Under the guise of security requirements, the Israeli government implements an intolerable chokehold upon East Jerusalem and interferes in the private lives of its Palestinian residents. Just last year alone, the Israeli government cancelled the “residency” status of more than 1,500 inhabitants of East Jerusalem for “security” reasons. This is a 200 percent increase from the previous year.
When we know this and yet keep quiet, we are an accomplice to injustice.
In this article, I will present a partial picture of the life of East Jerusalem residents. I will attempt to touch on the heavy price paid by Palestinian society in al-Quds due to Israeli defined “security considerations,” a designation trotted out by Israeli authorities on almost every possible occasion with intent to win battles in the demographic war over it sees itself engaged in against the Palestinians of East Jerusalem.
In fact, a central and publicized objective of Israel concerning everything related to East Jerusalem is the creation of a demographic and geographic reality that will bring about an increase in the number of Jews living in the city and the largest possible decrease in the number of Palestinians living there. In order to reach this objective, the state enlists all of its institutions.
For instance, the National Insurance Institute (NII), intended to serve the welfare of residents, also acts as a supplementary political appendage, serving the Zionist vision of Israel and harming residents through the non-provision of social services that it is obligated to provide.
Almost every day, we receive complaints from tens of East Jerusalem residents whose national security allowances have been terminated. From conversations I conduct with the NII clerks, it appears that residents of East Jerusalem, in order to receive their national insurance benefits as mandated by law, must meet near impossible conditions. They must provide receipts proving payment of city taxes and electricity for up to the past seven years, photographs of their house, and proof they have no property in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The waiting periods for these residents can last years, and, in the meantime, they remain without the ability to receive medical attention or their legally mandated benefits—in numerous instances, the sole family income.
Fadwa, whose national insurance allowance was taken from her four years ago, was required to bring in receipts for city taxes and electricity, and when she did this she was told that the electricity fees were not high enough. Fadwa sits at home every day for fear that the NII investigators will come to check whether she does indeed live at the address she gave. For years she has sat at home, but the NII does not come. In the meantime she cannot allow herself to have another child, as she has no money for the fertility treatments she requires.
All of our correspondence and the ‘favors’ we called in, did not help us understand why Fadwa’s rights were taken from her; why they don’t give this 40 year old Palestinian woman, a resident of East Jerusalem, health insurance?
Why is the right of a woman to bring children into this world taken from her?
Why do we keep quiet?
Why did the media ignore her story, turning its back on her?
Fadwa was finally told to change her address, leave Jerusalem’s Old City and that perhaps this will help. Or perhaps not.
In addition to the revocation of residency status, Israel employs home demolitions, settlement expansion, land confiscations, the placing of checkpoints and fences, and the negation of the right to education for 9,000 Palestinian minors.
Thus, for example, the streets of East Jerusalem’s Old City are covered by cameras. My friend Hanna, from whom a wallet was stolen, told me not long ago how the police brought her to a room full of screens, documenting everything occuring in East Jerusalem. She succeeded in identifying her bag in the hands of a Palestinian minor, and, via the screens, the police managed to follow him home where he was subsequently arrested. Another parent asked me for help, after being arrested when a camera in the Old City caught him slapping his child for returning home late. Another friend with connections in the police, via these cameras, managed to identify someone who entered his store and stole a mobile phone.
These cameras penetrate into the private lives of Palestinians in Jerusalem in order to instill fear, but they do not catch drug deals, home demolitions and the violence of settlers against Palestinians. The security cameras prefer not to see these things, selectively passing over the larger crimes being perpetrated against the Palestinian residents of East Jeruslaem.
What is amazing is that, to date, no organization or human rights group has objected or even touched upon this topic, as if it is obvious that everything is security—yet, security for whom? Certainly not for us.
At times I think that Israeli society is truly obsessed with security, while at other times I believe that this is an easy tool for the state to use in order to implement its policy of transfer in the city.
Everyone today is talking about security. Recently, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) submitted a court petition against the surprise roadblocks set up by the tax authorities and NII, once or twice each week, in the main—and only—entrances to the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. These roadblocks are set up with the assistance of police patrols and the Border Police, who stop cars and check whether the driver has a debt to any state authority. Those who are caught with a debt have their cars confiscated on the spot and no matter what their schedule, they must go find the money owed. In the meantime, traffic jams are created, delaying the travel of school pupils, university students and workers.
What is amusing in this story is that ACRI must prove to the judge that these are not security checkpoints, but intended to collect debts. Anything “security” is taboo, untouchable.
ACRI contends that that the sole reason for these checkpoints is to collect debts. This is in contrast to the contention of the tax authorities and NII, which argues that they join checkpoints organized by the police and implement debt collection as an add-on to the security checks already taking place at the checkpoint.
The police and security authorities assist the various state institutions to collect debts, to strengthen the chokehold and invasion of the private lives of Palestinians.
Soldiers stand everyday on the streets separating West and East Jerusalem, stopping every Palestinian and everyone who looks Palestinian, in order to write down their identification numbers, delay them and only then let them go. Why? This is security, and security cannot be questioned.
In the case of Sheikh Saed, one of the villages in East Jerusalem, the Israeli High Court ruled in 2005 that the Wall should not be built around the village and that a change in the Wall’s route should be contemplated. This same week, perhaps out of respect for the High Court decision, the security forces built a high barbed wire fence around Sheikh Saed, in addition to a checkpoint manned 24 hours a day. Whoever enters or exists must do so through two revolving doors, where, with the switch of a button, soldiers can jam shut while you are in them. Moreover, Sheikh Saed cannot be separated from the neighboring village of Jabar al Mukhabar. Residents of the former rely on the health and education services provided in the latter. The practical meaning of this is that every child and pupil, aged one or aged 18, must be checked and have her/his school bag examined.
As a result, children arrive late to school. Numerous parents prefer to give up on their children’s right to education, particularly preventing girls from going out.
The attempt to bring volunteers to the village to teach girls who dropped out of school failed, as the soldiers, in compliance with Israeli security laws, forbade entry into Sheikh Saed of anyone not listed as a resident of the village, or of Jabar al-Mukhabar, in her or his identification card.
Otherwise, if you managed to enter the village, you will be required to provide a security permit in order to exit. When I want to meet girls with whom I work, the meetings have to take place at the checkpoint. We sit on the fence.
Sheikh Saed is one big prison in which hundreds of Palestinians are held, with no health centers, no high school, no ability to freely enter and exit, no right to host friends and with no right to learn.
A huge prison within Jerusalem that can continue to exist because we avert our eyes from it and prefer to believe that everything is done for our security.
Yet, we are collaborating with the Israeli state when accept these claims at face value. We are collaborating when we do not bother to know, or to know but consciously close our eyes.
We are collaborating in this injustice every time we do not verify the information sold to us by the media. And if there is something I want, it is that the public will choose to take more courageous action in order to halt the daily harm to civilians, to not make due with emotional solidarity.