Thursday, 2 December. 2021
Your Key to Palestine
The Palestinian Initiatives for The Promotoion of Global Dialogue and Democracy

  • After 2017, Israel adopted a containment strategy for Jerusalemites through community centers
  • There is a NIS15 million annual budget for these centers which are aimed at integrating Jerusalemites into the Israeli system and taking broader and stricter steps to eliminate any Palestinian Jerusalemite symbols
  • The desire of official Palestinian parties to confront Israeli measures in Jerusalem is weak and ineffective
  • We cannot combat the occupation and its policies with only NIS20 million, which Jerusalem officials do not receive in full


    Palestinian officials are warning against the Israeli occupation’s new approach against the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem by boosting Israeli municipality-affiliated community centers and allocating millions of shekels to prompt the Palestinian Jerusalemite community into accepting the occupation. Meanwhile, the PA is powerless in assuming an effective and influential role in this regard. Nonetheless, Israel’s policies have failed to force the Palestinians into submission.

    **First of all, how did these community centers originate and how many are there?

    These centers were established over a decade ago in some areas of occupied Jerusalem. When they were first established, they offered certain services to the public in areas such as Beit Hanina. At the time, the plan only included a small number of centers, which were concentrated in Beit Hanina. They did not have much of an impact or effect. This changed in 2015. The consecutive uprisings in Jerusalem during this period, starting with the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir and then the battle over the electronic gates, prompted the Israelis to reconsider their interventions. Israelis started to feel they were close to losing control over things in Jerusalem, which was not something they ever expected to happen. That is why they did a comprehensive evaluation of most of their policies in Jerusalem to enable them to have a hold on the city and its population. They realized that their hostile policies to subjugate Jerusalemites, including attempts to push them out of the city as part of the demographic struggle, had not been as successful as they had anticipated. This was primarily because Jerusalem residents have a very strong national identity and belonging to the city. On this basis, they adopted a containment strategy in 2017 for dealing with Jerusalemites. This was based on integrating and involving them in Israeli laws so that the population would accept them as an existing reality and eventually accept Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

    **What are the measures taken to reach this goal?

    To realize this goal, they had to make changes and allocate sizeable budgets for this. They also had to be patient and work according to a consistent and ongoing strategy, which they implemented in other occupied areas throughout the Palestinian territories. This process of containment, or in sociological terms, the ‘integration process” relates to the culture of the stronger society, in this case the Israeli occupation. This means the latter is the party that implements the process of integration on the weaker Palestinian Jerusalemite community.

    In order to achieve this, they had to make changes in the center and at the peripheries of the Jerusalemite community through allocating a large sum of money, much of which was transferred to these community centers set up in Palestinian neighborhoods and under Palestinian management. The goal of this was to give the people a sense of reassurance in accepting the center’s services by being in direct contact with them. They were successful in setting up nine centers in Palestinian neighborhoods and towns: Sur Baher, Essawiyeh, Beit Hanina and Shufat to name a few. In order for these centers to achieve the goal for which they were established, Israel devised new plans and policies for it. That is, after these centers were only offering humble services via the Jerusalem municipality, which serves as an executive branch of the occupation, Israeli authorities opened up broader means of communication with the municipality pertaining to the problems Jerusalemites face, such as the property tax {Arnona} and construction violations. Hence, people frequented these centers much more because they were offering solutions to some of their issues.

    This was followed by a more advanced role for the community centers, especially in education. Some schools began referring their students to these centers for supplementary educational services and extracurricular activities. What’s more, some schools began depending more on these centers, the goal of which was to normalize them, which is Israel’s overall strategy. This kind of normalization is even more dangerous than Palestinians simply meeting with Israelis because the goal is to change the cultural and socio-psychological dimension whereby Israel’s presence becomes acceptable to the Palestinians.

    After they succeeded in this approach, they were able to integrate these kinds of programs into the community centers, thus making them a gateway for handling the Palestinian population vis-à-vis their problems with the municipality. The fact is, these community centers were part of more comprehensive programs. After 2017, Israeli occupation authorities established additional social affairs offices and expanded their services to be able to work with Palestinian families, benefiting from the conservative, Muslim, Arab makeup of Palestinian society, largely governed by customs and traditions. The goal of this was to infiltrate society and make the required changes from the inside. They wanted to broaden the jurisdictions of the social affairs offices so they were more involved in the affairs of Palestinian families, which is exactly what happened. Their offices and centers have obtained an extraordinary number of files on Palestinian families, many of which are police-related files given that social affairs is obligated by law to contact the police, in this case the so-called “people’s police”. This is a unit that was aimed at softening the role of Israeli police in the community.

