Reuters Simple and Wrong: Partition in Jerusalem

In a feature on Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Reuters’ Noah Browning posits that the security barrier has heightened partition, discrimination and neglect of eastern Jerusalem (“In bleak Arab hinterland, hints of Jerusalem’s partition,” Dec. 20). In the process, he ignores opposing trends and facts. Namely, the construction of the security barrier and the ensuing division between east Jerusalem and Palestinian communities in the West Bank has ironically prompted many Arab families to move into Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. This migration, an increased mixing of Jews and Arabs, does not fit into Browning’s tidy partition narrative, so he ignores it.

“Marooned behind the wall but within city limits, the Shuafat refugee camps reveals Israel’s uneven treatment of Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, creating a de facto partition of Jerusalem, which is the epicenter of the Middle East conflict,” he writes.

“A two-minute drive away lies the massive Pisgat Ze’ev Jewish settlement, whose neat streets and sculpture garden are a parallel universe to the chaos of Jerusalem,” Browning reports.

Later, he avers that “. . . 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.”

Ignored: Arabs Migration to Jewish Neighborhoods

But there is a another option – and one that has been exercised by hundreds of Arab families in recent years, and widely reported in other media outlets: Dozens of Arab families from eastern Jerusalem are moving out of crowded, expensive Arab neighborhoods and into majority Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods, such as Pisgat Ze’ev.

An April 25, 2013 report  on Israel’s Channel 10 reported that there are 3,378 Palestinians without Israeli citizenship who are living in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem west of the Green Line, such as Beit Hakarem, Nachlaot and the German Colony. (In contrast, 2,537 Israeli Jews live in predominantly Arab neighborhoods on the eastern side of the Green Line.)

‘Tectonic Shift’ Ignored

In an in-depth article about the “Israelization” of east Jerusalem’s Arabs, Ha’aretz’s Nir Hasson describes multiple trends pointing towards greater normalization, as opposed to increased partition. (“A surprising process of ‘Israelization’ is taking place among Palestinians in East Jerusalem,” Dec. 29, 2012)

Along with the nationalist radicalization, widespread support for Hamas and violent clashes reported in the media, far-reaching changes are taking place among the local Palestinians. These processes can be described as “Israelization,” “normalization” or just plain adaptation. The Israeli authorities, with the Jerusalem Municipality at the forefront, are encouraging and in some cases fomenting this process, and displaying surprising bureaucratic flexibility along the way.

Examples of this trend are legion. They include: increasing numbers of applications for an Israeli ID card; more high-school students taking the Israeli matriculation exams; greater numbers enrolling in Israeli academic institutions; a decline in the birthrate; more requests for building permits; a rising number of East Jerusalem youth volunteering for national service; a higher level of satisfaction according to polls of residents; a revolution in the approach to health services; a survey showing that in a final settlement more East Jerusalem Palestinians would prefer to remain under Israeli rule, and so on.

But dry statistics tell only a small part of the story; other elements are not quantifiable. For example, there is the pronounced presence of Palestinians in the center of West Jerusalem, in malls, on the light-rail train and in the open shopping area in Mamilla, adjacent to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. These people are not street cleaners or dishwashers, but consumers and salespeople. Another phenomenon is the growing cooperation between merchants in the Old City and the municipality.

Everyone involved in developments in East Jerusalem agrees that a tectonic shift is occurring, the likes of which has not been known since the city came under Israeli rule in 1967. Opinion is divided about the source of the change. Some believe it sprang from below, propelled by the Palestinians’ feelings of despair and their belief that an independent state is not likely to come into being. Others think it is due to a revised approach to the eastern part of the city by Israeli authorities, spearheaded by the municipality. Everyone mentions the separation barrier, which abruptly cut off Jerusalem from its natural hinterland − the cities and villages of the West Bank − as a factor that compelled the Palestinians in Al Quds (“the holy sanctuary”) to look westward, toward the Jews.

The huge light-rail project, which cuts across the city and greatly facilitates access from the eastern neighborhoods to the city center, is also contributing to the transformation. Most of these changes are occurring below the radar of the Israeli public, but their consequences could be dramatic, particularly with regard to the possibility of dividing Jerusalem − and the country. It is very possible that Jerusalem has already chosen the binational solution.

