HOUSING, RUBBISH, WALLS AND FAILING INFRASTRUCTURE IN EAST JERUSALEM


’Kufur Aqab: When developers’ greed meets political agendas,’ high-rise housing blocks built in close proximity, with little to no regard for building regulations, October 2017. © Manal Massalha

Subject to racialised planning and zoning policies and treated as foreign immigrants in their own city, where automatic revocation of residency rights applies if they fail to prove that Jerusalem is their centre of life, Palestinians in East Jerusalem live in compromised housing conditions. Their numbers grew from about 69,000 in 1967 – when Israel occupied and unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem – to about 332,000 in 2016. Meanwhile, Israel has failed to meet their basic housing and infrastructure needs. Although they constitute about 38 percent of the city, only 13 percent of the annexed 71 km² has been zoned for development (much of it is already built up), while 35 percent has been confiscated for settlement building and 22 percent designated as green areas where no construction is allowed. The final 30 percent remains unplanned.

‘Exposed electric wires, unfinished windows,’ interiors of an inhabited ten-storey housing block in Shufat Refugee Camp Area, October 2017. © Manal Massalha

Soon after the occupation of East Jerusalem and the expansion of the city’s municipal boundaries, Israel held a population census and granted permanent residency to those physically present at the time of the census. Palestinians who had property/homes within the newly defined boundaries but were absent when the census took place were stripped of their right to return to their homes and to legally live in the city. Permanent residency, a legal status accorded to foreign nationals who wish to reside and work in Israel, is not automatically passed to children or a non-resident spouse, and for Palestinians, it expires if they reside outside of Jerusalem or Israel for a period of seven years or more, or if they obtain citizenship or residency in another country. A Palestinian Jerusalemite married to a Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza has to apply for family unification for his/her spouse, which has become virtually impossible since the passing of the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) in 2003. Since 1967, over 14,500 Palestinians have had their residency revoked.

Maps from The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory

The unmet rise in demand for housing, the conditionality of residency rights, the racialised and unaffordable planning combined with zoning policies designed to privilege the Jewish population of the city render the available housing in East Jerusalem unaffordable for the majority of Palestinian families, 79 percent of whom live below the Israeli poverty line (2016). As a result, many of those living in the Old City and its vicinity experience severe overcrowding, inadequate, dilapidated conditions, or are forced to either build their homes with no construction permits (thus risking criminalisation, large fines, and demolition) or move to Jerusalem neighbourhoods on the West Bank side of the Israeli-constructed concrete wall.

‘“Rats the Size of Cats”: uncollected rubbish in Palestinian neighbourhoods outside the wall,’ October 2017. © Manal Massalha

In 2002, the Israeli government approved the construction of a barrier, citing security concerns. The barrier, also known as the ‘separation wall’ or the ‘apartheid wall,’ consists of a combination of ditches, fences, patrol roads, barbed wires, an electronic monitoring system and a concrete wall in dense urban areas. It runs along 712 km, more than twice the 320-km-long Green Line (1949 armistice line) between Israel and the West Bank. According to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), as of 2017 about 65 percent has been completed. Only 15 percent of the entire planned route will be on the Green Line, while 85 per cent runs inside the West Bank.

The wall in East Jerusalem is between eight and nine metres high. Its route includes all East Jerusalem settlements and the land allotted to their future expansion but leaves out large Palestinian neighbourhoods such as Kufur Aqab and the Shufat Refugee Camp area on the West Bank side of the wall. These neighbourhoods are within the Jerusalem municipal boundaries but are now forcibly severed from the city.

It is estimated that a third of Palestinian Jerusalemites live in Kufur Aqab and the Shufat Refugee Camp area; their access to Jerusalem controlled by military checkpoints. These neighbourhoods are forgotten about by Israeli authorities. Israeli police seldom enter and the Palestinian authority is not allowed in. Neglect, chaos and crime are commonplace. The construction of high-rise buildings goes on unsupervised and unregulated, with little to no regard for health and safety. In the event of an earthquake, United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimates that about 80 per cent of the buildings around the Shufat Refugee Camp will collapse. Meanwhile, sewage overflows into the streets, uncollected rubbish gets burned and the water supply is irregular and insufficient.

‘Walking through the rubble of his demolished home, Jerusalem,’ October 2017. © Manal Massalha

After years of complaints from residents, the Jerusalem municipality subcontracted private businessmen to collect rubbish. The sanitation situation, nonetheless, still falls short of residents’ needs. ‘I have nowhere but the street,’ said a young man who was coming out of his building on the main Kufur Aqab road, carrying in his hand a plastic bag full of rubbish, and accompanied by his wife and baby. ‘Dustbins are either full, overflowing or a long distance away from the building. I can’t keep it at home. I’m left with no choice but to dispose of it in the street’, he complained.

My series ‘Housing, Rubbish, Walls and Failing Infrastructure in East Jerusalem’ consists of a selection of photographs, taken mostly in October 2017, and showcases urban neglect in walled out neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem. The manufactured housing crisis, the compromised housing conditions, and the proliferation of rubbish and physical and bureaucratic walls are all a direct result of Israel’s exclusionary/exclusive character. Defining itself as a Jewish state and a state of the Jews, Israel creates structurally racialised hierarchies in connection with both space and citizens/subjects. It defines membership in society and demarcates the boundaries of who belongs and who does not, and that distinction has real material manifestations.

‘Forced Disrepair: Old City of Jerusalem,’ a Palestinian family’s one-bedroom home rendered uninhabitable as tenants unable to renovate their dilapidated home, October 2017.

© Manal Massalha

Manal Massalha is an urban ethnographer and documentary photographer with a PhD in sociology from the London School of Economics. She is a Postdoc Research Assistant at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit/UCL and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban and Community Research/ Goldsmiths University of London. Her work can be found at manalmassalha.com. Previous versions of this article have appeared fin print in The Middle East in London and then online for Le Monde diplomatique.

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