Book Review : Discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City.

Book Review :

Discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City

Meir Margalit



What Meir Margalit tries to emphasize on, in his book, are the tricks and manipulations that the Israeli government, represented by its different authorities, each within its own level and capacity, to continue what he describes as “discrimination “ in an organized systemic method.

The discrimination suffered by the residents of East Jerusalem results from the concerted action of a number of State authorities, most outstanding of which are the Ministry of the Interior, the Israel Police, the National Insurance Institute, the Labor Exchange and, of course, the Municipality. Each of these systems does its bit to keep East Jerusalem down, and all are party to its systematic deprivation”. (M. Margalit, discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City, p.11)

The book consists of lots of data up to 2005. This is why it is important to notice that some information is outdated. However, the important fact is to show the discrimination policy that the Israeli government systemizes in the eastern part of Jerusalem.

As Margalit describes in his introduction, it is easy to see the difference between the western sides of the city, by simply walking through the two parts. The observer can easily notice the level of services given in western side, starting from the streets, passing through parks and facilities, and infrastructural maintenance and follow up. “ A walk through its streets suffices to demonstrate how badly deprived that part of the city is, especially compared to the western sector.” M. Margalit, discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City, p,8)

Home demolitions topic for instance, according to the numbers in the book,

“In 2004, 152 buildings had been destroyed in East Jerusalem, of which 128 were demolished by the Municipality and 24 by the Ministry of the Interior. By the end of 2005, 94 more buildings had been destroyed, a figure that is relatively low compared to previous years, however it disguises the fact that the collective area of demolished structures was hugely increased from 9,000 square meters in 2004 to 12,000 square meters in 2005. The demolitions concentrated on large buildings, including four, five and even seven-store structures.”(M. Margalit, discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City .p, 21)

For the observer’s instant view, one would notice that demolition numbers dropped in certain years, but when the observer looks deeper, he realizes that the demolition is done by two authorities, the ministry of interior and the municipality. There is also another category of unmentioned demolitions, which is done by the owners themselves. Which according to Margalit. Is estimated by the same number of the authorities.

“We do not have any figures for houses demolished in this category, but we estimate their number at not much less than those destroyed by the authorities.” (M. Margalit, discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City p22)

The whole issue of demolition takes another drastic level, as the Israeli authorities increased harsher measures, with rightist’s ministers of Interior. Which added apart from the demolition, an increase in the monetary fine, and confiscations of building equipment, as well as imprisonment.

The data, also doesn’t mention the figures cited by the Palestinian sources, since Israel doesn’t consider certain parts of Jerusalem such as Hizma, Bir Nabala and Anata inside the municipal line. However, the demolitions in those areas continue to take place, but the authorities exclude to register. “This discrepancy derives from the different definition of the Jerusalem jurisdiction that Palestinians and Israelis have. Whereas we related to the Israeli municipal boundary, the Palestinian organizations relate to a far wider area designated the ‘Jerusalem District’. (M. Margalit, discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City p 23)

As the observer looks deeper, he realizes that the category of demolition doesn’t stop at Municipality and ministry of interior. It goes into a subcategory of administrative and judicial demolition orders that are capable to create a more intensive complexity to the situation of the demolition. Here too, even though the authorities deter from giving data on this issue. The data it provides on the overall demolitions given to both Palestinians and Israelis. Can give the observer a proper review.

Here again the observer needs to go into a sub category. First it is known that the ministry of interior doesn’t demolish in west Jerusalem, so the only demolitions are municipal ones as Margalit describes it: “We know from official sources in the Jerusalem Municipality that 40% of the orders were issued against the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem, while all the orders issued by the Ministry of the Interior were against that population.”(M. Margalit, discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City. p.24).

