- Chapter 1 Introduction
- Chapter 2 Israel’s legal protection void for Palestinian children in Jerusalem
- Chapter 3 Drawn over and dug under, Silwan is a community at risk
- Chapter 4 Scavenging for schools in East Jerusalem
- Chapter 5 When you are in Kufr Aqab, you are in Jerusalem and outside of it
- Chapter 6 Israel draws the curtain on Palestinian dance troupe
CHAPTER 1 Introduction
Tourists flock to Jerusalem to be dazzled by ancient architecture, worship at sacred religious sites, and snap shots of iconic vistas. But few who visit could tell you what conditions Palestinians who live there are afforded, what budgets pave their roads and build their schools, or what policies come into force when their children are accused of running afoul of the law.
At the center of these questions lies the issue of status — the status of East Jerusalem and the Palestinians who live there.
In 1967, the Israeli military annexed East Jerusalem, in contravention of principles of international humanitarian law and international law, declaring a “unified Jerusalem.” The revered Old City and some 30 Palestinian villages were de facto annexed into Israel, and came under Israeli occupation.
The majority of Palestinians present in the city at the time were accorded the status of “permanent resident.” Palestinians from Jerusalem but not present at the time were not able to return, becoming refugees.
Permanent residency is the same status given to foreign nationals who want to reside in Israel. For Palestinians, the status comes with some benefits such as eligibility to vote in municipal elections, health care and greater theoretical protections under Israeli civilian law. However, this status does not provide the right to vote in Israeli parliamentary elections, despite taxation, nor is it automatically passed down to children.
While some Palestinians in Jerusalem do hold citizenship, the vast majority opt for permanent residency. International law still holds East Jerusalem to be under Israeli military occupation, and many see applying for citizenship as validating Israeli sovereignty over the occupied city. Those who do apply for Israeli citizenship only have a success rate of about 40 percent, according to Human Rights Watch.
What differentiates permanent residency from citizenship is that it can be revoked at any time, without due process or trial. It is essentially a provisional status, at the discretion of Israel’s Interior Ministry.
Israel has continually expanded the grounds on which residency can be revoked, building and adding on previous laws such as the 1952 Entry into Israel law. Most recently, on March 7, Israel ratified a new law allowing Israel’s Interior Minister to revoke Palestinians’ permanent residency status in Jerusalem for “breach of loyalty” to Israel.
Other grounds on which Palestinians’ permanent residency can be revoked include: living outside of Jerusalem for seven years, applying for citizenship in another country, or moving their “center of life” outside of Jerusalem.
Between 1967 and the end of 2016, Israel revoked the legal status of 14,595 Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
When Palestinians lose their permanent resident status, they lose their ability to live in Jerusalem, or even enter the city without a permit. They also lose their health insurance, and potentially their employment, if they can no longer travel to a job in Jerusalem.
When Palestinians lose their permanent resident status, they lose their ability to live in Jerusalem, or even enter the city without a permit.
The “center of life” policy puts financial pressure on families, not allowing for the financial ups and downs in a family’s economic life. Even though the cost of living is much lower in the West Bank, families may not leave East Jerusalem during a financial downturn because of the risk of residency revocation.
As a result, the “center of life” policy likely contributes to the high poverty rate among Palestinians in East Jerusalem. As of 2016, 76 percent of the Palestinian population was living under the poverty line in East Jerusalem, according to Israeli rights group, Ir Amim. In contrast, 22 percent of Jewish families in Jerusalem live in poverty, according to the same report.
Palestinian families with one parent from East Jerusalem and one from the West Bank also face challenges because of restrictions around transferring permanent residency status to family members.
“Exhausting” is the word Safa Ghateet used to describe her children’s registration process to Defense for Children International - Palestine.
Ghateet submitted applications five times over to Israel's Ministry of Interior between 2012 and 2017 in order to register her two children, Azmi, 5, and Merana, 4, as permanent residents of Jerusalem. She is a Jerusalem resident and her children were born there.
Her husband lives in the West Bank city of Ramallah, cut off from the family not just by Israel’s separation barrier, but also Israel’s Citizenship and Entry into Israel law. The law prevents spouses in the West Bank or Gaza from gaining permanent resident status in Jerusalem. It also complicates the process of acquiring residency for children born to families where one parent is without Jerusalem residency.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child entitles every child the right to registration immediately after birth.
