Today I went back to Shoafat Refugee Camp — the only Palestinian refugee camp inside Jerusalem, and inside Israel (excluding the West Bank and Gaza).
It is still part of the “Greater Jerusalem” area that was unilaterally declared by Israel after its conquest in the June 1967 war.
But it is one of the places in “Greater Jerusalem” that Israel has, de facto, unilaterally now decided to sever from Jerusalem, and turn it back to the West Bank, by the construction of The Wall.
There is also an enormous new “terminal” being built at the Jerusalem edge of the camp — nobody has much information, but residents tell me that a Supreme Court decision allowed construction to continue, ruling only that it should be more “aesthetic”.
Speculation is that the size of the “terminal” under construction means that large trucks will be passing through, as well as passenger cars, emergency vehicles, school busses, public transportation — and pedestrians as well. Of course, nobody knows for sure. But, in the warren of narrow streets inside the already over-crowded area, it is hard to imagine a steady stream of huge trucks carrying construction materials getting through, at least not very easily, and without creating a major nuisance.
Now, the Shoafat Refugee Camp, technically part of Greater Jerusalem, is completely, but completely, cut off from Jerusalem by The Wall, and can only be accessed through a horrid and horrible military checkpoint manned by Border Police personnel and private contractors, all carrying big guns.
In the morning rush hour, when employees (mostly men) need to go to work, or when children need to travel to schools outside Shoafat Refugee Camp, the jam of people who must pass through the checkpoints is enormous, and a mess.
Inside the area, there are now tall buildings being built, on almost every inch of land, because there is no more space inside the cramped area. They are building where houses were previously demolished (now that Shoafat Refugee Camp is surrounded by The Wall, the residents figure the Israelis will not bother to come and demolish any more).
Even more astonishing, it seems that people are leaving the Old City of East Jerusalem, because it is too crowded – but where they at least have freedom of movement — and coming to build apartment buildings or to buy one of the newly-created apartments in or just around the Shuafat Refugee Camp.
These people from the Old City who are moving to Shoafat Refugee Camp would still, technically, be living in Jerusalem, at least up until now. But many Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem fear that this will not continue, as long as Israel continues along its present course, without any change in policy. Of course, because this is a situation of occupation (and, more precisely, according to experts in International Law, this is a belligerent military occupation), there is no published information on which people could make decisions about their lives — there are only rumors.
Another factor creating congestion is the fact that people are moving from the nearby village of Anata, in the West Bank, into the “Dahiet as-Salam” that is sandwiched between Shoafat Refugee Camp and Anata. One resident of Dahiet as-Salam said that many West Bankers, even including a number of petty criminals, are moving into his neighborhood in order (1) to be able to claim they are living in Jerusalem because those living in Dahiet as-Salam pay the Jerusalem City Tax, or Arnona, which is one of the requirements to have a “Blue” or Jerusalem ID, and (2) to be able to avoid the jurisdiction of Palestinian Authority security and other law enforcement officials. Of course, the Israeli Army and Border Police can go anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (and between Lebanon and the Egyptian Sinai) — but, now that The Wall is doing part of their job (or so they believe), they generally stay away these days.
It is a really amazing and disturbing sight — the people inside are full of life, and living lives of quiet joy (thought young men are having a particularly hard time, see below, as are the even younger women they are marrying). From what I saw, many camp residents are there because they are loving their family and friends, and defying what fate has dealt them so far.
Yousef M., who kindly agreed to show me around his community, said that he did not want to leave, because the human solidarity that he finds within the camp does not exist outside.
Yet, tomorrow, there will be an event at the camp’s Women’s Center. Diplomats are expected. Palestinian notables are expected. Many invitees will be there. And they will hear that in a survey of women’s needs, 70% of the respondents said that drug rehabilitation programs are their number one priority. There is a serious drug problem in the camp. It’s not hard to wonder why. The young men are so frustrated, there is no where to go, the future is so uncertain, the injustice is so enormous, and the pressure is so great.
And, residents of Shoafat Refugee Camp report, though drugs most often are coming from the West Bank, drugs sales go on right in front of the Israeli checkpoints, with absolutely no control or interference from the armed Israeli personnel on the spot.
Meanwhile, two Israeli human rights organizations — the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICHAD), and Rabbis for Human Rights — issued a statement today noting that “twenty thousand (20,000) Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem housing 180,000 people currently have demolition orders”
That means that two-thirds of all Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are living in fear that their houses might be demolished.
The joint statement noted that “The Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem himself, Yakir Segev, revealed that in 2008 only 18 permits were issued for building in the Palestinian parts of the city, home to some 270,000 Palestinians. It was the Municipality’s policy of granting so few permits that was driving Palestinians to construct illegally. ‘To get a construction permit in East Jerusalem you have to be more than a saint’, said Segev”.
Even more shocking are these figures, particularly the amount of the fines, according to the joint statement: “In 2008 the Municipality demolished 87 Palestinian homes, issued 959 demolition orders and collected $3.6 million/€2.5 million in fines from Palestinians, 70% of whom live below the poverty line“.
The joint statement was issued in response to an announcement, yesterday, that the Jerusalem Municipality is considering a freeze on the demolition of 70% of “the so-called ‘illegal’ Palestinians homes built without a permit”.
The joint statement added that “While we welcome any change of policy that reduces home demolitions, we must protest the continuation of that policy, even if parts of it are ‘frozen’.
The two human rights groups noted that “Freezing the demolition of 70% of them means that 6,000 homes would still be slated for demolition. In fact, the Municipality has indicated that it intends to remove completely those 6,000 homes. It seems to believe that offering compensation will legitimize that action … This is not merely a game of numbers. Lying behind the plan is the intent to leave intact ‘unauthorized’ Palestinian homes in areas of East Jerusalem of little interest to Israel – those on the periphery of the city in particular – while targeting those in areas that Israel wishes to annex. The targeted 30% are therefore in the most politically sensitive areas subject to conflict: the Old City, the Silwan area adjacent to the al-Aqsa mosque (already renamed the ‘City of David’), the Mount of Olives, Sheikh Jarrah and other strategic locales … We call on the Jerusalem Municipality and the Government of Israel to end their policy of demolishing Palestinian homes altogether, whether in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza – or inside Israel, where the homes of Palestinian and Bedouin citizens of Israel are also targeted”.