East Jerusalem on the Edge Residents Press “Investors” to Meet Urgent Needs

December 12th 2018

This is East Jerusalem, a dusty maze of stone-paved alleyways crammed with the world’s holy sites, well-trod tourist areas, neighborhoods and shops. It’s where the Israeli-Arab conflict was born, and where it dominates. In the most combustible part of a city often smoldering in tension, the Palestinian population here squeezes into antiquated quarters, where the stench and the darkness render decrepit infrastructure obvious. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics and its National Insurance Institute stats show widespread poverty here, affecting 75 percent of greater East Jerusalem’s 350,000-plus Arab residents.

To Israelis, East Jerusalem is an inseparable part of their nation’s capital, and since seizing the land in 1967’s Arab-Israeli War, they've rejected competing demands to declare East Jerusalem capital of Palestine. While Arab adults in the area line up at welfare offices, their youth share dim expectations. They’re part of large families in tightly knit communities where joblessness soars and student matriculation rates remain gravely low. Less than half the children attend school. With the streets as their classroom, the city’s ancient walls run long and wide with graffiti about Israel’s half-century occupation. Marginalized economically, Arab families turn out new generations that are idle and angry. Life is harsh, more so as patriarchal traditions fall hard and Arab men feel emasculated against the constant press of Israeli security forces and unchecked settler attacks.

At greatest risk: women and girls in the largely conservative Muslim families. Cultural norms restrict them from stepping out of their protective homes, much less from going to school or to work. Arab aid groups document a population saturated with gender-based violence, living in squalor and behind closed doors. Half of all East Jerusalem Arab women say they first suffered domestic abuse in their early teens, just past puberty. The data is striking, given these crimes are chronically under-reported. In this repressed society, speaking about sex, much less claiming abuse, is simply taboo.

Juzoor for Health and Social Development, a leading Palestinian NGO, canvassed East Jerusalem women and just issued a starkly detailed report. The residents' most vexing concerns? Family abuse, security threats, homegrown corruption, and a dead-end economy cut off from West Bank farms, industries, and markets. This year, after decades of neglect, the Israeli government announced a five-year $560 million infusion into East Jerusalem schools, public works, and job readiness for women. Israel is soliciting co-financing and may attract Washington, since President Trump just announced that the U.S. will no longer underwrite the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Set up to care for thousands of Palestinians displaced by 1948’s Arab-Israeli War, UNRWA now serves a population of 5 million, including those in East Jerusalem. Its critics have long contended UNRWA creates dependence and delivers a highly politicized product that starts with age-old biases in elementary school curricula.

Along a winding alleyway filled with local shoppers, a merchant sells kitchen supplies, sundries, and textiles. Among them, his eye-catcher: a collection of life-size toy rifles replete with scopes, dangling outside the shop door. Promotional packaging depicts 5-year-old girls in headscarves, targeting the youngest audience possible. It’s a provocative visual in a place where passions and prejudices run deep, and where the prospect of violence keeps everyone vigilant.


Want to help meet direct needs? Access to services, skills training, and jobs are critical to stabilizing East Jerusalem; the area is packed with groups working these issues and they are hungry for talent. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel focuses on overcrowding, hygiene, and safety problems and advocates in Israel’s courts on behalf of East Jerusalemites. Israel’s Hadassah medical complex cultivates, trains, and places East Jerusalem's female residents in healthcare careers and deploys these job-ready women to severely short-staffed clinics and hospitals. NGO Monitor does a serious job of vetting on-the-ground Palestinian women's initiatives. Looking to lend your own trade, technical or professional expertise? Tap into your networks--universities, employers, places of worship, even local governments--to see if they’re engaged in stabilizing this or other conflict areas. 

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