Despite this, birth registrations for 2,569 Palestinian children in East Jerusalem were rejected, suspended, or left pending between January 1, 2013 and July 31, 2017, according to data obtained by Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC).
In addition, Israel processes paperwork granting permanent residency for Palestinians at a painfully slow rate. JLAC reported that child registration applications took four to five years, on average, in the same period.
The total number of Palestinians living without legal status in East Jerusalem is difficult to determine since these individuals largely live under the radar. They face great difficulty accessing services that require residency documents as a prerequisite, such as education or acquiring permits to build a home.
If Palestinians build or add on to a house in East Jerusalem without acquiring an Israeli permit, they run the risk of facing a demolition at a later time and becoming homeless.
Between January 1, 2016 and April 5, 2018, 77 Palestinian residential structures were demolished, sealed off or confiscated because of a lack of permit, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Consequently, 505 Palestinians were displaced, including 265 children.
Lack of official status is only one of several factors which make Palestinians vulnerable to Israeli demolitions and evictions. Discriminatory property and zoning laws, punitive demolitions, and violent settler home takeovers, all eat away at the resilience of Palestinian communities in Jerusalem.
Those that manage to remain are packed into overcrowded areas where the city underfunds or outright denies services.
When Palestinians in Jerusalem protest these circumstances, Israeli forces frequently respond with excessive force. In 2017, Israeli forces used crowd control weapons, often in unsanctioned and dangerous ways, as well as live ammunition to quash demonstrations in East Jerusalem.
When Palestinians in Jerusalem protest these circumstances, Israeli forces frequently respond with excessive force.
If detained, Palestinians juveniles in East Jerusalem can expect protections held out by Israel’s Youth Law to pass them by.
Palestinian children found guilty of a crime like stone-throwing can likewise expect to get hit with exceedingly harsh sentences.
For Palestinians in Jerusalem, the city is not a glossy brochure promising respite and culinary delights. It is a punishing place, always dangling a carrot and a stick.
CHAPTER 2 Israel’s legal protection void for Palestinian children in Jerusalem
The old stone walls of Mascobiyya detention center stand covered in barbed wire, wedged between the two realities of East and West Jerusalem. Palestinian teenager Mahdi Q. is sitting blindfolded and bound on the floor of an Israeli interrogation room. It’s 6 a.m. on a Tuesday.
He was detained from his bed two hours earlier, on November 14, 2017. “Israeli police forces stormed the house. I was shocked when they woke me up and ordered me to get up because they were going to arrest me,” Mahdi told Defense for Children International - Palestine.
“I changed my clothes very quickly and said goodbye to my family. They tied my hands with a single plastic cord and took me out of the house,” the boy said.
The police drove around the Palestinian Silwan neighborhood, located in East Jerusalem, for around an hour with the 14-year-old in the back seat before taking him to Mascobiyya. He would soon suffer physical abuse during a two-hour interrogation without the presence of a parent or lawyer, and spend 10 days in detention.
Mahdi was born and raised in East Jerusalem. Unlike the rest of the occupied West Bank where Israel applies military law, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem live under civilian law. This distinction dates back to 1967, when Israeli illegally and unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem.
Last year, Israeli forces carried out 472 search and arrest operations across Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and arrested 1,217 Palestinians.
Mahdi was among at least 322 Palestinian children detained in Jerusalem last year, OCHA told DCIP. These children’s rights should be protected by Israel’s Youth Law. In theory, it provides special safeguards and protections to children in conflict with the law, in recognition of children’s unique vulnerability and needs.
Mahdi was among at least 322 Palestinian children detained in Jerusalem last year, OCHA told DCIP.
Two key protections of this law include advance notice before questioning takes place, and the presence of a parent or adult family member during questioning.
But law enforcement can legally side-step these safeguards under exceptional circumstances, according to clauses found within the Youth Law as well as the Criminal Procedure Law. By definition, exceptional circumstances meriting the removal of these protections should be statistically rare, with most children receiving the protections the law sets out.
In practice, however, Israeli police are routinely depriving Palestinian children of the protections in the Youth Law, often, through the overuse of exception clauses. Such misapplication of the law has created a protection void at the implementation level, leaving Palestinian children in Jerusalem vulnerable to rights abuses during detention.