Matti Friedman, writing in the Times of Israel, also detailed the “quiet unification” of the city, brought about by the Jerusalem light rail which travels through Jewish and Arab neighborhoods, the Mamilla shopping area next to the Old City which has attracted upscale shoppers from both populations, and other urban developments. He wrote: (“Trains, bikes and shoppers: The Quiet Unification of Jerusalem“):

Beginning in the early 1990s, much of the planning work on Jerusalem focused on how the city could be divided between Israelis and Palestinians. Various schemes imagined walls down the center of main thoroughfares, crossing points, and a border meandering among neighborhoods and cutting residents off from each other.

In recent years, however, new infrastructure projects have quietly but dramatically created a reality that flies in the face of those plans. . . .
There is still no great love among the city’s different groups. There are steep inequalities in municipal services and funding between Israeli citizens and the one-third of the city’s residents who are Palestinian Arabs. The meeting of the different groups is often charged and occasionally violent. But Jerusalem in 2013 is a more integrated city than it has been in decades. . . .
The new developments are occurring, not coincidentally, during a relative lull in Israeli-Palestinian violence, and with other factors — like the security barrier, which has severed east Jerusalem from its natural hinterland in the West Bank — serving to push Arab Jerusalemites toward some form of integration with the Israeli side of the city.
Increasingly Arab Jerusalem

Browning reports that Arabs “make up almost 40 percent of [Jerusalem’s] population of 804,400” and alleges that “Israel is redrawing the city’s demographic balance in favor of Jews, some Israeli and Palestinian officials says.” But he doesn’t give a clear picture of the demographic trend since 1967 – that the growth of the Arab population has outpaced the growth of the Jewish population, and that Jerusalem is today more Arab than it was in 1967.

Indeed, readers would reasonably understand from Browning’s article that the city’s Arab population is on the decline. He reports, for instance, that “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 to Israel’s interior ministry.” He also avers that allegedly discriminatory town planning “gives many Arab residents few options but to shift into the adjacent West Bank. . . ”

One would think that an in-depth article on Jerusalem’s Arab population and neighborhoods would point to the most basic fact that Jerusalem is increasingly Arab. As the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies reported:

Over the years, there has been an evident decline in the proportionate size of Jerusalem’s Jewish population, with a concomitant increase in the proportion of the Arab population. The proportion of the Jewish population fell from 74% in 1967 to 72% in 1980, to 68% in 2000, and to 64% in 2010. Simultaneously the Arab population rose from 26% in 1967 to 28% in 1980, to 32% in 2000, and to36% in 2010. . . .

During the years 1967-2010, the population of Jerusalem increased by 196%: The Jewish population grew by 155%, while the Arab population grew by 314%. During these years the population of Israel increased by 177%, with the Jewish population growing by 157% and the Arab population by 301%.

In a factual error that ought to be corrected, Browning claims: “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.”

CAMERA checked this claim with Israel Kimhi, of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, a former municipal planner and foremost expert on Jerusalem. He said that he himself has seen the documents for hundreds of permits in Shuafat and nearby Beit Hanina, and noted that many illegally built homes are retroactively legalized. He also said that in recent years, Arab residents have increasingly requested permits before they build, choosing to stave off potential legal problems down the road. (See Jan. 12, 2014 clarification, “CAMERA clarifies about Reuters, Shuafat“).
Ha’aretz‘s Hasson, in his “Israelization” article, also addressed the municipality’s flexibility when it comes to legalizing homes built without permits. He wrote:
The matter of issuing building permits provides another example of the authorities’ administrative flexibility in East Jerusalem. The main problem is that most residents cannot get a building permit because they do not have documents attesting to their ownership of property. To solve this problem, the municipality devised the so-called “Barkat procedure.”

“The problem is that if you don’t have confirmation of land ownership, the whole judicial system is stuck,” says Barkat. “We th
erefore created a mechanism in which the mukhtars, community directorate and municipality meet, and if they reach the conclusion that there is no reason not to believe someone who says the land is his, he gets a temporary permit.

After 20 years, if no one else claims ownership, it becomes permanent. This is a city in which legal creativity is a must. I would rather be right and smart than right and dumb.”

Unfortunately, by adhering to a simple narrative of Israeli-imposed discrimination, segregation and de facto partition, Reuters deprives readers of the richer, more complex reality that is Jerusalem. And that’s plain wrong.
Links updated Jan. 5, 2014

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