to it and a critical mass of a young and strong population employed throughout the governmental ecosystem. Some of this does exist in Jerusalem, while other components are missing or exist only very partially. For example, Jerusalem does have the largest number of employees in public service, but only half of them reside there.
The Institute’s Sustainability Outlook 2030 report helps define the tools and goals to forecast what the city of Jerusalem will look and be like a decade from now. 
“The study presents a vision of sustainability for the year 2030 toward which Israel should aspire, thereby enabling Israel’s decision-makers to understand existing trends, recognize disparities in pursuit of the vision and identify the appropriate routes to achieve the vision,” write the researchers at the opening of this study. It reviews the past decade of government policy and the main issues concerning the leading environmental organizations, revealing that policies and activities were often disjointed; changed according to the administration in office or to the source of funding available; and did not add up to a coherent long-term framework within which all actors (whether governmental or non-governmental) could find their course of action and together promote long-term goals. 
As we head toward 2030, Jerusalem turns its eyes to what it “wants” to be in the coming decade. While on a positive path, what has to be done to achieve it, and into whose hands this should be put, is far from being agreed upon by all involved sides.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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