Mahdi’s arrest well illustrates these risks. Instead of advance notice and interrogation in the presence of a family member, he was arrested in the middle of the night and physically assaulted while alone with an interrogator.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) expanded on the purpose of the Youth Law’s ninth article, which calls for the use of summons in the arrest of a minor, in a 2011 report. “The use of summonses for questioning, carried out in an orderly manner, is particularly important in the investigation of minors, since it allows the young person to mentally prepare for the interrogation, and allows the parents to make the necessary arrangements so they can accompany their son or daughter and be present during questioning,” explained ACRI.
The police said they detained Mahdi at night due to security concerns, according to Mahdi's lawyer, DCIP’s Farah Bayadsi. Israeli police had received an arrest warrant the night before they detained the child, based on secret evidence, Bayadsi said.
But Bayadsi said the 14-year-old could not have posed an immediate threat when he was sleeping in his bed at the moment of arrest. Moreover, the offense he was accused of had taken place more than two weeks earlier, Bayadsi added.
Bayadsi also said Israeli police claimed to have filed a form explaining the reason meriting denying parental presence during his interrogation. However, Bayadsi was not permitted to view the form.
The presence of family member during interrogation can help guard against other rights abuses. With this protection removed, Mahdi was interrogated alone.
Mahdi was able to speak to a lawyer over the phone for a few minutes prior to his interrogation. However, under the Youth Law, the right to legal counsel does not extend into the period of interrogation, in contravention of international law principles.
“No one was in the interrogation room except the interrogator and me," Mahdi told DCIP.
The interrogator accused him of throwing Molotov cocktails but Mahdi denied it. “He slapped me and shouted at me, telling me to confess. I had to confess because I was afraid he might hit me again,” Mahdi said.
“He slapped me and shouted at me, telling me to confess. I had to confess because I was afraid he might hit me again,” Mahdi said.
The interrogator forced Mahdi to sign a confession in Hebrew that he did not understand, according to Mahdi’s testimony to DCIP. Bayadsi said this statement was later used against Mahdi in court, even though she raised the issue of the coercive measures used to acquire the confession before the court. He was placed on house arrest with a bail payment of NIS 2,000 ($580) on November 24.
Cases like Mahdi’s, where “exceptional circumstances” bypassed critical safeguards the Youth Law lays out, should be few and far between. However, DCIP analysis of 53 cases of Palestinian children detained from East Jerusalem by Israeli forces between between 2016 and 2017 found “exceptions” were routine.
Only four of these children received a summons or advance notice prior to interrogation.
Instead, Israeli police arrested approximately 40 percent of these children from their homes at night, between midnight and 6 a.m. Some 80 percent of these children were detained on suspicion of throwing stones or Molotov cocktails, like Mahdi. While Israeli law allows an officer to detain a child on the spot if the officer witnesses the offense, Bayadsi said these same offenses do not warrant arresting a child from bed, hours or days after the fact.
Significantly, only one of the 53 children had a parent present during interrogation. The interrogator asked this parent to leave after a portion of the questioning, then continued to question the child alone in the room.
These practices expose children to a host other risks and abuses, including physical violence, torture, coercion, and the long-term impacts of trauma.
Of the 53 children, DCIP documented 18 cases where children suffered physical abuse during the interrogation phase, including the use of stress positions.
The prohibition against torture applies to any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person to obtain information or a confession, under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
More than half of the children were subjected to verbal abuse, threats, or intimidation during interrogation. These included vulgar language, threats to detain family members, death threats, and threat of sexual assault or other forms of violence.
At the end of interrogation, the majority of the children signed documents in Hebrew, a language many Palestinian children cannot read.
In its updated form, the Youth law was meant to recognize the “importance of the use of legal tools for the purpose of the defense of minors,” and bring Israel’s juvenile justice standards in line with international law and principles.
Under the Conventions on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the arrest of a child should be a last resort and for the shortest appropriate duration of time. The child’s best interests should be the primary consideration guiding treatent of a child deprived of his or her liberty.
The CRC also provides that children should not be “compelled to confess” and prohibits any “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
However, Israeli police’s treatment of these 53 children from East Jerusalem stops miles short of these provisions, as set out by the CRC, which Israel signed in 1991.
“In practice, these exceptions have became the general norm,” Bayadsi said. “The result is a system that protects Palestinian children in Jerusalem deprived of their liberty on paper, but not in real life.”
