Jerusalem — Call it patriotism or doing something to express his Palestinian identity — Taisir Jubeh wanted to start a business in Jerusalem.
So five months ago, after handing over the reins of his Ramallah bookshop to relatives, he opened a men’s casual wear store in the new Addar Shopping Mall, off Salah el-Din Street. The mall, opened earlier this year in downtown East Jerusalem by Muhammad Nuseibeh, a member of one of East Jerusalem’s most prominent families, had sparked hope that its 40 stores and offices would inject new life into the struggling area.
Instead, Jubeh and his fellow merchants are now in trouble. There are few, if any, customers, and many shops are already vacant.
That’s a dispiriting contrast with the teeming business areas in Jewish West Jerusalem. More tellingly, it contrasts with the boom in commerce now taking place in West Bank Palestinian cities such as Ramallah.
“You would see a lot of people” in either of those locales now, Jubeh noted, surveying the empty Addar Mall at midday. “But here it’s asleep.”
The failure of the Addar Mall is part of an alarming economic meltdown in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian sector of the city was once the shopping and business hub for Palestinians throughout the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But now, thanks to Israeli security checkpoints and a separation barrier begun a decade ago after a series of bloody Palestinian suicide bombings, East Jerusalem is isolated from its customer base in the West Bank — and caught in a seemingly bottomless economic tailspin.
“The city is dying,” businessman Nabil Feidy said. “East Jerusalem has always been poor, but the political situation and the wall have destroyed the economy completely.”
In their endless battles over Jerusalem, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs routinely invoke God and history in asserting their respective right to sovereignty over the city’s Eastern sector. But for the Palestinians, there is an additional, very practical issue: East Jerusalem is the longtime commercial capital of the West Bank. Cut it off from its hinterland, and its economic rationale vanishes — along with its ability to sustain the 360,882 Palestinians living there.
According to a new report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and to interviews conducted by the Forward with residents in four neighborhoods, East Jerusalem, an area annexed to Israel on June 27, 1967, and declared part of its “eternal, undivided capital,” has fallen to unprecedented levels of poverty. The political and physical barriers separating it from the West Bank are viewed as a primary cause.
Nearly 80% of East Jerusalem Palestinians now live below the Israeli government poverty line, according to figures cited in the ACRI report, up from 64% six years ago.