Israel's De Facto Partition of Jerusalem Creates Forgotten Arab Neighborhoods

Few Services, Rights or Hope for Areas Beyond Separation Wall

Separate and Unequal: Housing for Jews is taking up more and more of occupied East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, more Palestinians live in forgotten neighborhoods with few services and even fewer rights.
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Separate and Unequal: Housing for Jews is taking up more and more of occupied East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, more Palestinians live in forgotten neighborhoods with few services and even fewer rights.

By Reuters

Published December 20, 2013.
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“I don’t know what guided the line-drawer’s hand when he routed the security barrier,” she said. “But if there hadn’t been suicide bombers coming in blowing up people on buses, it wouldn’t have been necessary.”

Shuafat locals complain that crime, like drug trafficking, goes largely unchecked, with Israeli police unwilling to get involved, yet refusing to allow their Palestinian counterparts to enter the desolate districts.

“These have become grey security areas for us,” said Major General Adnan Damiri of the Palestinian security forces.


One night in September, Shuafat resident Ziad Dweik clenched his pistol and launched into a gun battle with relatives of his estranged wife over custody of his son.

By the time Israeli security forces arrived, three hours later according to residents, Dweik was dead. The police post, near the camp’s main checkpoint, is a five-minute drive away.

“In a normal situation, a case like this could have been resolved by courts or social services. But so few institutions are allowed in here that it’s become normal for families to resort to violence,” said a local aid worker who was not authorised to speak to the media and asked not to be named.

The resident of another Arab neighbourhood lost behind the barrier, Kufr Akab, said shooting often rang out at night.

“You just keep the family inside until it ends,” he said. “It doesn’t feel safe but what can we do? If we leave we lose our IDs,” he added, declining to be named because of an ongoing residency dispute with Israel.

Israel has cancelled the Jerusalem IDs of over 14,000 Arab residents since capturing the city in 1967 - more than half of them since 2006, according Israel’s interior ministry.

Israeli law designates Arab ID holders as “permanent residents,” whose status can be revoked if authorities conclude their “centre of life” - homes or work - is not in the city.


The cancellation rate has slowed in recent years, with just 116 in 2012, but official town planning that is skewed against their natural expansion gives many Arab residents few options but to shift into the adjacent West Bank or to break the law.

Palestinians in and around Shuafat have lacked officially approved residential plans for over 45 years, according to the Israeli building rights group Bimkom - meaning any construction since then is illegal and subject to possible demolition.

Satellite maps mark the distinction clearly: the Jewish settlements are concentric rings of ordered streets and red-roofed homes embraced by green space. The Arab fringes are a fuzzy grey rash of disorder.

“They’ve built without permits not because they wanted to break the law, but because they had to make shelter for their families,” said Sari Kronish, an architect with Bimkom.

The total area designated for Palestinian housing covers only 14 percent of East Jerusalem, and only 7.8 percent of Jerusalem in total, according to Israeli rights group ACRI.

In Jewish neighborhoods, there was an average of 20 square metres (215 sq ft) of housing per resident, compared to just 12 (130) in Palestinian neighbourhoods, it said.

How to divide Jerusalem between Israel and the Palestinians has frustrated decades of peace talks.

Washington has long envisioned a deal that would keep intact the city’s settler suburbs, home to more than 150,000 Israelis, and give Palestinians control of majority Arab areas.

But many Israeli right wingers reject this and despite the increasingly clear lines of Israeli control within the city, a number of Arab residents see little chance of change, for now.

Puffing on a cigarette on the roof of one of Shuafat’s at-risk housing towers, residents’ association head Khader Dibs traces with his finger the broad sweep of Israel’s wall.

“We’re out of sight to them, but they still want to control us, not let go of their sovereignty on this place,” he said.

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