CHAPTER 3 Drawn over and dug under, Silwan is a community at risk
Cracks mysteriously appeared one day in the walls of the Abu Rmeileh’s 21-year-old family home in the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood of Silwan, East Jerusalem. At first the father of five, Ashraf, thought the cracks were from normal wear and tear. He made repairs. But months later, more cracks surfaced.
These spread and deepened, stretching out in long lines across whole rooms. The floor tiles, previously in a tight grid, began to buckle and pop loose.
“We used to hear drilling sounds,” Abu Rmeileh’s 17-year-old son, Mohammad, later told Defense for Children International - Palestine. “The situation was very worrying and frightening.”
Abu Rmeileh turned to the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood information center for answers. There, he learned that active Israeli archaeological excavation was taking place directly beneath his house.
The excavations were part of an Israeli settler sponsored project, “King David’s Garden.” The project, which was sanctioned by Jerusalem’s mayor, aims to uncover evidence of ancient biblical gardens. When complete, King David’s Garden will be an Israeli archeological tourist park with a large visitor center.
It’s no secret that shifts in soil can compromise the integrity of stone masonry, the primary type of residential structure in Silwan. Journalists and rights groups have reported on multiple occasions that excavations under Silwan have resulted in damage to Palestinian schools and homes.
As time went on, fissures emerged and the floor tilted.
The family sought the expertise of engineers and inspectors to see whether there was anything they could do to save the house. Each of them deemed the house uninhabitable and urged the family to move out.
They were not wrong. As time went on, fissures emerged and the floor tilted. One day, a section of the living room ceiling collapsed, narrowly missing Mohammad.
With sadness, the family packed up their belongings.
Archaeological projects are only one of a bevy of Israeli activities, laws, and policies that are creating unequal access to land and shelter for Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
Although East Jerusalem is Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) under international law, Israel considers it part of its own territory, since militarily seizing the area in 1967. International bodies never recognized the annexation.
The UN Security Council reaffirmed in 1968 that the “acquisition of territory by military conquest is inadmissible.” Resolution 252 also called any attempt to change the status of the city “invalid.”
Israel nonetheless began occupying and administering East Jerusalem with a stated goal of maintaining a Jewish demographic majority in Jerusalem.
Today, discriminatory property laws, zoning plans, home demolitions, evictions and settler activities all chip away at Palestinian presence in the city.
Today, discriminatory property laws, zoning plans, home demolitions, evictions and settler activities all chip away at Palestinian presence in the city.
Under Israel’s zoning plans, Palestinians residential construction can only take place in 9.18 of the 70.51 square kilometers of East Jerusalem.
The rest is zoned for green space, public infrastructure, expropriated for illegal Israeli settlements, or is unplanned, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Silwan “is almost without additional building possibilities,” reported Bimkom, an Israeli rights group that focuses on spatial planning.
Murad Abu Shafe, the head of the land and real estate committee in Silwan, estimated that roughly three percent of Palestinian homes in Silwan have building permits.
The rest, including Abu Rmeileh’s, were built without Israeli permits. This means there is no legal recourse for damage to unpermitted structures like Abu Rmeileh’s from archaeological excavations.
It also means many in Silwan are at risk of displacement. Home demolitions are one of the central methods Israel uses to enforce its planning zones and associated permitting process.
Last year, Silwan was one of the neighborhoods most impacted by Israeli home demolitions, OCHA reported. Across the city, Israel demolished 142 Palestinian structures.
Settler groups are also forcing Palestinians in Silwan and other East Jerusalem neighborhoods out of their homes. At times, these take the form of violent home takeovers.
Other times, settler groups use legal court battles to evict Palestinians. In 1970, Israel passed a law allowing Israeli citizens who lost properties in 1948 to reclaim these properties. No parallel law allows Palestinians to regain properties lost in the same period.
Sheikh Jarrah, approximately 2.5 miles north from Silwan, is a notable example of how this law is displacing Palestinians.
“Our house is under threat of eviction,” said Motaz H., from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. His family has been living in the same home since 1961, before Israel illegally and unilaterally annexed Jerusalem, in a move that international bodies never recognized. Watch his story. #OtherJerusalemPosted by The Other Jerusalem on Monday, June 25, 2018
At the end of 2016, 24 structures and 66 households in Sheikh Jarrah had eviction cases filed against them. If carried out, the evictions will impact a total of 263 Palestinians, including 92 children. Another 114 households in other Palestinian parts of East Jerusalem are also at risk, including five in Wadi Hilweh.
