Posted on 24th July 2012, by & filed under Demographic Balance, Discrimination, East Jerusalem, Ideas, Jerusalem Master Plan, Meir Margalit, Meir Margalit.

The recently published Jerusalem master plan is an instructive document of some historical importance, seemingly setting out to introduce a degree of order and justice in a city which up to now was managed on the basis of an outdated and irrelevant plan dating back to 1959. However, the chapter dealing with East Jerusalem unfortunately bears witness to the manner in which prejudice, stereotypes and erroneous assumptions can so easily take over and penetrate the thinking of the professional elites in their work.


While the document makes a sincere effort to grapple with the difficulties of planning and construction in East Jerusalem, it suffers from a ‘closed circle’ syndrome, within which it is subordinate to those very same basic concepts which created the current planning chaos. No wonder, then, that the document suggests a variety of cosmetic solutions and recycles worn out ideas. These are totally impractical since they go back to those paradigms whereby we have reached the impasse, which the document would undo. It can be assumed that these ideas, which in the past led the Eastern city into its present dead end, will also be unable in the future to provide it with a way out.



The Jews know better’

Where do the problems of treating the subject of East Jerusalem start? First, in that the 39 professional workers who put the plan together, and 31 members of the steering committee, include only one Arab, and even this only following strong public pressure. Second, not only do the East Jerusalem Arabs receive negligible representation in the body whose task was to plan their lives: neither did the planners deem it necessary to hear the views of alternative bodies which held different opinions from the Jerusalem Municipality.


This paternalistic and arrogant approach is the core of the Municipality’s policy in the Eastern part of the city. The Jews know what is good for the Arabs and are more capable of running their lives. This is not a new approach in the wide world and it is characteristic everywhere of colonial regimes which believe that the ‘natives’ are worthy neither of suitable representation nor of being masters of their own fate. The planning team apparently sets out from the assumption that in any case, one is dealing with a Jewish city and therefore there is no reason to ask the opinion of anyone who does not belong to the Jewish people. This is the sort logic according to which a repair contractor knows that he should confer on the repairs with the owner of the house and not with the tenant who is living there.


So it ensues that once again, the East Jerusalem Arabs are not partners in decision making, neither at the political level (which is said to be largely their own fault because of their refusal to participate in municipal elections) nor at the professional level. This approach, which is manifestly contrary to every professional standard both in community work and in urban planning, would never have been accepted it were to be applied to the Jewish public. While the style of life of the Arab community is dictated regardless of their real needs by the overwhelmingly Jewish planners, basic principles in work with communities, like strengthening the status of the residents and encouraging their independence, are altogether missing in the Eastern city. Since this is the basic approach of the planners, as it continues the document is inevitably replete with unfounded and defective operational proposals.



What lies behind illegal consruction?

The chapter called ‘The existing situation’ lays down that the present planning chaos in the Eastern city is the result of the growing illegal construction which is directed by ’both political and economic factors’. In other words, it is the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and criminals or businessmen without a conscience and out for easy profits, who stand behind the illegal construction and back it up. It is as if the Eastern city has no legitimate needs, as if there is no real distress, as if there are no ordinary families seeking to acquire a roof over their heads who are compelled to built without permits because, having tried everything, they come against a wall of bureaucratic imperviousness. The politicians and businessmen in the Eastern city are presented as building only so as to undermine Israeli rule or to make easy money.


This is a theory of conspiracy like ‘The protocols of the elders of East Jerusalem’. Every additional house built without a permit is conceived as another brick in the wall of struggle over the control of Jerusalem. Like it or not, every room, every balcony, every tree becomes part of a worldwide plot. Money from the Palestinian Authority or from Saudi Arabia or from Hamas supports the building of every house and every tile on the floor is comparable to a terrorist bomb. Every householder is viewed as a saboteur waging a war of attrition against Israeli rule. In the eyes of the planning team in East Jerusalem, there is not a building without political motivation in a reality of land grabbers and cunning politicians.


