On Thursday, February 11, the DAAM Party held a public debate focused on Jerusalem. The discussion presented a difficult and alarming picture of a divided city in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinian residents live in extremely difficult conditions. Conversely, a vision of partnership between Israelis and Palestinians was also presented that could, if the will and courage existed, to transform the city from one that symbolizes apartheid into a gateway of hope for one democratic state for all.
The keynote speaker of the discussion was Erez Wagner, coordinator of MAAN’s Jerusalem branch. Additional speakers included Sara Ibrahim, a resident of the Shuafat refugee camp, and Rami Arafat, a resident of the Kufr Aqab neighborhood, both living beyond the separation barrier. The debate was moderated by Yoav Gal Tamir, DAAM’s first candidate for Knesset. The following are the main points.
Opening by Yoav Gal Tamir:
Since the occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel and the Jerusalem Municipality have been waging a struggle to dilute the Palestinian population in the city. The goal is to safeguard a Jewish majority and establish Jerusalem as a Jewish city that is completely detached from the West Bank and the continuum of Palestinian areas surrounding it.
As part of the repression policy against Palestinian residents, the municipality is preventing the planning and development of East Jerusalem neighborhoods, thus resulting in an acute housing crisis. Basic services such as garbage collection, fixing water system problems and welfare services are almost non-existent in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian education system has been completely neglected. In addition, the incarceration of the Shuafat refugee camp and Kufr Aqab behind the separation barrier has created a situation close to a humanitarian catastrophe.
Poverty, distress, and the destruction of the environment impact all residents of the city, who pay the price for this urban apartheid.
This paradigm must be changed.
Instead of clinging to the aspiration for a Jewish majority, one should adhere to the principle of equality for all. Instead of coming to terms with a polluted city that prevents the development of infrastructure and services for its Palestinian residents and is doomed to economic backwardness, one must adopt a city model for green and advanced infrastructure that serves everyone. Instead of expensive real estate and corrupt projects like Holyland in West Jerusalem, and of distress and demolishing homes, affordable housing should be promoted through green construction for all.
A new and green municipal policy with an egalitarian vision will open advanced schools, green industries, clean electric public transportation, green water and electricity infrastructure, for all residents regardless of religion, race, and nationality.
Such a change will create a future of growth and partnerships among all residents of the city, and will replace the hostility between populations with mutual fertilization and cultural richness. Such a Jerusalem can be an engine for shared life in the country, instead of a topic that blows up peace negotiations. In order to get to know Jerusalem and its problems better, while discussing the possibility for finding solutions, we host three speakers today.
In October 2000, I moved to Jerusalem to study in the Betzalel art school. Like everyone, I suddenly experienced the collapse of the peace process and the predominance of violence. Extreme currents took over the two camps and the whole discourse – the Israeli right skyrocketed, while Hamas took over the Palestinian street. Police shot dead 13 Arab residents inside of Israel, while in Jerusalem we experienced the hell of terrorist attacks. What seemed for a moment before like progress toward a two-state solution had completely collapsed.
A few years earlier, in 1995, the DAAM party, which was a faction in Hadash was born, following sharp disagreements between its founders and the Hadash party over the Oslo Accords. While Hadash saw the agreement between the Labor Party and the PLO as an achievement, and a step toward a historic compromise between the two peoples, the leaders of DAAM saw the agreement as an arrangement that buried the idea of two states and thwarted any chance of building an independent and viable Palestinian state. In the opinion of the DAAM Party, the Oslo Accords led to the perpetuation of Palestinian dependence on Israel and the transformation of the future Palestinian Authority into an entity whose sole function would be to serve as a subcontractor for the Israeli occupation. While Hadash and the vast majority of the Israeli left supported the Palestinian Authority and the leaders of the Labor Party, the DAAM Party defined the agreement as a historic disaster for both peoples and as the creation of an apartheid system with Palestinian consent.
The controversy over the reading of reality was resolved on the ground very quickly, and in the most horrible way. Disappointment on the Palestinian street has fueled Hamas and the trend of radical Islam with the bus attacks of the second Intifada. These in turn reinforced the thesis of Israel’s anti-Palestinian and religious right that has been going since 2000 and consolidated its rule while crushing the left to its core. The fire that ignited in October 2000 and claimed thousands of victims, also shattered the belief of entire groups on both sides in a political solution and a shared solution of Israelis and Palestinians in this country.