When DCIP visited the Abu Rmeileh family in March of 2018, they were renting a house in another part of Silwan. Abu Rmeileh said he had taken a second job at night to afford the high rent.
Mohammad said it had not been easy to adapt. “I hope that we can find a solution for our home, and that my family and I return to it again and live there without any danger.”
CHAPTER 4 Scavenging for schools in East Jerusalem
It’s a regular day at Al-Nithamieh Girls’ School in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina. When a teacher calls for order, the students squeeze themselves into one of the school’s most overcrowded classrooms.
“Nadeen, Nadeen, move the book!” the teacher calls to a student. Schoolgirls instinctively pull books and papers off their desks as another girl scrambles across desktops to reach her seat. They are sardine-packed five to a table that is just wide enough to fit a textbook. Walking space between the desks is nonexistent.
The school is among eight recently visited by DCIP across East Jerusalem, six public and two private. Every administrator reported that they struggle with severe overcrowding and have done so for decades.
Jerusalem’s municipality estimates a shortfall of 2,000 classrooms for East Jerusalem students, rights group Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) reported. As a result, municipal public schools only serve 41 percent of the Palestinian student population, according to ACRI. And they are bursting at the seams.
In the tightest classroom at Al-Nithamieh Girls school, a 15-square-meter (161-square-foot) classroom holds 26 students and 1 teacher, yielding approximately half a square meter (6 square feet) per student.
Administrators told DCIP they are forced to turn new students away.
“I can't really say that I receive a good education, despite the teacher’s great efforts,” said Reem Ghuneimat, a 16-year-old student at the school. “The classroom is really not suitable. It’s a stressful environment because of overcrowding.”
Under international law, access to education is a human right for children. Israel, as the Occupying Power in East Jerusalem, must ensure this right for Palestinians there.
Israel does not deny responsibility for Palestinian children’s education in the city, either. Israel’s High Court of Justice in 2011 stated that both the Jerusalem Municipality and the state had repeatedly failed to build enough public school classrooms to serve East Jerusalem students, in violation of Palestinian children's’ right to education.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat famously called Jerusalem’s residents “ all my children” in a 2017 interview and pledged to “close gaps for all neighborhoods.”
So why are classrooms still so hard to come by?
Israel’s discriminatory development plans and budgeting toward the Palestinian education sector in East Jerusalem have effectively barred proper growth. As a result, Palestinian children end up in some mix of sub-optimal scenarios: packed into overflowing schools, studying in inadequate or unpermitted facilities, pushed into tuition-based schools, or out of education all together.
Discriminatory planning and spending
In order to build or expand a public school, a permit must be obtained. However, permits may only be granted in line with existing development plans. Just 2.6 percent of all land in East Jerusalem is zoned for public buildings in Palestinian areas, according to Ir Amim. Under such limited zoning, legal construction of new schools is near impossible.
While more than half of the city’s classroom shortfall is in East Jerusalem, just 16 percent of the funding that the Jerusalem Municipality requested for classrooms went to East Jerusalem in 2017, according to Ir Amim.
The East Jerusalem schools that do exist are scrapped together, wedging students in wherever there is space. They often fail to resemble schools.
Five out of the eight schools surveyed by DCIP, including four public schools, were inside of or included buildings that were not originally designed to be schools.
Half of the schools that DCIP visited completely lacked libraries and computer labs.
East Jerusalem’s Al-Fata Al-Lajia Girls School - C is one of them. The school was established in a multi-purpose building that also houses a mosque. The 113 students who attend the school must enter through a shared public entrance that opens onto a busy main street.
“What we need is a new building designed and equipped as a school,” the school administrator told DCIP. “What prevents the school from meeting the full range of students’ needs is the lack of space and facilities.”
The school was also among three to report little to no outdoor yard space for sports and games.
Following expansion efforts, three out of eight schools surveyed by DCIP reported their facilities were split between different structures. Al-Nahda School - A, for example, is separated into two buildings in East Jerusalem’s Old City. Students must traverse militarized environments in the ten minutes it takes to reach the other building by foot.
“What we need is a new building designed and equipped as a school,” the school administrator told DCIP.
“It is not safe given the tense and unstable situation in the Old City because there are always Israeli soldiers,” student Rasha Rajabi explained.
