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“It’s a catastrophe,” said Daniel Gottlieb, deputy director-general of Israel’s National Insurance Institute, the equivalent of the social security administration.
The ACRI report bluntly attributes the problem to “‘the cumulative effects of annexation, neglect, rights violations and the completion of the separation barrier.”
Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War has never been recognized by the international community. A series of UN Security Council Resolutions, to which the United States abstained, have ruled it illegal.
Today, Israeli and Palestinian observers warn of increases in crime and violence, and of a turn toward religion as an outlet for social and economic distress among East Jerusalem residents. The Israeli government, they argue, is not paying enough attention.
“There is no money and no services, and the pressure is taking people to religious fundamentalism,” said Fakhri Abu Diab, an activist in the impoverished al-Bustan area of Silwan, beneath the Old City walls, a neighborhood where residents also face the threat of having their homes demolished on the claim that they were built illegally in the area of a planned biblical archaeological park.
According to Abu Diab, the Islamic movement headed by militant Israeli Arab Sheikh Ra’ed Salah is making inroads, recently having renovated a playground across from his house.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, said the government is committed to improving conditions in East Jerusalem, an area that Palestinians claim as their future capital but that according to 19-year old “interim” peace agreements is off limits to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. “We are committed to narrowing and eliminating the gaps,” between the Arab and Jewish populations, Regev said.
But the current realities on the ground do not point in that direction.
Low-income Palestinians, already hit hard by the economic deterioration, told the Forward of trying to smuggle baby milk powder and meat with them as they crossed through checkpoints back into Jerusalem from the West Bank. The prices in the West Bank are a third lower, they said.
Abu Diab related that he and his neighbors must pay fines of about $250 per month in assessments to the municipality for illegal construction, about one-third of the average monthly income in the area of drab concrete block and stone houses, he says.
Hani Alami, a telecommunication specialist who opened a shop in Ramallah after his Jerusalem store ceased being profitable, said the rent on his flat had gone up to $1,250 today from $450 just four years ago.