The separation barrier stretched for hundreds of kilometers through the heart of Jerusalem, a city which became fertile ground for fanatical religious and political currents. Ariel Sharon ascended the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif; Sheikh Raed Salah from Um Al Fahem set base in Jerusalem, while Christian evangelicals pushed themselves into the arena. All of these extreme forces have rendered the city’s residents, Palestinians and Israelis alike, hostages to their extremist agendas.
In the midst of a difficult and bloody reality, a small MAAN office was established in 2000, right at the same time as the outbreak of the Intifada, and began to address the problems of workers and the jobless in East Jerusalem. While looking for a political and ideological home for myself, where men and women, those who refuse to see Palestinians as enemies, are working in the field to empower Palestinian workers, it was only natural that I should join MAAN and DAAM. This is how I got to know the reality in East Jerusalem and begun to build together with partners in the struggle, a different reality that puts the human being and her life at the center, instead of dragging behind fanatic religious and nationalist extremism.
In the two lost decades that have passed since the October 2000 Intifada, the Israeli left has lost all relevance. Its support for the two-state separation plan has led many within it to support the construction of the separation wall and the Sharon government. At the same time, right-wing rule has continued to create facts on the ground, to settle more and more Jews in East Jerusalem settlements, and to produce a Jewish territorial continuum that disconnects the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from the West Bank. The construction of the separation barrier has become a powerful economic tool for pushing tens of thousands of Palestinians out of the city.
Israel’s permanent policy since the 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem is to dilute the Palestinian population in the city and cut it off from the Palestinian continuum of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho, and the towns and villages between them.
East Jerusalem – a disastrous social and economic situation
Due to the prevention of master plans for Palestinians, the Palestinian population in the city, which numbers 38% of Jerusalem’s residents, holds an area of only 8% of the city. In the 50 years since the annexation, 211,600 Jews live in the new neighborhoods established on this occupied territory – all in neighborhoods built for Israelis only on land expropriated from Palestinians.
To this reality was added in 2006 the separation wall, which separated East Jerusalem from the neighboring Palestinian neighborhoods, like Abu Dis or A-Ram. It also left out two neighborhoods – Kufr Aqab in the north of the city, and the Shuafat refugee camp in the northeast, which still hold a Jerusalem Identity and have, at least on paper, residency rights.
This detachment from the city also brought with it a disconnect from the municipal infrastructure, forcing residents to pass through military checkpoints every day. Residents of Kufr Aqab are required to cross the Qalandiya checkpoint daily on their way to school, workplace or health clinics in Jerusalem.
Acute poverty, combined with the enormous housing crisis from which Palestinians in Jerusalem are suffering, has created an engine for the silent transfer of Palestinians out of the city. With no choice, Palestinian residents who cannot afford to pay rent within the city are forced to move to neighborhoods beyond the barrier in high-rise buildings that are relatively cheap, but which were built with no engineering supervision and appropriate infrastructure. According to an UNRWA report on construction in this area, in the event of an earthquake, 80% of the buildings are expected to collapse. As a result of this cheap construction and the lack of basic services, impoverished areas were created in the neighborhoods beyond the wall, where more than 100,000 residents currently live – about a third of Jerusalem’s Palestinian population.
The social catastrophe has not passed over the education system in East Jerusalem. According to published studies, about 40 percent of the population suffer from a basic lack of education and has not completed 12 years of schooling. The field of welfare and employment, in which we work from MAAN’s office on East Jerusalem’s Salah a-Din Street, reflects this difficult situation: In the last decade, between 77-80% of the population has lived below the poverty line. Over 75 percent of women do not participate in the labor market. Those who do manage to find a job – women and men alike – suffer from a particularly abusive job market, a total absence of job security, complete control of subcontractors, and low salaries.
The relocation of the American Embassy – a pivotal moment
The relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and Trump’s de-facto recognition of the annexation of the city to Israel was another step in eliminating the two-state solution. Trump’s plan, which received wall-to-wall support in Israel, has made it clear that there are no plans to establish an independent Palestinian state. The Israeli refusal to recognize the Palestinians’ right to independence and to dismantle the settlements on the one hand, and the collapse of the Palestinian Authority as a political entity, that could lead to the construction of an independent economy and society on the other, have made the call for separation and establishment of two states a public relations exercise that only perpetuates the current situation.
