Sunday, October 21, 2007

Shuafat area residents split over plan to divide Jerusalem in two

Just where the smell coming from piles of garbage becomes pungent and impossible to bear, the Shuafat refugee camp - home to some 20,000 people who hold Israeli identity cards but see themselves as Palestinians - begins. "We have been waiting for many years for Jerusalem to be ours again, and we will wait a few more for this to happen. This camp's residents are more Jerusalemites than [Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert, because they are real refugees whose houses were occupied and for all of these years, they've had their lives on hold," Khader Dibes, a camp official, told The Jerusalem Post.
Shuafat, the only Palestinian refugee camp within Jerusalem's jurisdiction, is one of a few Arab villages which, according to a plan proposed by Vice Premier Haim Ramon, will be transferred to the PA under a final-status agreement.
The refugee camp extends over 203 dunams (50 acres) of the Shuafat neighborhood, and is run by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA.)
The camp borders the Arab neighborhood of Shuafat to the east, as well as Pisgat Ze'ev to the north and French Hill to the south.
However, Nabil Abu Issa, head of the village of Muchtar, located a few hundred meters above the refugee camp, told the Post that he doesn't see himself as a Palestinian. "We don't want to be under Palestinian authority. We are Jerusalemites, we vote for the mayor and for the Knesset. We are part of this place and unless there are no two countries for the two people, we will stay here. It would be a mistake to hand over these villages; it would cause a mess and a bloodshed. What [would] happen if Israel gives us to the PA? How can a family prevent the rocket launchers from taking over their house and firing at Jerusalem? If I would have to, I'll take my family and move to east Jerusalem, Jaffa or Haifa," Abu Issa said.
Ramon's plan was first floated a few weeks ago and managed to create a storm of protest from both Arabs and Jews. It proposes splitting Jerusalem, transferring the city's Arab neighborhoods to Palestinian control and giving up sovereignty over parts of the Old City (excluding the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall.)
A report published last February by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies predicted that if current birth rates in the Arab and Jewish sectors continue, by 2020 the majority of Jerusalem's children would be Arab and that Arabs would constitute 40 percent of the city population.
"The story of demographic pressure was sold to [US President George W.] Bush, and this is why he said a two-state solution is necessary, but the threat no longer exists - only bad counting and calculating," Michael L. Wise, a physicist and expert in mathematic modeling techniques told the Post.
"Of course there is so much to do when it comes to strengthening Jerusalem's Jewish population, since every year 6,000 residents leave due to lack of employment opportunities, affordable housing and security problems. The easy solution is to split Jerusalem, but there is another way, like expanding its territory to the east," Wise said.
The Arab villages Ramon has suggested be transferred to Palestinian hands includes mainly poor, overpopulated and overcrowded neighborhoods such as Shuafat, Anata, Kfar Akeb, northeast of Jerusalem, Ras Hamis to the north and Abu-Dis to the east.
Kareem Jubran, a field researcher with the B'Tselem human rights organization, said that the security fence's route would leave Kfar Akeb and Ras Hamis out of Jerusalem's jurisdiction, depriving some 50,000 residents of municipally-supplied services.
"Even now, these services are not being supplied by the Jerusalem Municipality. There are no health and sanitary services, and [residents'] freedom of movement and right to earn a living are heavily damaged because of the many checkpoints. The residents are afraid their residency might be taken away, so many simply moved to east Jerusalem neighborhoods," B'Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli said.
Dibes also describes rampant neglect in the camp. "[There are] a lot of drugs, theft, and security problems, but the Israeli police won't enforce the law here," he said.
"They refuse to enter this place. On the other hand, they won't let us establish our own police force and so this place is sort of a Wild West," said Dibes.
Dibes was born in Beit Nativ, a village next to Abu Gosh, and at age two came to Shuafat with his parents. "[Drugs are sold] 20 meters away from the Israeli checkpoint, but the IDF soldiers there tell them, 'Don't sell to the Jews and we will leave you alone,' so how can we handle this problem?" Dibes asked.
The plan's proposals for dealing with the capital's holy sites has also stirred controversy. Neither Jerusalem Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan nor PA Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Adnan Husseini (former director of the Islamic Wakf, which administers the holy site of Al-Aksa) supports the plan to transfer the area to neutral rule.
"Dividing the sacred area of the mosque is not acceptable at all... We are perfectly capable of taking care of our sacred places, and we don't need anyone's help," Husseini said.
"East Jerusalem is an occupied city and it will be the capital of the Palestinian state. This is how we understand it, and it's fair and logical for everyone," Husseini said last week.
Asked about the plan to transfer Arab villages to the PA, Husseini said the initiative would be appreciated, but first "we have to start with the Old City... Jerusalem is the key for peace in the region. Without solving this dispute, the conflict will never end," Husseini said.
Eitan, who recently replaced Ya'acov Edri as Israel's Jerusalem affairs minister, expressed his own objections to this plan "as a final destination and as long as there is no one to negotiate with."
"Shortly after I was appointed to this position, I decided to examine these Arab neighborhoods," he said.
In Eitan's opinion, most of the residents in these Arab villages want to remain under Israeli sovereignty, "because the municipal services are better, they receive national insurance, water, electricity, and soon they will be connected to the sewage delivery system and will get better sanitary services," he said.
"For our safety, the only option is to keep these villages under our control. I believe that this plan will be off the table soon," Eitan added.
In the meantime, Knesset members have been busy tying Olmert's hands. On Thursday, a majority of MKs, including 30 coalition members, signed a petition calling for Jerusalem to remain undivided. In addition, a bill calling for a special majority of MKs in any vote on significant decisions regarding the capital's fate is on its way.
Residents of the Jewish neighborhoods adjacent to the Arab villages in question also sound worried. "A decision like this would make Pisgat Ze'ev a Jewish enclave within Palestinian territory, and not the other way around," Eli Ben-Hemo, a local official from Pisgat Ze'ev told the Post.
"If a plan like this is executed, people would rather leave than live a couple of meters from a border that could turn this place to another Sderot," Ben-Hemo said.
Uri Michaeli, chairman of the French Hill residents' committee, said he believed that annexing these Arab villages in after the Six Day War and giving their residents citizenship was a fatal mistake.
"The residents of Issawiya, for instance, keep building illegally," he said.
Michaeli thinks that all the talk about plans to split Jerusalem only causes trouble. "More people emigrate from Jerusalem every year and it creates security problems. I fought in the Six-Day War. We came here in 1972 to build a Jewish neighborhood, but we have to live with Arab neighbors who prefer to keep their distance. They're not part of the neighborhood, they send their children to different schools, they don't speak Hebrew, they just cause us all great discomfort."

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