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Having spent 10 days in May in the City of Jerusalem I can say now I am better informed about what the Arabs of East Jerusalem and its suburbs want and what they don’t want.

Here I am not expressing my own views or opinions, I merely convey to readers what I heard from ordinary Palestinians living within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.

This is not an in-depth political analysis nor a definitive account of what is happening in Jerusalem, but personal observations based on casual conversations.

I had spoken to dozens of people, on average 5 or 6 a day. I spoke to street vendors, shop keepers, café owners, taxi drivers, academics, teachers, Beir Zeit university students, mothers, hotel receptionists, car salesmen, petrol station attendants, pancake makers, falafel fryers and even a medical doctor.

To begin with I had not witnessed a single incident of stabbing in the Old City which was calm and business as usual.

The most shocking revelation to me was most of the people I spoke to are not happy with the Ramallah administration of Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues.  Several people told me that the Palestinian Authority is corrupt and is run by merchants or business people not by nationalist statesmen.  In Arabic the words ‘merchant and businessman’ are interchangeable. They see Abbas as putting his family’s business interests above the national interests. They say he has compromised too much and has given too many concessions to Israel without getting anything tangible in return.

Nehad Ismail at Damascus Gate

Nehad Ismail at Damascus Gate

Not even a single check-point has been removed or prisoner released as a result of his efforts. Talking of check-points I went to Bethlehem and encountered a couple of barriers but when I was invited to a barbecue on the beach somewhere between old Jaffa and Tel Aviv, we travelled in a convoy of cars from Jerusalem to the sea without being stopped at all.

I suggested, hypothetically, that in any future settlement, East Jerusalem might end up being ruled by the Palestinian Authority. Whilst almost everyone I spoke to would like to see an end to the occupation, they hated the idea of being ruled by the PLA. More than once I heard someone says I prefer the Israeli rule if we are given more rights and restrictions are eased or removed.  What they hate most is the separation or security wall. Some call it the apartheid wall. Call it what you like but it has disrupted lives and split families, I was told.

“Prior to the erection of the wall. It took me 5 or 6 minutes by car to reach the school where I teach”, a woman teacher told me. “Now it takes 35 or 45 minutes depending on the traffic”.

What exactly do you like about Israeli rule I asked a number of people?

They said we get free medical services, unemployment benefits, and disability allowance and so on like they do in Western Europe. Such advantages are not available in the areas administered by the PLA.

I had not come across genuine cases of severe hardship or poverty. Those who are not doing well are the disorganized and dysfunctional who have no plan or a budget. They waste their money on the latest gadgets and are constantly changing mobile phones or cars and not saving enough for a rainy day. This type usually lives in rented houses and do not own their properties. Those who live in the so-called unregulated areas mainly between North Jerusalem and Ramallah cling to their Jerusalem IDs and hope their status will be regulated so they become part of Jerusalem and become fully entitled to the welfare system.  One such unregulated area is called Kafr ‘Aqab which is the northernmost Palestinian Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. It is located within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem and two kilometres from Ramallah.

OK what do you dislike about the Israelis?

They don’t hate Israelis because they are Jewish. Many of them said they work with Jewish people as construction workers, mechanics, cooks in hotels and son on and they are happy with the wages they receive. Two or three admitted that they prefer a Jewish boss to an Arab one because the former treats them better.

They don’t want the army and the police to breath down their necks. They don’t like to be pushed around and roughed up just because a school truant threw a stone or set an old tyre on fire.

I witnessed a small incident in one of the predominantly Arab suburbs at 11:00 one morning. Kids threw stones at a small unit of soldiers guarding a tiny settlement planted in the middle of an Arab neighbourhood. Enforcements arrived. The soldiers blocked the roads and traffic piled up for miles. They chased the children, forced shop-keepers to shut their shops, and for almost 45 minutes you think a war has broken out. This kind of over-reaction I was told happens all the time. I am not there all the time to check whether this is true or not. One driver got out of his car shouting this is “collective punishment” meaning thousands are punished because 2 or 3 teenagers decided to provoke the soldiers.

