A view of Jerusalem. Credit: Berthold Werner via Wikimedia Commons.
A view of Jerusalem. Credit: Berthold Werner via Wikimedia Commons.

An Undivided Capital?

‘Abandoned’ Arab neighborhoods threaten Jewish majority in Jerusalem

For several months now, Israel’s National Security Council has been examining plans that would change the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to preserve the capital city's Jewish majority.

Israels National Security Council is examining plans that would change the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem in order to prevent Israel’s capital city from racing toward a demographic red line: a population comprised of 60 percent Jews and 40 percent Arabs.

A plan to cope with the demographic crisis, proposed by Minister of Jerusalem Affairs MK Ze’ev Elkin focuses on redefining the Arab encircled neighborhoods, which are officially part of municipal Jerusalem but are located beyond Israels Judea and Samaria security fence–since then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon built the barrier in 2003. The proposal deals primarily with the Shuafat and Kfar Aqub refugee camps north of the city. For years, Elkin has maintained thatpractically speaking, these areas are extraterritorial.

In his book Urshalim, journalist Nir Hasson describes that Israeli police have ceased to provide security and law enforcement servicesto the encircled neighborhoods.

The police dont enter the neighborhoods, even when a murder has occurred, and certainly not for lesser calls of distress,Hasson writes.

Following their lead, the other Israeli authorities have also abandoned them: the municipality, the infrastructure suppliers, firefighting and rescue services, ambulances, construction supervisors and road planners. They all stay on the other side of the fenceand to every one of them, from the mayor and government ministers to the last of the residents of the refugee camps, it was clear that they left the area never to return.

Elkins plan is based on a map delineated several years ago by Nadav Shragai, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank. At the heart of the map is the creation of two independent regional councils to manage the encircled neighborhoods, placing them within Israeli sovereignty and leaving political borders untouched. Several weeks ago, Shragai completed an updated version of his plan, and it is published here for the first time. Among the new revelations are statistics about the shocking population explosion in the encircled neighborhoods and the chaos that reigns there.

First, the demographics: Since the security fence was built around Jerusalem in 2003, the study reveals that the number of Arab residents in the neighborhoods outside the fence has tripled to 140,000, which is 14 percent of Jerusalems total population of 882,652 according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Compared to this incomprehensible leap, the Arab neighborhoods within the fence grew 71 percent, a number high in its own right, but still much lower than the 300-percent growth outside the fence.

Its no less important to note that the skyrocketing population growth in the encircled neighborhoods is happening because of a lack of governance. Without supervision, buildings of 10-12 floors are constructed in extremely crowded spaces, violating the law. The construction and service standards are extremely low, including the budgeted supply of water, which sometimes arrives only twice a week. The infrastructure for sewage and water mingle with each other, and the roads are far too narrow to carry the traffic load.

The conditions in these neighborhoods have depressed the prices of apartments to 400,000 shekels ($116,000) and less, which turns them into magnets for residents of Judea and Samaria, as well as for residents of other neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Prices for apartments in these neighborhoods, as well as other Palestinian cities, are generally much higher,writes Shragai.

According to Shragai, an estimated 30-40 percent of the residents of the encircled neighborhoods are not from Jerusalem, but from Judea and Samaria. With the lack of any governance, there is nothing to prevent their migration to Jerusalem, and there is nobody to prevent their inclusion in the Israeli population registry.

There is a merger taking place between the populations, Shragai writes.They marry each other, and the children of the marriages, according to Israeli law, are legal residents of Jerusalem.

On the other side of the enormous growth in the Arab population, the Jewish population continues to shrink. The high birth rate amongst the Arabs, in conjunction with net emigration of Jews from Jerusalemmore than 400,000 Jews have left Jerusalem in the last three decadeshas slowly eroded the Jewish majority, which today stands at a mere 59 percent.

We are rapidly approaching the danger line of a 50-percent-Arab population in Jerusalem, warns Shragai.

Public criticism of the neglect of the encircled neighborhoods has recently pushed the municipality to take several steps to remind the residents that they are part of the city. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is opposed to all plans that attempt to disown the neighborhoods, and it appears that his fear of their progress led to improved garbage removal and establishing police stations that are intended to provide solutions to standard citizen complaints.

The budgets of both the city and the government were expanded…Hagihon, Jerusalems water utility, extended their services in the Shuafat refugee camp and improved the service to its residents, reports Shragai.

Israeli security services have also recently changed their mode of operations in these areas. But in Shragais view, these changes are just a drop in the bucket, after the neglect of nearly 50 years. There is no way to overcome the enormous gap, other than by establishing separate municipal authorities. The neighborhoods beyond the fence have become a demographic time bomb and a bubble of distress, crime and terror. In the wave of terror of recent years, the involvement of residents of these neighborhoods is several times higher than their percentage of the population. What the municipality of Jerusalem hasnt done for the past 50 years, they are unable to do today.

Opposition to Shragais proposal comes from the political right, including influential Jerusalem residents such as Arieh King and David Beeri, who fear the political implications of the plan.

Shragai and Elkin respond that sitting on ones hands at a time when all the warning signs are flashing will endanger the capitals Jewish character. They argue that the proposal is in no way a division of Jerusalem or a surrender of any Israeli sovereignty, but rather, a change in municipal status that will ultimately give Israel even more control than it has today.

My main concern is demography,says Elkin. Establishing a separate municipality is the guarantee that will preserve the Jewish majority and the unity of Jerusalem. If we fail to adopt the program, even more dangerous approacheslike those of Ehud Barak, Haim Ramon and Bill Clintonmay be adopted. Those are dangerous plans.

Ariel Kahana is the diplomatic correspondent for Makor Rishon, where this article was originally published. The English translation of this article is available exclusively through JNS.

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