Another school DCIP visited, Al-Fata Al-Lajia - D, faces demolition. The school is a converted residential building in the Wadi Al-Joz neighborhood. The top floor, which now holds a computer lab and three classrooms, was built without a permit ten years ago, the school said.
"Every year in November, I get worried and anxious out of fear that the court will decide to carry out the demolition order. It would be a catastrophe and cause psychological and practical difficulties for students in school," the school principal told DCIP.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in March identified eight East Jerusalem schools “at risk of full or partial demolition due to outstanding demolition orders.”
Unofficially recognized schools and the high drop out rate
Between the clear categories of public and private schools, a third distinct type of school exists in Jerusalem: “unofficial recognized” schools. These schools are somewhere between public and private. They are established privately, often by non-governmental organizations, but receive partial municipal funding.
Unofficial recognized schools have burgeoned in the vacuum left by the municipality in East Jerusalem. They are often in converted residences and have been criticized for offering a sub-par education while charging a tuition. About 40 percent of the Palestinian school population in East Jerusalem attend them.
Although this category of school also exists for Jewish students in West Jerusalem, there, unofficially recognized schools function more like schools of choice. Many Palestinians in East Jerusalem are never provided a seat in the free public school system to begin with.
While municipality has fee regulations and caps on unofficially recognized school tuitions, for the 76 percent of East Jerusalem families under the poverty line, this expense may still be insurmountable. Some 17,717 Palestinian children aged between 3 and 18 in Jerusalem are not registered in any known school at all.
Many Palestinians in East Jerusalem are never provided a seat in the free public school system to begin with.
Documentation by Ir Amim shows 33 percent of students in East Jerusalem’s public schools do not complete 12 years of education, compared to under 2 percent in other localities administered by Israel’s Ministry of Education.
Despite the municipality’s neglect of East Jerusalem students, there is one aspect of their schooling that the Israeli authorities do invest in: the curriculum.
The Israeli authorities have attempted to bring Israel’s state curriculum into Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem for many years. In 2017, an Israeli cabinet approved a plan to expand the number of schools in East Jerusalem using Israel’s curriculum with financial incentives for schools that make the switch.
The Israeli Ministry of Education said the aim of the plan was to “improve the quality of education in East Jerusalem.” However, rights groups widely criticized the curriculum for its failure to mention Palestinian history and said it could impact Palestinian children’s connection to their heritage.
To Palestinian students in occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli city authorities have made one message clear: their education is not a priority. As long as the municipal budget marginalizes East Jerusalem school needs and planning zones curb facility possibilities, children across Jerusalem will keep carrying their backpacks to unequal learning spaces.
CHAPTER 5 When you are in Kufr Aqab, you are in Jerusalem and outside of it
The infamous metal cages of Qalandia checkpoint are part and parcel of Yara al-Bargouthi’s regular commute to her secondary school in Jerusalem.
“Everyday I wake up at around 5:20 a.m. I leave the house by 6 a.m. and head to Qalandia checkpoint,” said Yara to Defense for Children International - Palestine.
“Once we reach Qalandia checkpoint, we get off the first bus and enter the security checking area by foot. Then, we get on a bus again, on the other side of the checkpoint.”
Yara said that by the time she reaches school, all she wants to do is sleep.
This was not always the case for school children in Kufr Aqab, a neighborhood on the northeastern edge of Jerusalem. Most of the town’s land lies inside the city’s municipality.
Before Israel erected the separation barrier, sequestering Kufr Aqab from the rest of city, people moved freely between Kufr Aqab and other parts of occupied East Jerusalem. The separation barrier effectively redrew the lines of the Jerusalem, excluding some Palestinian neighborhoods like Kufr Aqab and Shuafat refugee camp.
Today, the 13-year-old girl lives in a kind of municipal “no man’s land.” Garbage flaps in every corner and views of block housing high rises are only interrupted by cars.
Garbage flaps in every corner and views of block housing high rises are only interrupted by cars.
Yara described the area as unsafe, overcrowded, and badly underserved.
In May 2018, DCIP conducted an anonymous survey of 30 children living in Kufr Aqab, including 16 male and 14 female participants. The survey focused on children’s first-hand experiences with municipal service delivery and perceptions of safety.
Of those surveyed, 8 children were 6 - 10 years old, 11 children were 11 - 15 years old, and 11 children were 16 - 17 years old. Due to heightened sensitivities and family’s pereceptions of risks, the survey relied on self-reported, written responses.
