Everyone I spoke with in the city, including cab drivers, transit riders, store clerks, clergy and religious leaders, retired Jewish women my age, long-time Israeli-Americans who raised their children in Jerusalem, a tour leader, and a Palestinian resident who is a 3rd generation resident of the Old City, EVERYONE told me in so many words that life is very difficult now and they don’t have hope that “the situation” is going to get any better in the future.
My next question was “Why no hope?”
Some laid the blame squarely on Bibi and his government. Others said the blame was shared by both Bibi and Abbas. A couple mentioned the complicity of the U.S. and the international community for allowing “the situation” to deteriorate to this extreme and not forcing Israel to change course. Although I’ve read and seen photos of “Greater Jerusalem” and the high security wall snaking through the landscape, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw and heard on my last day in Jerusalem. I joined a 4-hour study tour conducted by Ir Amim which focused on planning and development policies in the “Greater Jerusalem” area.As a city planner who entered the profession 35 years ago in the United States with the noble goal of creating safe, just and sustainble communities, I felt personally devastated that the planning profession in Israel has been co-opted in such a brutal and disgusting fashion. The land use and development facts and figures shared on the Ir Amim tour are damning evidence of the politicians using the planning profession as their private whores. Read: Trapped by Planning: Israeli Policy, Planning and Development in the Palestinian Neighborhoods of East Jerusalem (2014) to get a clear picture of “the situation” on the ground from a planning context. Israeli planners are proficient at preparing plans for Jewish settlements but have failed to make any plans to meet the growth and natural expansion of Arab communities within “Greater Jerusalem.” Building permits fly out the window for Israelis (nearly 51,000 since 1967) while it’s nearly impossible for a Palestinian to get a building permit from City Hall (less than 4,000 issued since 1967).
In 2008, the Palestinians in “Greater Jerusalem” finally said “enough is enough” and hired architects, planners and lawyers to prepare community plans for the Arab communities. They submitted 190 town plans but only 125 building permits have been issued in response to these plans.
The YMCA in Jerusalem shares a hopeful message but I wonder how it resonates with the majority of people in Jerusalem, both Jews and Arabs.
One-third of the population of Jerusalem is Palestinian but only 12% of the city budget goes to Palestinian neighborhoods. That’s why I saw playgrounds and parks, sidewalks and recycling, schools and community centers in well-maintained Jewish neighborhoods, while the Palestinian neighborhoods nextdoor have no sidewalks, potholes in the streets, overflowing trash dumps, not enough classrooms so parents are now paying their neighbors to educate their children, and certainly no community centers or clinics. If I was a planner in Jerusalem, I might resort to guerilla tactics to upset the status quo at city hall.
This Palestinian shopkeeper in the Old City showed me his family tree written in Arabic. His family’s heritage and long history in Jerusalem are under attack and he doesn’t have any hope for the future. I left the city with a very heavy heart, not sure if I’ll ever be able to return but not sure I ever want to.