by Manal Massalha
Palestinians in East Jerusalem live in compromised housing conditions, subject to racialised planning and zoning policies, and treated as foreign immigrants in their own city: automatic revocation of their residency rights applies if they fail to prove that Jerusalem is their centre of life.
Their numbers grew from about 69,000 in 1967 – when Israel occupied and annexed East Jerusalem – to about 332,000 in 2016. In this time Israel has failed to meet their basic housing and infrastructure needs. Although they constitute about 38 percent of the city, only 13 percent of the annexed 71 square kilometres has been zoned for development (much of it is already built up), while 35 percent has been confiscated for settlement building and 22 percent designated as green areas where no construction is allowed. The final 30 percent remains unplanned.
Soon after the occupation of East Jerusalem and the expansion of the city’s municipal boundaries, Israel held a population census and granted permanent residency to those physically present at the time of the census. Palestinians who had property/homes within the newly defined boundaries but were absent when the census took place were stripped of their right to return to their homes and to legally live in the city.
Permanent residency, a legal status accorded to foreign nationals who wish to reside and work in Israel, is not automatically passed to children or a non-resident spouse, and in the case of Palestinians expires if they reside outside of Jerusalem or Israel for a period of seven years or more, or if they obtain citizenship or residency in another country. A Palestinian Jerusalemite married to a Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza has to apply for family unification for his/her spouse, which has become virtually impossible since the passing of the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) in 2003. Since 1967, over 14,500 Palestinians had their residency revoked.
The unmet rise in demand for housing, the conditionality of residency rights, the racialised and unaffordable planning combined with zoning policies designed to privilege the Jewish population of the city render the available housing in East Jerusalem unaffordable for the majority of Palestinian families, 79 percent of whom live below the Israeli poverty line (2016). As a result, many of those living in the Old City and its vicinity experience severe overcrowding, inadequate, dilapidated conditions, or are forced to either build their homes with no construction permits (thus risking criminalisation, big fines, and demolition) or move to Jerusalem neighbourhoods on the West Bank side of the Israeli-constructed concrete wall.
In 2002, the Israeli government approved the construction of a barrier, citing security concerns. The barrier, also known as the ‘separation wall’ or the ‘apartheid wall,’ consists of a combination of ditches, fences, patrol roads, barbed wires, an electronic monitoring system and a concrete wall in dense urban areas. It runs along 712 km, more than twice the 320-km-long Green Line (1949 armistice line) between Israel and the West Bank. According to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of 2017 about 65 percent has been completed. Only 15 percent of the entire planned route will be on the Green Line, while 85 percent runs inside the West Bank.
The wall in East Jerusalem is 8-9 metres high. Its route includes all East Jerusalem settlements and the land allotted to their future expansion but leaves out large Palestinian neighbourhoods such as Kufur Aqab and the Shufat Refugee Camp area on the West Bank side of the wall. These neighbourhoods are within the Jerusalem municipal boundaries but are now forcibly severed from the city.
It is estimated that a third of Palestinian Jerusalemites live in Kufur Aqab and the Shufat Refugee Camp area; their access to Jerusalem is controlled by military checkpoints. The neighbourhoods are forgotten about by Israeli authorities. Neglect and chaos are commonplace. The construction of high-rise buildings goes on unsupervised and unregulated, with little to no regard for health and safety. In the event of an earthquake, UNRWA estimates that about 80 percent of the buildings around the Shuafat Refugee Camp will collapse. Meanwhile, sewage overflows into the streets, uncollected rubbish gets burned and the water supply is irregular/insufficient.
After years of complaints from residents, the Jerusalem municipality subcontracted private businessmen to collect rubbish. The sanitation situation, nonetheless, still falls short of residents’ needs. ‘I have nowhere but the street,’ said a young man who was coming out of his building on the main Kufur Aqab road, carrying in his hand a plastic bag full of rubbish, and accompanied by his wife and baby. ‘Dustbins are either full, overflowing or a long distance away from the building. I can’t keep it at home. I’m left with no choice but to dispose of it in the street’, he complained.
My series ‘Housing, Rubbish, Walls and Failing Infrastructure in East Jerusalem’ consists of a selection of photographs, taken mostly in October 2017, and showcases urban neglect in East Jerusalem. The manufactured housing crisis, the compromised housing conditions, the proliferation of rubbish and physical and bureaucratic walls are all a direct result of Israel’s exclusionary/exclusive character. Defining itself as a Jewish state and a state of the Jews, Israel creates structurally racialised hierarchies in connection with both space and citizens/subjects. It defines membership in society and demarcates the boundaries of who belongs and who does not, and that distinction has real material manifestations.
This article first appeared in print in The Middle East in London and online for Le Monde diplomatique.