The aim of the series is to formulate a social and infrastructural profile of the neighborhoods based on a variety of spheres of life, including population and society, institutions, economy and services.
"So little is known about East Jerusalem – its infrastructures, institutions or even the fabric of its society," explained JIIS' Prof. Yitzhak Reiter. "What is known is that the reality there is highly problematic and requires urgent attention." The Israeli-Palestinian research team, which Reiter heads, is focusing on details at the neighborhood level for this study, aware that each neighborhood has a different character in terms of population, demographics, economy and other factors.
This project includes the gathering of social information; mapping the various neighborhoods’ needs regarding infrastructures and services; pooling of databases in the areas of demography, employment, transportation, infrastructure, services and more. Contributing their views to the project are local leaders (mukhtars, or traditional village heads, and an emerging new leadership) as well as planners, engineers and other experts.
"The population is torn between its relationships with the Palestinian cities around Jerusalem and its place under Israel's rule; the residents' status [vis-à-vis residency/citizenship] remains unclear even after all these years." There is also political and economic hardship, with the authorities allocating scant funds here to benefit the residents. "The problems are predominantly felt in a dire lack of housing in East Jerusalem and the enormous bureaucratic hurdles one must jump to solve those problems." Each year, only a certain number of new apartments become available for the rapidly growing population but many more are needed. Other significant hurdles the locals face include a lack of basic infrastructures (roads, public parks, etc.), a dearth of welfare offices, activities for youth, etc.
The speakers at the event agreed that the current municipality is doing more for this population than did its predecessors, but that the real responsibility lies with the government and its lack of clear policy that affects the residents of East Jerusalem.
Naser Abu Leil, an urban planner in Beit Hanina and a member of the research team, said that due to the atmosphere of politics in all that concerns East Jerusalem, he hesitated before joining the team. He outlined several of the obstacles the local population faces daily. For example, Israel's security barrier has disrupted communication between Beit Hanina and the original village from which today's large neighborhood grew, thereby harming its development. Moreover, more than half of Beit Hanina's lands have been taken for new Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, while infrastructure and planning problems have not been addressed for the Arab residents.
Ramadan Dabbash, head of the Community Administration in Sur Baher, added that the residents pay taxes but see no investment in their quarters.
David Koren, the mayor's adviser on East Jerusalem, acknowledged that for the city's Arab residents it is harder to get things done because they do not have ready access to the Israeli authorities. Also, the security fence has created an obstacle in that there are now parts of East Jerusalem that are beyond the fence but still within the municipality's jurisdiction. The city, he said, finds it difficult to provide services there and, he conceded, not enough is being done there.
Additional neighborhood studies are currently underway. These in-depth reports will provide decision makers and others with knowledge and data that were simply never available previously. They are also aimed at influencing the setting of policy in a manner that will strengthen these neighborhoods. Among the researchers' recommendations thus far are: encouraging the operation of community centers in the neighborhoods; allowing the residents to have a say in the physical development of their quarter; and finding solutions to problems about property ownership and distribution.