Since early 2004, there has been a sharp reduction in suicide attacks against Israelis. Some are inclined to link this fact to the separation barrier that Israel has built in the northwestern part of the West Bank. Yet the barrier can have nothing to do with the lull, for the simple reason that it has not prevented thousands of Palestinian workers from crossing illegally into Israel.
“But,” someone objects, “when the ‘Jerusalem envelope’ is complete, then this avenue will be closed.” True, but here comes a catch. Call it Catch 67:
Soon after the 1967 War, Israel annexed not only East Jerusalem, but parts of 28 nearby Arab villages. It re-drew the municipal boundary, increasing the city’s area from 38 square kilometers to 108. (Later it added 15 more on the west, but these need not concern us.) It is building the separation wall as close as possible to the post-June-1967 municipal boundary (or beyond, if it includes the settlements of Givat Ze’ev and Ma’aleh Adumim). This means that a large number of Arabs (at least 200,000, maybe as many as 300,000) will wind up on the same side of the wall as Jerusalem’s Jews. The militant Palestinian organizations, which until now have recruited from the wider West Bank, will then focus their efforts on this unwalled population. The recruits will be able to move without impediment throughout Israel.
If the barrier is to have any security value at all, Israel will have to change its route, dividing Jerusalem – in effect reuniting the city’s Arab neighborhoods with the rest of the West Bank. But that would violate a taboo. “Our eternal capital,” goes the mantra of Israeli politicians, “will never again be divided.” 1
The barrier is immoral. It ghettoizes people who depend on access to the lands, jobs, schools, hospitals, cemeteries, and holy places that remain on its other side – and whose dependence on these things was deliberately fostered after 1967 by Israel.2
But let us, for a moment, disregard the immorality. Let us also disregard the insecurity that, in the long term, the wall will breed. Let us disregard the bad odor it will generate internationally. Let us even disregard the option of firing rockets over it, as is done from the Gaza Strip.
Disregarding all these things, we may then concede that a wall or fence can keep suicide bombers out. The electronic fence around the Gaza Strip has done so, with almost complete success, since its erection in 1994. But suppose that the fence around the Strip did not include Gaza City, with its 300,000 Palestinians? Suppose that these could move about in Israel as freely as Jews? Would the fence be effective then? Such is the situation that Israel will create if it keeps its “united Jerusalem.”
Why then has the government gone to the trouble and expense of building the barrier in the West Bank? Lack of foresight? A fit of absent-mindedness? A bargaining chip? An attempt to establish borders? To isolate Palestinian villages? To prevent the possibility of a normal Palestinian state or a normal Palestinian life? To give Israelis a temporary feeling of security, an illusion that something is being done? Whatever the answer, this much is clear: as long as Israel is intent on keeping Jerusalem unified, the concept of the wall as a security measure falls apart at the city’s borders.
Even that very limited annexation, however, has proved to be a demographic threat. The problem is not directly one of citizenship. After taking East Jerusalem, Israel conditioned citizenship on an oath of allegiance. Most Arabs of the expanded city refused to take it. Instead they got Jerusalem identity cards, which, according to a High Court ruling of 1988, give them the status of permanent residents. On this basis, they are able to live and work in Israel without special permits. (This right took on major importance after Israel imposed closure on the rest of the West Bank in 1993.) They are entitled to social and health benefits provided by the National Insurance Institute (NII). They may vote in municipal elections (only about 3% do so, as a rule), but not for the Knesset.
Yet the threat still exists for Israel. The Arabs in expanded Jerusalem have a high birth rate (32 per 1000) compared to Jews (25 per 1000). Despite policies aimed at restricting their living space (see below), despite the fact that ultra-orthodox Jews (whose birth rate is also quite high) make up a fifth of the city’s population, and despite massive Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990’s, the Arab population of Jerusalem grew by 225% between 1967 and 2003, the Jewish by only 135%. The Jewish-Arab proportion in the city changed from 74:26 in 1967 to 67:33 in 2002.
But no one really knows the full extent of the Arab presence in Jerusalem, and the reasons for this ignorance are instructive. In order to understand them, we must start with Israel’s housing policies. The ruling of 1970, which aimed to preserve the proportion of 74:26, became the basis for draconian restrictions on Arab building. Take as examples two of the 28 villages which in June 1967 became neighborhoods: Beit Hanina and Shuafat, both in northern Jerusalem. (By way of background: one cannot legally build without a permit from the government, but the government will not grant this until it has approved a master plan for the neighborhood. The master plan serves as a basis for detailed plans.) In 1982, the city presented a master plan for Beit Hanina and Shuafat to Israel’s Interior Ministry, calling for 17,000 housing units. Interior rejected this, claiming that it would not help preserve the 74:26 proportion between Jews and Arabs for the city as a whole. The municipality then scaled the plan down to 11,500 units. Interior rejected it again. In the 1990’s, the municipality submitted the plan a third time, requesting only 7,500 units, and this was approved, but as of the present year, 2005, no detailed plans exist. Between 1982 and 2005, the population of these two neighborhoods has not remained static. Hardly anyone can legally build in Beit Hanina or Shuafat. Such is the rule for the other Arab neighborhoods as well. (The example was given by Amir Cheshin, adviser to former Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, at a refresher course for Israeli tour guides in Jerusalem on March 27, 2005.)
