I've been looking for this article for several days now. I should have known I'd find it here. Somehow, I had forgotten to bookmark it back in March when I first read it. But I keep coming across references to the lower standard of municipal services provided to Arab neighborhoods in Israel, and I finally resolved that I would find it and link to it and emphasize a few of its main points.
There's no question that a vast gulf exists between the standard of living in most of Jerusalem's western, predominently Jewish neighborhoods and that in its eastern, predominently Arab neighborhoods. This discrepancy is often cited as evidence of Israeli "racism" or "bigotry." Justus Weiner explains the actual roots of the problem:
1. the vast differences in resources that were devoted to urban development by the Israeli and Jordanian governments, respectively, during the years 1948 - 1967;
Per-capita expenditures for public services in the western sector was almost five times that of the Jordanian administration in the Arab neighborhoods. [fn]
2. the cultural and political differences between the residents of these neighborhoods as manifested in housing density and construction practices;
. . . the low-density pattern of housing in the Arab neighborhoods, reflecting Arab cultural preferences, increases the cost of infrastructure in those areas. [fn] The unchecked building of thousands of illegal, free-standing structures on open land that has occurred, dramatically increases the city's costs in bringing electricity, water, paved roads, sidewalks, and parking to the dispersed living units.
3. the failure of the Arab East Jerusalem population to participate in the political system that could bring improvements to their lives.
A prerequisite for influence in any city's planning process is political clout. When Israel declared sovereignty over united Jerusalem in 1967, the overwhelming majority of Arab residents chose to remain citizens of Jordan, declining the offer of Israeli citizenship. [fn] In the years that followed, many engaged in various kinds of resistance to Israeli rule, ranging from non-cooperation, not voting in municipal elections, and evading municipal taxes, to occasional street violence. The Palestinian leadership has shown no interest in bettering the position of the Arab residents within the Israeli system. Instead, it seeks only to "liberate" them from their involuntary incorporation into Israel. Most importantly, the Arab residents of Jerusalem have refrained from pursuing the political power that would normally accrue to a minority comprising approximately a quarter to a third of the city's population.
So, to summarize, the inequality began under Arab rule, it was exacerbated by the widespread practice of badly planned, illegal building, and the "oppressed" residents refuse to so much as lift a finger toward solving the problem. Obviously, the Zionists are to blame.
But what happens when some of those residents do try to use the system to improve their lot?
Due to the Palestinian leadership's policy of non-cooperation or samud, [fn], Jerusalem Arabs do not present themselves as candidates for the City Council. Only a miniscule percentage vote in the municipal elections. [fn] Most refuse to cooperate with the Israeli municipal administration, either because they reject any act that might be construed as submitting to Israeli rule or because others have intimidated them. [fn] Indeed, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority strive to coerce Jerusalem's Arabs to observe their policy of total non-cooperation. [fn] Consequently, the city's Arab residents have abdicated any direct role in the democratic political process by which the city is governed. [fn]
And let's not gloss over that "intimidation" aspect. It's a serious problem.
Over the past 35 years there have been two instances when daring individuals sought to run for municipal office. In 1987, Arab newspaper publisher Hanna Siniora considered running for mayor at the head of a list of Arab candidates for the City Council. [fn] Then-Mayor Kollek (1965-1993) warmly welcomed Siniora's initiative, stating, "we have always wanted Jerusalem's Arabs as our partners in running the united city." [fn] Yet, after arsonists torched his two cars and his home was daubed with graffiti at the hands of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, [fn] Siniora withdrew his candidacy.
In the 1998 municipal elections, an independent Arab list participated, headed by insurance agent Mussa Alayan, an Israeli citizen and resident of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Bet Safafa. Alayan defied calls by Palestinian leaders to boycott the election, but received only 2,977 votes, falling short of the threshold needed to gain even one seat on the City Council.
Alayan filed a legal challenge against the results in Jerusalem District Court, [fn] alleging that Palestinian activists from Fatah and other PLO factions carried out an aggressive campaign against his candidacy. Alayan further claimed that his election workers were beaten and harassed. On election day, masked men obstructed access to the polls in Arab neighborhoods and the lives and property of Arabs who came to vote were threatened. Jerusalem Arabs were told that if they voted, they would be regarded as traitors to the Palestinian cause and would be punished with an iron fist. Such coercion has been a major factor in the very low turnout of Arab voters in every municipal election since 1967. Hence, the lower standard of municipal services in the Arab neighborhoods is a consequence of, not the cause for, the boycott of the political process dictated by the Palestinian leadership.
That's why I get so annoyed when I read nonsense like this:
Virtually no municipal or governmental services reach Kfar Aqab -- even if it is part of "the undivided capital of Israel which will never be re-divided." The neighborhood hasn't had a sewage system for 35 years. (And, oddly, sewage even in Jerusalem obeys the laws of gravity, not the Likud party platform or the PLO covenant.) Complaints and pleas didn't help, and despite repeated promises, nothing was done. But four months ago, Samih marched into the Jerusalem Municipality offices, grinning from ear to ear, and confessed to a crime. He had collected money from his already impoverished neighbors, gotten a sewage line built and had it hooked it up illegally to the city pipelines. Initially taken aback, municipal officials are now hoping to replicate this model of self-empowerment in other areas of endeavor.
In the context of Justus Weiner's analysis, this heroic tale is revealed as the silliness it is. And, of course, a plausible end to the story is that the illegal hookup boasted of will back up the system, causing sewage problems for everyone on the line. This is hardly an unusual occurance in East Jerusalem. Water and electricity are also often stolen by enterprising citizens. And when the predictable results occur, it's simply more evidence of discrimination by the Municipality. Right.
There are some glimmerings of hope. All too often, however, they're rapidly extinguished by the "democratically elected" palestinian leadership, as Dr. Weiner points out:
Yossi Cohen, the Jerusalem Mayor's Advisor for Neighborhoods, has made inroads in addressing this long-standing problem with the help of neighborhood committees. Thus far, groups of residents from several Arab neighborhoods have turned to the municipality for assistance in completing the planning for their neighborhoods. The city heralds these contacts as demonstrating the Arabs' interest in cooperating with the city by becoming involved in planning their own neighborhoods. [fn] This cooperation is an anathema to the Palestinian Authority. For example, a poster distributed by Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction in the 1998 elections stated that, "not recognizing legitimacy of the Israeli occupation is more important than our day-to-day services....We in the Fatah movement call on our holy people to boycott the elections and to fight a war of existence and identity." [fn]
So there you have it. Keeping their priorities straight, as always.
The full article, complete with footnotes, is well worth a read.