Such a superficial approach is to surprising in light of the criticism expressed, not without hesitation, in the document itself on the prevalent statutory situation in the Eastern city. The document explicitly states that a resident there requesting a building permit faces many difficulties because of the lack of a suitable engineering infrastructure, problems of registering land, almost insoluble difficulties in joining and dividing lands, and the lack both of reasonable budgets and of any agreed planning policy between the planning authorities. But none of these appear in the planners’ eyes to provide sufficient justification for illegal construction. In spite of the difficulties noted in the document, the planning team still thinks that the central problem is is to be found in ‘the disregard by the residents of the planning and construction law on the one hand, and on the other hand, in the major weakness of the enforcement mechanism’.


The writers of the document seem convinced that the Arabs are a mob which is not prepared to honor the law since they are known from birth to be lawbreakers. It is significant that those responsible for the document did not consider the possibility that the Arabs are forced to build illegally for those very reasons enumerated by the writers in the same document, namely all those difficulties and obstacles which make it absolutely impossible to receive a permit. At the same time, the authorities are said to have ‘failed in their task’ because they did not enforce the law with a heavier hand, or in other words did not demolish more houses or impose more severe punishment on transgressors. This fits the prevalent assumption that the Arabs understand only the language of force and with them, what can’t be achieved by force can only be achieved by more force.



A Jewish majority

The fundamental defect of the document stands out in the chapter dealing with the goals of the new master plan, which remain, as before ‘ preserving a firm Jewish majority in the city’, in terms of 70% Jews, 30% Arabs. The team is indeed aware that the goal is unattainable and that present demographic trends will result within years in a 60%-40% ratio. Nevertheless the document makes a considerable effort to preserve the Jewish majority through a series of plans designed to attract Jews to the city and stem the negative emigration from it. A series of seemingly positive proposals raised in the document as regards the Jews deal with the improvements necessary to encourage them to remain in the city. Not a single sentence in the document suggests getting rid of the Arabs in order to preserve the demographic balance.


However, anyone reading between the lines observes a concealed message. In what is called ‘the future picture desired by the City Fathers’ one cannot but receive an impression that behind the document lies an attempt to restrict the natural increase of the Arabs in the Eastern city. With their historical experience, the planning team understands that this cannot be achieved through doing away with all the firstborn sons but the plan assumes that by restricting the Arabs’ living space, they will be compelled to leave the city and move into places in the periphery where they will be able to build without restriction.

This, it will be recalled, was the premise behind the Interior Ministry’s previous attempts to deny residency rights and confiscate blue identity cards from Arabs who could not prove that Jerusalem was ‘the center of their lives’.(The required amount of documentary proof was deliberately made unattainable). However,.this policy of restricting the Arab presence in Jerusalem acted like a boomerang. If the policy makers had been familiar with Arab tradition, they would have known that the Arabs would not leave their land so easily. When the state refuses a building permit, they simply build without a permit. In the end, those who wanted to solve the demographic problem were left with two problems: the demographic and the urban.



Demographic balance

There is another shocking clause which appears in the document in order to restrict Arab demographic growth: a proposal aiming to prevent Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) from entering Jerusalem. An apparently naïve formulation which lacks any trace of racism, in effect denies the Arabs freedom of movement, one of the central values of a democratic regime. An even more elementary right – family reunion – is likewise denied. The state already refuses to grant residency rights in Jerusalem to an Arab Jerusalemite married to a man or woman from the OPT, compelling them to live without rights in the city, under the threat of arrest or deportation. There can be no doubt that the planning team, composed of intelligent people who may well read Haaretz, is aware that it is legitimizing a grave denial of elementary human rights


Moreover, the team provides professional authorization for this, one of the main injustices existing in the Eastern city. A man from there marrying a woman from the OPT is prevented from living with her in his own home. The state generously allows him to move to the OPT if he wishes to live with her, but this involves the loss of his Jerusalem residency status and the accompanying rights. The state is not concerned that in Arab tradition the woman lives in her husband’s house because he is considered to be a ticking demographic bomb. Her womb would appear to threaten the sacred demographic balance and to endanger Jewish sovereignty in the city.