Every single child surveyed felt the town’s streets are overcrowded with both cars and people. Roads are frequently left unrepaired and the garbage not collected, 21 children said. Sewage lines are not properly maintained, 19 children said.
Ashraf Thabateh, public relations coordinator for Kufr Aqab, told DCIP that solid garbage in most of the neighborhood is collected four days per week by a contractor hired by the Jerusalem Municipality. The Palestinian Authority only collects garbage in a small area of Kufr Aqab that falls outside of the official Jerusalem municipal lines.
Given the high population density, Thabateh said, the garbage pick up schedule is inadequate. Burning bins of garbage on the street is a frequent scene and the municipality neglects road repair, according to Thabateh.
Another visibly absent service in Kufr Aqab is police oversight. Israeli police only enter the neighborhood for raids and Palestinian police have no jurisdiction.
Most of the children DCIP surveyed, 70 percent, said they did not feel safe in Kufr Aqab. Many routinely heard the sounds of gunshots, with 13 reporting that they heard this sound on a daily basis. Another 13 reported hearing gunshots at least weekly.
“Our house is five minutes away from the separation barrier. On many days, Israeli forces raid the neighborhood when clashes occur and fire live ammunition, rubber bullets, gas and sound bombs in the area,” said Adam Misk, a 15-year-old resident.
Adam pointed out that guns are not only discharged by Israeli forces, but also by armed residents during community conflicts. Overcrowding, he said, has sometimes sparked social tensions.
“The last problem that happened in the neighborhood was between two families who fired at each other because of a parking space,” said Adam.
“I wish that Kufr Aqab could become a beautiful town with clean, broad streets, and spaces between buildings and good parking spaces,” said Adam, “I know it’s almost impossible, but I still wish for it,” he added.
With random gun violence and congested streets, 70 percent of the children surveyed said their main location for play is inside their own homes.
Against such an unwelcoming backdrop, it is hardly surprising that nearly half of the children surveyed said that they wish to leave Kufr Aqab and live on the other side of the separation barrier.interrupted by cars.
Kufr Aqab has become a sanctuary for those seeking to preserve both Jerusalem status and family unity.
But for the 80 percent of surveyed children living in the neighborhood for family unification purposes, such a move would be impossible. Under Israel’s Entry into Israel and Family Unification Law, when a Palestinian with permanent residency in Jerusalem marries a spouse in the West Bank, the spouse and children are not guaranteed Jerusalem residency. Without legal status, even entering the city requires an Israeli permit.
To make matters worse, if the spouse who holds Jerusalem permanent residency status moves beyond the city limits, there is a risk of residency revocation, based on Israel’s “center of life” policy.
As a result, Kufr Aqab has become a sanctuary for those seeking to preserve both Jerusalem status and family unity.
“We live in Kufr Aqab because my mother who carries a Jerusalem ID has applied for a family unification permit in 2005 for my father who carries a West Bank ID ” said Yara.
Others seeking to maintain their Jerusalem residency status but without the financial means to pay city rents also move to Kufr Aqab. An apartment in Kufr Aqab costs roughly half of what it would cost in some parts of East Jerusalem inside of the separation barrier, Thabateh estimated.
Approximately 60,000 Palestinians now live in the Kufr Aqab according to a 2017 report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), with many projecting aggressive population growth in coming years.
To Thabeteh, poor living conditions coupled with the high population growth are bringing the neighborhood to a tipping point. He told DCIP, “If the situation continues as it is here, there will undoubtedly be a disaster.”
CHAPTER 6 Israel draws the curtain on Palestinian dance troupe
Nervous but exhilarated, Ghaleb Shaaban finished fastening the wide belt of his traditional costume. It was his frst big dabkeh performance, a folkloric stomping-based dance that is thought to have originated in old house buildings practices. While many dance dabkeh at weddings, tonight the dance would strike a different note, preserving a collective cultural history.
“When I’m on stage, I feel like I own the world,“ Ghaleb said. “I joined the group because I love dabkeh and love presenting my culture.”
He and the rest of the troupe had been practicing twice a week all year to synchronize their footwork and develop strong lines.
Family and friends had already started gathering the hall in late October 2017 to watch the 16-year-old perform. But when he headed for the stage, an armed member of the Israeli forces ordered him to leave the theater.
“When I saw the soldier, I went back to the changing room to put my regular clothes back on,” Ghaleb told Defense for Children International-Palestine.