    Jerusalemites familiar with this unit they say it comprises of police men and women who speak Arabic and who seek to solve problems within Palestinian families. Israel was able to establish a network within local communities that link the centers, the police and schools with the Israeli establishment. In this way, they were able to change the method of intervention with Palestinian society so that the occupation becomes more palatable to them. In other words, the changes Israel could not impose by force had been achieved through “soft” methods, including the method of containment.

    Ultimately, they wanted to arrive at a situation where there is no clash between Jerusalemites and the occupation. Hence, over the past few years they expanded their programs, especially those targeting minors and youth. For example, the centers’ employees can be seen in certain areas such as Jabal Mukkaber and Tur, monitoring boys between the ages of 14 and 16 to ask them why they are not in school. They later contact the families of these boys to help them resolve their sons’ problems. At the same time, Israeli police arrests boys of this age who are charged with throwing stones for example and transfers their files to the “people’s police” and to social affairs where they and their families are offered help in “modifying” their sons’ behavior.

    **In addition to these community centers, have occupation authorities worked in other ways to target Jerusalemites?

    Yes, in addition to the community centers they also worked a lot on education. The tool used for this was Israel’s civil service. As you know, civil service is granted to those who cannot enlist in the army. They introduced this service in Jerusalem in two ways: the first was through Israeli universities by giving the opportunity for Jerusalemite students to enroll in these universities, which opened up many avenues for them, most significantly recognition of the Tawjihi diploma. They offered them incentives as well by exempting them from the first year of tuition and formulated many policies in this direction including enabling second and third –year students to perform civic services in exchange for not paying tuitions that could go up to NIS15,000. The second way was through the community centers and the allocation of huge funds, on the premise that these centers help youths who benefit from their services. Data shows that the money allocated for these services is between NIS12-15 million spent on several activities, including technical and cultural activities as well as in schools.

    **Does this explain the campaign against Jerusalem institutions since 2000 when dozens were closed and these community centers became their alternative?

    Israel has a vision that it can change the situation in Jerusalem. As for the occupation, Jerusalemites were always the biggest and most difficult problem. This is because Jerusalemites rise up unpredictably, like during the faceoff over the electronic gates and before that, the confrontations over the murder of Mohammed Abu Kheir. Israel failed in all its measures to break their steadfastness and resolve.

    After 2000, when Israel closed Orient House and several other Palestinian institutions, it continued its Judiazation and Israelization policies still, but with less consistency. While there were fewer institutions closed after, there were more Israeli interventions in terms of the number and quality of activities. In other words, where it mostly only interfered in political activities and against institutions its accused of being linked to the PLO or the PA, now it intervenes in most activities including sports and art. It even bans Ramadan meals and social events, eventually banning all Palestinian activities in Jerusalem.

    For Israel, it is not the actual existence of Palestinians that is the issue; its main problem is Palestinian national and cultural identity. That is why Israel is so cautious not to allow any activity that reflects this identity or to allow any Palestinian national symbols in the city. Israel realizes that over all the years of its occupation, it has failed to impose sovereignty and control over Jerusalem and this is a big problem for them.

    Recently, they have escalated measures against any Palestinian activity in the city, persecuting anyone who works with the PA; this is an ongoing battle. I think now that the ‘Deal of the century’ is out and [US President Donald] Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Israel will take even broader steps to basically eliminate any Palestinian symbols in Jerusalem. Right now, they are trying to halt the money flow to individuals and institutions in Jerusalem in coalition with European countries. Since the ultimate objective is integration between the Jerusalemite community and Israeli intuitions, I think these measures will only increase and we will have more and more difficulty in expressing our national identity, culture and presence in Jerusalem as Palestinians.

    **Do you think this policy is linked to the escalation of the demographic battle in Jerusalem manifested in increased settlement takeover within the city’s neighborhoods?

    For Israel, this has been a fundamental issue since former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kolleck was in office. They considered the demographic factor a major problem which needed a solution. That is why they expanded the Jerusalem municipal borders and ramped up settlement construction within the city. Furthermore, to put an additional demographic stamp on the city, they increased their settlement presence in the heart of Jerusalemite neighborhoods by taking over homes and properties. They are thus implementing the “soft expulsion” of Palestinian Jerusalemites until they are able to pare them down to a Jerusalemite community that is accepting of this settlement presence. To this end, they have allocated tens of millions of shekels. Just look at the cost of security guards for settlers in Jerusalem, which is over NIS30 million a year.

    I think they want a purely Jewish Jerusalem, which is why they focus so much on the demographic component. They also admit to their failure in this to some extent. Right now we are talking about a Jerusalemite population that does not exceed 38% in both sectors of the city. For them, this is a huge problem, which is why they want to decrease this percentage by any possible means. Perhaps the ‘Deal of the Century’ will help them achieve some success in this regard by cutting this number almost in half, which is, as you known very dangerous.