There is also discrimination in building ratios. When a Jerusalem Arab does manage finally to get a permit, he is allowed a ratio of 50% maximum, so that on a plot of, say, 1000 square meters, he may build a space totaling 500 sq. m. (e.g., a house of five apartments, each containing 100 sq m.). A Jew, on the other hand, can normally get a maximum of 150%. On a plot of 1000 square meters, he may build 1500. (These data too were given by Cheshin, see above.)
In 1997, Sara Kaminker, a former city planner, gave us the following figures. Among Jerusalem’s Jews, 12.5% live at a density of two or more per room. Among Palestinians the figure is 69%. (“Good Checkers, Bad Peacemaking,” in Challenge No. 43)
What do people do in such circumstances? They have three choices: to bite the bullet, to build illegally, or to leave (thus fulfilling the implicit aim of Israeli policy). If they bite the bullet, they live in misery. If they build illegally, they risk destruction. And if they leave?
In the 1970’s and 80’s, tens of thousands left – but not far, just a few yards beyond the municipal boundaries. “According to estimates made ten years ago, a third or more of Jerusalem’s Arabs had moved to the neighborhoods of a-Ram… Bir Naballah and a series of new neighborhoods that are all contiguous with the city’s Arab neighborhoods, but are located inside the West Bank.” (Danny Rubenstein in Haaretz, April 21, 2005.) But these people did not change their addresses at the Interior Ministry, for that would have meant giving up their blue Jerusalem ID’s in exchange for orange West Bank ID’s. It would have meant losing their jobs in Israel, NII benefits, health services, access to schools and hospitals, and the freedom to travel. Their center of life, in any case, continued to be Jerusalem. The Interior Ministry and NII, however, defines “center of life” as the place where a person sleeps. On this basis, at various times in the 1990’s, they took steps to locate the “outsiders” and revoke their Jerusalem identity cards. (We reported on such steps in Challenge No. 47.) Whenever Interior seemed to be getting serious, though, what did people do? They quickly moved back to Jerusalem! Catch 67.
Because of this boomerang-effect, and under public pressure as well, the government softened its measures (See Challenge No. 60). If you move to one of the nearby West Bank towns, it announced, you will not lose your right to reside in Jerusalem, as long as you keep other connections to the city. The result: tens of thousands of Arabs – at least 60,000, perhaps many more – were able to go on living outside Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries while retaining Jerusalem IDs. The government could do nothing about it without spurring a massive return.
Another wave of return occurred, nonetheless, after the start of the second Intifada, when the army intensified its checkpoints and roadblocks. Housing for Arabs in Jerusalem became scarcer than ever, and rents skyrocketed.
And now: into this situation, start building a wall 24 feet high along the municipal boundary – and what do you get? A third massive return. But this time there is so little room in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and the rents are so astronomical, that these old-new Jerusalemites have begun to move further: to the other Arab or mixed cities of Israel: Um al-Fahm, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Haifa, Nazareth, Lod and Ramle.
As permanent residents, according to Danny Rubenstein (Haaretz April 21, 2005), “they have every legal right to make such a move. After finding work and renting an apartment – usually for less than they pay in East Jerusalem – they must go to the Ministry of the Interior branch near their new residence and present documents showing that the focus of their lives has moved to a new location. The ministry will change the address on their identity cards and they will no longer have to suffer the trials and tribulations of high housing costs, checkpoints and fences of East Jerusalem.”
These people are pioneers of the wall. If Israel does finally opt for security rather than a united Jerusalem – if, that is, it changes the course of its barrier and, despite the taboo, divides the city ethnically – will the Jerusalem Arabs with blue ID’s simply sit tight and let themselves be ghettoized? It is to be expected that many will follow their brethren to safer berths in Israel. Jerusalem, again divided, will then lose much of its Arab population, but the remainder of Israel will gain.
On April 21, Aluf Benn of Haaretz published excerpts from an interview with Israeli PM Ariel Sharon. They included this statement: “Had we wanted to build the fence on the border of the security zone, known today as Area C [under total Israeli control – Ed.], the fence would have been a lot further to the east. But such a move would have left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on our side of the fence, and these Palestinians would have eventually joined forces with Arab Israelis, and then it would certainly have been a major problem.”
The problem will be there anyhow, build the wall or build it not, divide Jerusalem or divide it not. Catch 67.