Once again, however, the policy makers did not correctly evaluate the strength of tradition and failed to appreciate that it is stronger than the Interior Ministry’s regulations. These families live in the city regardless of the policy of the authorities. For its part, the state has found an original way of facing the demographic threat. Ostrich-like, it simply ignores the existence of such families and excludes them from the family registry. About 20,000 men and women live in East Jerusalem without their names appearing in the family registry. Mainly women and their children, the latter do not even appear in the identity cards of their mothers, which would enable them to receive their children’s allowance. Thus the state can deceive the statistics, for if these people are not registered they do not exist. What is amazing is that the planning team is aware of the real numbers but prefer to overlook them. When through demographic considerations there is a failure to recognize the situation on the ground, all the accompanying statistics are erroneous and misleading.


The embarrassing chapter dealing with the so-called demographic balance is an absolute disgrace. While one can understand why for their own reasons politicians fixed their signature to it, it is hard to grasp how cultured professional men from whom one might expect an objective approach, could sign such a racist and discriminatory document. Were such a document to be written in a European state on the need to preserve a demographic balance between Christians and Jews, the whole state of Israel would noisily accuse it of anti-semitism. Here, the demographic bug overcomes any sense of reason so that li
beral and progressive academics lend their hand to a document which openly and unashamedly discriminates against a part of the population on grounds of their national affiliation. In any civilized country this would be called racism. In Israel, however, it is not nice to call a Jew a racist for are we ourselves not the ultimate victims of racism? Yet the insufferable ease with which we harp on the demographic argument as a central goal in city planning proves that something has gone wrong in our own application of human values toward others.


Some correct recommendations

It should be noted that alongside the basic defects appearing in the document, there is also a series of correct recommendations, though the degree of their implementation is doubtful. For example, it is rightly recommended to preserve the set-up of regional separation, that is not to mix populations. This would maintain the multi-cultural character of the city and in particular would serve to restrict potential foci of friction. Here the team correctly condemns Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, for rather than the Arabs penetrating into West Jerusalem, the opposite is true. Yet the planners lacked the courage to state who is at fault here. Day by day this recommendation is crudely countered by rightist bodies, both through the massive acquisition of private property over which the Municipality has apparently no control, but also through the establishment of whole new Jewish areas in the heart of Arab neighborhoods. Subsequently, these are almost automatically authorized by the local committee for planning and construction.


There is also a series of further positive recommendations rooted in the reality of the city, such as the welcome proposal to permit a percentage of additional construction so as to allow Arab residents to add further building units on their land. This sort of denser building will cheapen infrastructure costs and facilitate a more correct exploitation of land resources. There is also a positive recommendation to simplify the process of proving ownership so as to make it easier to receive building permits. Actually, so as to overcome problems of land registration in the city, the committee recommends returning to the system adopted until recently by the municipality; this is founded on combining traditional forms of proof – the signature of the village Muchtar and of neighbors – with juridicial proofs – a lawyers’s declaration and payment of property tax.


There is, however, a general feeling that the chapter on East Jerusalem in the document is intended more to meet formal obligations than to deal with actual implementation. When the planners write that any change depends on the direction of adequate resources to East Jerusalem, they know that the state is incapable of doing so, and has no real interest in assuring the necessary budgets for carrying out their plans.


In the light of budgetary cuts for health, education and welfare, there is no prospect of finding the hundreds of millions needed to establish the engineering infrastructure imperative for planned construction. The recommendation to rehabilitate the Shuafat refugee camp is good for the professional conscience but nobody believes that it can be implemented. This is a problem of not only of budget but also of land. Rehabilitating the camp with its 15,000 residents requires finding alternative land in order to destroy the existing set-up and build anew. Funds can be forthcoming from international foundations but there is simply no alternative land on which to rebuild.



The prestige factor

The East Jerusalem master plan arouses trenchant questions regarding the psychological mechanism which enables the authorities to publish such a document, with its racist characteristics, without compun
ction. One is curious to understand what motivated educated and cultured people to back the document, how could the link between professional people and the municipal establishment have produced such a disgraceful result. In short, what engendered the state of mind which transforms progressive people into partners taking responsibility for such a highly problematical document?


