By: The Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS)
Ramallah, Tuesday, June 16, 2020: The Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) hosted a roundtable meeting entitled ‘Discrimination against Palestinian Citizens in Jerusalem Municipality’s Budget Allocations and Government Plans: Objectives, Forms and Consequences’. This was the fourth roundtable of the year, and the first ‘face-to-face’ activity held by MAS since the COVID-19 outbreak, at which the Institute observed safety measures approved by the Palestinian Ministry of Health to ensure public health and safety.
The background paper for the session was prepared and presented by Dr. Rasem Khamayseh, lecturer in geography at the University of Haifa. The event was moderated by Mr. Raja Khalidi, MAS Director General. The main interventions were made by Dr. Saeed Yaqin, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs; Mr. Azzam Abu Al-Saud, former Director of the Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Jerusalem; and Dr. Munir Nusseibeh, Director of the Community Action Center and the Jerusalem Center for Human Rights. The meeting was supported by Heinrich-Böll Stiftung (Palestine-Jordan). Participants from both the public and private sectors, as well as from the political sphere, joined the event in-person, or remotely through video.
Mr. Raja Khalidi, MAS Director General, opened the session by touching on the background to the series of roundtable meetings and their importance in providing Palestinian decision-makers with a forum to discuss pertinent economic and social issues. Khalidi stressed the systemic policy of discrimination by the Israeli occupation and its institutions, noting how the Zionist project assumes the power of the state, enacting laws and allocating financial resources to further its ends. Khalidi also added that alternatives should be identified and studied to preserve the unity of East Jerusalem, based on a scientific analysis of economic and political data. This would contribute to achieving the Palestinian national project in Jerusalem and in Palestine in general.
Dr. Khamayseh, presented the paper’s main highlights. The paper defines the main areas of governmental discrimination against Arab Jerusalemites - economic, social, spatial and cultural - and the governing Israeli policy context. The paper explores the priorities of community, as well as official and international programs working to meet developmental gaps and needs in occupied East Jerusalem.
Khamayseh stated that Israeli authorities have selectively enforced laws on Arab Jerusalemites. These laws, and the policies emanating from them, have defined a single, official (regional and municipal) tax system that applies to both Palestinians and Israelis, despite the fact that the income of Jewish families residing in East and West Jerusalem reaches more than three times the income of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem. This is in addition to clear discrimination in developmental budgets for East Jerusalem by occupation authorities, which has resulted in shortcomings in infrastructure, in particular public streets, healthcare and education facilities. Moreover, these policies do not treat Palestinians as an occupied people in accordance with international law; nor do they grant the status of citizenship and the rights under Israeli law that this entails. This may have contributed to demands for equality in the allocation of governmental and municipal budgets, as variations have created great gaps between Palestinian neighborhoods and Israeli colonies in East and West Jerusalem. This is evident given the state of East Jerusalem’s infrastructure and public services, which contribute to a low quality of life for Arab Jerusalemites. It also confirms the falsity of the Israeli claim that West and East Jerusalem are in fact ‘united’ under Israeli law as a result of annexation.
Given this complex situation, in which Israeli authorities seek to deepen their hegemony and control over East Jerusalem, approved policies do not meet the civil, economic and national needs of Jerusalemites. Resultantly, they are trapped in a state of limbo between their individual needs/interests and their collective/national priorities. Their condition is best described by the term ‘hybridity’, in which they coexist between normalization and conscious civil resistance. This hybrid clash may contribute to the struggle for survival and distorted development. That said, it is quite evident that in order to mitigate the damages of this hybrid condition, a comprehensive program of action must be prepared that enables Arab Jerusalemites to manage the crises they face, enhancing their survival prospects until there is an opportunity for geopolitical change. Until then, action must be institutionalized to rebuild society and its economic institutions, along with other essential organizations. This should be done according to the principle of ‘participatory selective resistance’, taking advantage of available opportunities while preventing collective damages, through balancing individual and national priorities.
In his intervention, Dr. Saeed Yaqeen highlighted systemic Israeli policies of displacement and house demolitions targeting Palestinian citizens in occupied Jerusalem. He called for the need to focus on daily demolitions and policies of ethnic cleansing, noting that 4,000 housing units were demolished in the past year alone. Yaqeen also noted that this number is constantly increasing, given that this approach is part of the origins of the colonial project, aimed at expelling Jerusalemites from the city. Demolitions have a damaging effect on Jerusalemites’ mental health. In discussing the possible scenarios presented by the background paper, Yaqeen pointed out that Jerusalem is - and always has been - at the forefront of protest against the occupation, even if it stands alone, despite great dangers inherent in protest. Arab Jerusalemites continue to reject the reality enforced by the Israeli authorities and ‘asymmetric merging’ with the dominant Israeli economy. Their priorities are based on the coexistence scenario outlined above.
Mr. Azzam Abu al-Saud outlined plausible alternatives in his address, discussing other facets of discrimination in Jerusalem, such as it being the second-poorest city in Israel, and there being 20,000 unlicensed housing units, all under threat of demolition. Abu al-Saud called on the responsible authorities to take appropriate measures to preserve the status of Jerusalem. He also mentioned that Palestinian areas of Jerusalem pay the most taxes while receiving the lowest municipal budgets, not commensurate with the size of the population.
Dr. Munir Nusseibeh stressed the necessity of focusing on concepts of apartheid and discrimination, in addition to the framework of military occupation, in order to expose and confront the occupation government’s practices. He called on jurists to adopt these concepts in defending the central issues concerning Jerusalemites and in the preservation of their rights. He also touched on the necessity of Jerusalemites obtaining their rights through existing procedures, for example such as registering newborn children.
A number of participants emphasized that the policies of the Israeli occupation are primarily based on racial discrimination, and called for the Palestinian National Authority to focus on the issue of Jerusalem, where the financial weaknesses of the Authority has led to a dwindling of funding for Jerusalem.
You can download a copy of the Background Paper (English) attached herein.