The sub category in this case is what are the structures that are demolished in each side of the city. When the municipality data shows a demolition in the western side, it is usually, a shed or a balcony. But when demolitions are mentioned in the eastern side of the city, the structure can be a ten meters shed and a five store building as well, a fact that Margalit emphasizes on by saying: “the actual numbers conceal the fact that demolitions in West Jerusalem, if they are actually carried out, are committed against minor structures – balconies, sheds, staircases and so on – while in East Jerusalem most demolitions are against entire dwellings – houses and even multi-store apartment buildings, or against significant portions of dwellings (whole stories, sections of houses, etc.)” (M. Margalit, discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City. p.25)

And he continues by mentioning: “David Kroyanker, one of Jerusalem’s most prominent planners, said in a press interview, that the Municipality was neither exercising supervision nor demolishing houses in the western part of the city: “One senses that municipal enforcement simply does not extend there. There is anarchy there, utter and ongoing chaos. Everyone knows that unauthorized buildings are not demolished in the Jewish sector, and thus, anyone committing a building offence gets a NIS 300 fine after three years, and goes on to his next unauthorized project. The message is that it’s worthwhile being a lawbreaker”. (M. Margalit, discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City. p.24)

Administrative demolition orders are issued against buildings at various construction stages and as yet unoccupied. They are valid for 30 days only. After that interval, a judicial demolition order must be issued, requiring a complex legal proceeding.

A home that is inhabited and that can be demolished by an administrative demolition order is not simply defined.

So, the administrative order demolition, is also a judicial after 30 days, and also the definition of the situation is in the hands of the persecution office, that most of the times appeal that those constructions are not fit for living conditions, so, considered judicial.

So if we have a man who receives a demolition order for instance, he needs to verify who is the demolition source first, Municipality or Interior. Then he needs to see is it is an administrative or judicial order. In the meantime, this man will start paying fines. Where most of the times people confuse between paying fine and paying for a permit, or applying for it.

This of course, doesn’t stop the person to pay Arnona as well .

In regards to fines imposed for unlicensed construction, between 2001 and 2005, the Local Court collected the gargantuan amount of NIS 133,292,491 ($29,620,000). Here too, available figures make no distinction between the eastern and western parts of the city. But as stated, the great majority of that amount taken by the Municipality – fully 70% — was collected from Palestinians and the entire amount taken by the Ministry of the Interior was collected from Palestinians. (M. Margalit, discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City .p,25)

The prevailing assessment is that some 40 percent of total buildings in East Jerusalem were constructed without a permit (15,000 out of 40,600 ).

According to municipal rates 5,300 residential units were constructed in East Jerusalem in the years 2000 – 2004. “This figure closely approximates reality since the majority of East Jerusalem residents apply of their own accord to the Municipality seeking to pay rates. They do so because every application to the Ministry of the Interior requires them to prove residency by showing proof of payment of municipal taxes and also because they believe that if they pay their rates, their house gains a sort of immunity against demolition. In the period being covered here, building permits were issued for only 481 buildings (of which a certain number would, in normal circumstances, contain more than one residential apartment);which is to say that for every building erected under permit, ten were built without a permit. Over the long term, it emerges that during the past decade, the authorities destroyed 400 buildings, or only about 4% of illegal construction in the whole of East Jerusalem. Thus, the authorities “manage” to destroy only a small percentage of the overall number of unlicensed buildings in the east of the city.” (M. Margalit, discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City .p,27).

It is important that the observer understand the Israeli actions, as actions of occupation .

The rules that they apply to Palestinian citizens are special rules that only serves the state of occupation and its objective.

Israeli authorities, have been fighting Palestinians in Jerusalem in the last decade specifically in legal means, because Palestinians have realized the too many violations Israeli authorities have committed against them in the previous decades when Palestinians defied from dealing with the Israeli authorities.

Hence, the struggle with the Israeli authorities , is political, this is why the rules of laws do not apply , or in other words, apply in what the Israelis define as law.

It is also important to note, that the Israeli authority, works collectively and systematically towards its objective, which is to minimize or to at least to control the demographical status in Jerusalem . The Jerusalemite is not only targeted by one institution, he is targeted by a whole system , whose main objective is to control his stay in this city, and if better get rid of him .

That is why, one should not be alluded by the services that might apply or be granted sometimes . Every move the Israeli authority makes towards the Palestinians in the city is done to help its objective, not by any means the benefit of the Palestinian.

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