In this context, the DAAM Party proudly supports the idea of partnership instead of segregation. In the face of this separated and racist reality, whether it comes from Israeli extremist nationalists or Zionist leftists, and also in the face of Palestinian nationalist religious extremism on the other, all pushing for a bloody confrontation, we suggest a switch. DAAM’s proposal is to dump the principle of a demographic war to preserve a Jewish majority, and to replace it with the principles of equality, democracy, and the green economy.
To advance this revolutionary idea, we are not content with dreams and theoretical discussions. We work in the field, painstakingly making MAAN a workers’ organization that promotes equality for women, establishes workers’ committees, builds and initiates hydroponic cooperatives, and promotes fair employment. Together, Palestinians and Israelis are building a common basis and movement that strives to change reality.
The crisis in Jerusalem is also an opportunity
We believe that the crisis is also an opportunity. The Israeli-Palestinian Green New Deal plan, put forward by DAAM, is a key that will make it possible to deal with three sides of the crisis we are experiencing in Jerusalem. Here are two examples that require immediate attention. In the field of housing, an innovative master plan is required based on the needs of the city’s residents and not on a racist agenda of a Jewish nature. This plan will provide, after years of discrimination, positive preference for construction in Palestinian neighborhoods that will be based on green construction and zero energy. This plan, which will be prepared and supervised by Arab and Jewish planning partners, will ensure a stoppage of the capitalists’-serving megalomaniacal and destructive projects in the west of the city, as well as the protection of the area’s green lungs. In the field of economics and employment, a policy of promotion and development of a green and advanced industry is required, as is the creation of professional programs for training workers in the new industrial world while guaranteeing workers’ rights.
In the field of education, we call for the massive development and expansion of a network of public schools that will serve all children of the city, including joint schools where Jewish and Arab students will study together. Comprehensive programs should be developed to end dropouts and complete adult education, with an emphasis on promoting women’s education.
Such a comprehensive plan in three primary areas that affect the lives of all residents of the city will create a common denominator of progress and welfare, and will thus begin to dismantle the wall of hostility between Israelis and Palestinians. This is not a zero-sum game in which a win by one side comes at the expense of the other side. On the contrary, in our vision promoting both sides together will benefit both communities.
We call, for example, for the abolition of the recently approved government plan to build 9,000 housing units for Jews only in the area of the Atarot Airport in northern Jerusalem, a plan befitting the extreme right-wing list of Smotrich and Ben Gvir. Instead of this plan, which will only increase tensions and sever the urban continuum between Beit Hanina and Kufr Aqab, we propose to establish a neighborhood for Palestinian residents, built using advanced methods of zero energy green construction at a subsidized price that will address the catastrophic situation in Kufr Aqab.
There are already quite a few advanced technological industries in Jerusalem today, including the food-tech industry, which is at the forefront of technological progress. If and to the extent that there are suitable workforce training programs, this industry can provide a broad space for research and employment, situating the city in a respectable place in the global struggle to reduce the use of animal foods for the environmental damage they entail. On the other hand, an advanced and functional education system will bring new minds into this circle of creation, and will introduce into modern life an entire population that has been thrown out of it.
This vision is not a daydream. These are projects being carried out around the world, some of which are managed and led by Israeli companies that are leaders in the fields of renewable energies, water treatment, and technologies related to autonomous vehicles. Standards of zero energy construction are becoming mandatory in the United States and Europe, as is the training of workers moving from traditional, polluting industries to advanced and green ones. This direction of development is a powerful tool in humanity’s confrontation with the climate crisis and in the struggle to advance marginalized populations that for years have suffered from racism, poverty, and oppression.
Jerusalem is today a disaster-stricken area. A polarized and tense city that produces daily discrimination and exclusion. We propose to replace this current destructive model with a model of a shared space for Jews and Arabs – a Jerusalem Green New Deal. This is the chance to create a shared space of welfare here and to transform Jerusalem from a symbol of conflict, hatred and discrimination to a place that will open the gate for construction of a single, egalitarian democratic state for Israelis and Palestinians.