A hint may be found in a sentence which is inserted almost imperceptibly into the document. In the chapter on the principles of development policy, among the recommendations there is one mentioned above on increasing the extent of building (‘building percentages’) so as to exploit land resources in East Jerusalem, even though this recommendation ‘touches on a range of reservations as regards other goals defined by those who requested the document’. In other words, the planning team specifically states that the proposal to add ‘building percentages’ clashes with other goals as defined by the ‘customer’, namely the Jerusalem municipality. There would not appear to be anything new in this, for all planning work is pursued within the context of the municipality. The ‘customer’ defines what he wants and the professional body implements it. In this case, the planning team received the ‘customer’s’ assumptions and sets about planning the city in accordance with these basic concepts.


The ensuing dilemma touches upon professional ethics – how far is the planner prepared to go in order to get the work? The dilemma sharpens when the ‘customer’ is a political body with a crystal-clear ideological agenda. In the present case, the answer must take into account how unusually tempting it is for the planners to be involved in such a highly important historical project. Preparing the zoning plan is the sort of prestigious project which comes round once in a lifetime. Such a concentration of all types of professional people dealing with the preparation of a grandiose zoning plan for Israel’s most important city also presents an unusual intellectual challenge, not to speak of providing an impressive addition to the C.V. of every participant. Those from the academic world in the team have a further motivation. They are looking for practical work, close to the ground, which frees them from the fickle image of ivory tower intellectuals. The opportunity of participating in a project of such dimensions furnishes proof that they are not cut off from reality and that their professional education is applied and not only theoretical.


So it comes about that unheedingly, for two reasons outstanding professional people find themselves participating passively as accessories in a crime. First because they accepted the political assumptions of the ‘City Fathers’; and second because as planners they permitted the implementation of a case of virtual dispossession, aware as they were that they would be determining the fate of East Jerusalem without consulting its residents. Neither would they even be giving a hearing to alternative factors which disagree with the ‘customer’, the municipality. Accordingly, these high caliber professionals accepted the municipality’s guidelines, adopted their racist precepts and, last but not least, placed all this under academic auspices. Unwittingly they made a major contribution to the Apartheid regime pertaining in East Jerusalem. Not only, it should be repeated, are these people anything but racists: they have good records as democrats. Nevertheless, in providing a certificate of Kashrut to such a problematical document, they failed to notice that the product stank to high heavens.



Gray racism

This, in fact, is the strength of municipal racism. It is neither brutal nor openly visible, preferring to take cover behind apparently neutral formulations. Thus it is always carefully concealed behind consensus-oriented wording, hidden beneath a thick layer of cosmetic liberal language. Rather than verbal militancy, it disguises itself in soft-sounding phraseology which does not reveal the real intention. This is how a unique term which does not exist in the professional literature was born in our country: ‘gray racism’; this is not a racism stemming from hatred of the ‘other’ but a ‘lite racism’ rooted in a Zionist ideology which strove to be democratic but in giving priority to Jewish interests, inevitably deprived others of their rights. When there is no equality, there is bound to be discrimination and when all those discriminated against are of the same nationality, there is no alternative but to call it what it is – ‘national discrimination’, which belongs to the same family as the infamous racial discrimination.


Moreover, the gray racism of the Jerusalem municipality’s school of thought is sustained by a lack of interest all around, by bureaucracy and by the force of habit. A full complement of municipal officials strengthens this approach without grasping its severity. This involves their promoting a whole set of reasons and excuses enabling them to sleep with clear consciences They know how to argue, for example, that the gaps in Jerusalem society are the result of discrimination over a long period born, starting not in 1967 but under Jordanian rule. Hence the difficulty in reducing them. They hasten to explain that all government budgets for Jerusalem are earmarked, that is they are intended for specific projects which cannot be changed. The blame is therefore always placed not on themselves but on someone else, be it the Jordanians, the Ottomans or Herod the Great.


Nobody is openly discriminated against by this gray racism but in practice the other party is trampled underfoot in order to assure our party’s superiority and control. This sort of racism was born in the minds of rightist circles but it is currently maintained by liberals who offer it backing not so much directly as through their own inertia. The direction is provided by the right, which sets the tone, and the tools of implementation, or content, by the liberals. If it is true as the saying goes that in every person there is a racist devil breathing down his or her neck, then it can be clearly proven that that this also applies to clever and intelligent people involved in the Jerusalem master plan.