What about the future?talking

The more educated think that the future lies in a one-state solution as the two-state solution will not work without territorial contiguity, geographical integrity and unimpeded connectivity between various parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Some would prefer to be ruled by Jordan and not by the PLA or Hamas. I pointed out to some skeptics by saying look at Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Sudan; what do you see apart from violence, death, destruction, corruption etc. Aren’t you better off here? Well, they say maybe, but who want to live for ever under military occupation?

All in all I am optimistic that a solution is not beyond reach. There is mutual mistrust which is understandable given the competing claims. What is needed I am told is the building of trust and the emergence of pragmatic leaders on both sides to convince their constituents of the need for a genuine and lasting peace.

Nehad Ismail



7 Comments on "10 Days In East Jerusalem"

  1. Peter Kennedy | 1st June 2016 at 8:34 am | Reply

    An interesting piece, thank you very much.

  2. nehad ismail | 1st June 2016 at 11:51 am | Reply

    Thanks Peter. Much appreciated.

  3. mahatmacoatmabag | 1st June 2016 at 12:02 pm | Reply

    Hi Nehad, well written, as usual. I hope the PLO & Hamas don’t put you on their hit list for exposing the truth, the truth known also to the almost 2 million Arab citizens of Israel, that given the option of being a Arab in Israel, citizen or not, or living under any Arab regime, the majority will always opt to live under Israeli rule because Israel is the only sane & democratic state to be found anywhere in a vast region of chaotic war torn criminally run dictatorships & tyrannical kingdoms. Arab society has not evolved from its violent past into a peaceful present, in fact its got progressively worse, despite the vast oil wealth some Arab states have & in part its the fault of meddling former imperial power foreign governments like the UK & France post WW1 and of course post WW2 by successive US administrations. I see no chance for peace in the Mid-East taking hold anywhere anytime soon & absolutely no resolution of the Palestinian problem since there are no Palestinian leaders only criminal gang bosses whose wealth is based on continuing the conflict forever. That problem is not of Israels making nor will any territorial concessions by Israel make any difference as we have seen with the unilateral Gaza withdrawal which created the state of Hamastan to make the lives of the people of Gaza worse than under Israeli rule. Any further concessions or withdrawals in the West Bank will create the same result or worse lead to another war.

  4. nehad ismail | 1st June 2016 at 12:56 pm | Reply

    Thanks mahatmacoatmabag for taking the time to read and make a comment. Most people I encountered seemed realistic and pragmatic. Gone the empty slogans I used to hear in the past. They believe in the principle of live and let live. I still believe peace is achievable if the minimum requirements of each side are met. I appreciate your concerns about my safety.

  5. Thanks for a very balanced and thoughtful article Nehad. It is interesting that people there recognise the Palestinian Authority is corrupt and that many would prefer Israeli rule. The situation is not as some present, Black and White .I am quite pessimistic about the chances for peace at the would be interesting one day to see you get the views of those in West Jerusalem to compare

    • nehad ismail | 1st June 2016 at 3:32 pm | Reply

      Thanks Paul. Yes the prospects of peace are bleak at the present. Great idea to hear the views of West Jerusalemites.

  6. I am a very good friend of a very well known Palestinian activist. He has told me these things and more: The last time I spoke with him, he said: “Zvi – don’t even dream of giving the PA (mush less Hamas) a “state” – it will turn into Libya within two weeks”.
    I keep telling people: Do Palestinians suffer? Of course they suffer – that is not the point – the point is “WHY?” Why have these “leaders” not accepted the several plans for a Palestinian state since 1947? Why do they allow (or encourage!) terror attacks against Israeli civilians when this can only bring further suffering to their own people.
    The structure of the Arab population in WB/Gaza is something almost nothing is said about. Is it know that all “cities” are actually tribes? That a man from Jenin will never marry a woman from Nablus? or Hebron, or Bethlehem? I am not talking about “minorities” like the dwindling Christian population. @zlando

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