“The soldier followed me into the changing room. He pulled me from the back of my neck so aggressively that my button ripped off,” Ghaleb said. “He ordered me to leave and pushed me out of the room.”
Other team members were still in the dressing room, including one of the troupe’s younger members, 13-year-old Hala Maragha.
“Suddenly the coach burst in and told us not to change and to leave the theater,” Hala said. “When we went out of the dressing room, we found around 50 members of the Israeli forces there. We realized that our performance was being banned.”
The forcible cancellation of the performance left the dancers disheartened.
“When we went out of the dressing room, we found around 50 members of the Israeli forces there. We realized that our performance was being banned.”
Hala said that her membership in the Al-Quds Group for Palestinian Folklore meant a lot to her. She had worked hard not to miss any of the practices. “I love our folklore. This group allows me to express my love freely,” Hala told DCIP.
It was not the first time the group had been banned from performing. Nor was it the first time that the doors to the northern Jerusalem-area performance space, Al-Hakawati Palestinian National Theater, were shut by force. In 2013, international media outlets carried the story of Israeli authorities cancelling a children’s puppet festival at the theater.
Israeli authorities frequently close Palestinian cultural institutions and suppress speech, in violation of Palestinians’ right to freedom of expression. Cultural events, artistic performances and social media posts are among activities that Israel heavily scrutinizes and even criminalizes in East Jerusalem.
Al-Hakawati was established in Jerusalem in 1984 as the Palestinian National Theater, to create a safe place for Palestinian creative expression. The theater boasts a diverse range of programming throughout the year, including theater, dance, music and puppet performances. Both children and adults have opportunities to step onto the theater’s beloved wooden stage.
To many locals, it is a cornerstone of cultural life. The theater has also drawn international recognition and praise. But the pursuit of free artistic expression has not be untroubled.
“Throughout the 34 years of Al-Hakawati, it has been forcibly closed an average of three to four times each year,” said Amer Khalil, the director of the theater.
Khalil explained that Israeli authorities have typically shuttered one-off performances or mandated the theater stay closed for a two day period. On rare occasions, Israel has ordered longer closures, lasting up to ten days.
Khalil showed DCIP an example of a closure notice, noting the orders typically cite provisions from the Oslo Accords.
“The reason for the theater’s closure is usually that the activity done or to be done is organized or funded by an unwelcomed and unlicensed group,” Khalil told DCIP. He explained that this “unwelcomed group” is the Palestinian Authority, which often financially supports their performances.
The Palestinian Authority was established in 1994 as a result of the Oslo Accords. Article 3(a) of the Implementation of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (Identification of Activity) Law of 1994 states that no event organized, supported or funded by the Palestinian Authority shall be conducted inside the State of Israel without written approval from Israeli authorities.
Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem following a military takeover in 1967 but the international community never recognized the move. Nonetheless, Israel unilaterally declared East Jerusalem to be part if its territory.
In 2009, Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told the Electronic Intifada that Israel would halt any event taking place in Jerusalem “that is organized or financed or backed by the Palestinian Authority.”
Such actions have widely impacted the ability of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and to enjoy their freedom of speech and expression. According to the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights, at least 32 public institutions and non-governmental organizations in East Jerusalem were temporarily or permanently closed by Israel between 2001 and 2017.
Freedom of expression is a universal right, as indicated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 19 states that this right includes the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
Suppression of freedom of expression is not only seen in closures and bans on Palestinian organizations and performances.
Shows of dissent and direct political speech like demonstrations, critical writings, and social media posts, have landed Palestinians in prison. Israel has held Palestinian children in administrative detention on the basis of social media posts.
Policed speech and beaurocratic assaults on Palestinian spaces are symptoms of all that is going wrong in East Jerusalem.
“It’s really hard to live in a place where you are not allowed to express yourself freely,” said Hala.
Policed speech and beaurocratic assaults on Palestinian spaces are symptoms of all that is going wrong in East Jerusalem. Under Israel’s discriminatory policies and laws, this Palestinian community is under perpetual pressure to live out their lives in shrinking spaces, even as Jewish-only settlements expand around them. They are stuck paying taxes into a municipal pot that will not build classrooms for their children or fill potholes in their streets.
If, in the midst of all this, they gather to dance and sing the old songs, they know the night may be cut short and the audience escorted out.
This piece was originally published by The Other Jerusalem. Republished with permission.