    ***Does the concept of these community centers coincide with the neighborhood committees which Israel tried to create in the past?

    At the time, the Israelis focused on the ‘mukhtars’ (community heads) as the main reference points in Palestinian society. They gave them certain privileges with the police. Prior to this, they had given them some authorities pertaining to land ownership as well. Their goal was to give these committees, through their tribal figures, certain authorities for resolving problems. However, the work of these committees was lacking as was the role of the “mukhtars’, which was overshadowed by the community centers. In Sur Baher for example, Israeli authorities established a large, community complex center for the people. Now they are trying to do the same in Essawiyeh by communicating with representatives from families there.

    ***How have Jerusalemites combated Israel’s attempts to Israelize and Judiaze education through these centers? There are people who are sending their children to international schools as one way of protecting their children from this Israelization, correct?

    I think some Palestinians have always chosen to send their children to private schools that teach an international curriculum, whether British, American or German, because they want them to go university in these countries. The question is, how many students study the Israeli curriculum? I think the total percentage is less than 10%. However, this is an overall indicator and over recent years there has been a huge increase in the number of students enrolling in Israeli education. This is very dangerous if it continues to rise in the coming years. Israel has both control and money and is currently working on developing its schools so they are more advanced than the others, which will ultimately motivate more parents to enroll their children in schools that teach the Israeli curriculum.

    **Do you expect more Jerusalemite students will start enrolling in these private schools to avoid Israelization? Is there a suitable alternative?

    I think these schools have a limited capacity and cannot absorb thousands of students. This is in addition to the curriculum taught, the quality of the students and their educational levels not to mention the costly tuitions for Palestinian families. That is why the current educational system and the level of Palestinian capacities cannot currently stop the Israelization of education.

    **What do Palestinians at the official and civil level need to do to halt the Israelization of education?

    I think it will be difficult to go back to where we were. However, we can seek to cut our losses as much as possible and prevent a complete submersion of our education sector. First, we must conduct a comprehensive review of this sector and set realistic goals based on the preservation of whatever is left of the Palestinian education system and curriculum. Second, there needs to be a change in the method of administration of this sector, especially after Israel closed the education directorate in Jerusalem. What I mean is we need a civic pool of experts, representatives from both parents and students and principals to ensure the protection of Palestinian education in Jerusalem. Third, we must reaffirm that teachers are the strategic dimension to any plan and the safety valve that must be safeguarded so can continue to be the front line of defense against any attempts at exclusion.

    ***What options or alternatives do the Palestinians have to combat these Israeli approaches?

    To be frank, this is difficult for several reasons. Politically, there is a lack of any desire from official Palestinian parties to combat these Israeli measures in Jerusalem. That is why everything being done here is unorganized and ineffective. Even those who are appointed to positions are just messengers. That is to say, they have no power or authority or even ability to actually confront these approaches; their work is limited to passing on messages to the higher political echelons. Actual confrontation requires jurisdictions and budgets that allow them to really take on these Israeli measures.

    This has been one of our strategic mistakes in Jerusalem. In the past, we thought the problem was that we had multiple references. I don’t think this is really the problem; we have always needed multiple references. The problem is that in Jerusalem, you cannot go to battle with the occupation and its policies with only NIS20 million. Sometimes we don’t even get the entire amount and this poses a very big problem. At the official level, we have shown that we do not want a confrontation in Jerusalem and we are not working towards halting Israel’s measures in the city. It is ordinary Palestinians who are the ones confronting the occupation’s policies. They have not lost their national and cultural identity. We have seen this proven time and again.

    **So, the community centers did not succeed in undermining the Palestinian narrative in spite of everything?

    Absolutely not. Israel is now obsessed with coercing the Palestinians in Jerusalem, encouraging them to accept the Israeli occupier and acknowledging and submitting to its laws. Even though these centers succeeded in expanding, they did not achieve all of their objectives. I expect that in the next two years these centers will try to merge the community in with Israeli laws through holding joint activities with Israeli centers under the guise of coexistence. This is extremely dangerous. If they succeed in these programs, they would have succeeded in what they have failed at so far, which is for Jerusalemites to accept the occupation. Israel is trying to undermine our sense of belonging to Jerusalem. It wants you to be a resident in your homeland but with no national ties or identity, similar to what they did with the Palestinians in the ’48 territories. Israel wants to limit your causes to social and economic causes and to issues of equality. It does not want you to have a sense of belonging to another people.

    On the role of these community centers … Jerusalemite novelist Jamil Sahlout

    Everyone knows that consecutive Israeli governments, town councils and all Israeli institutions have not spared any effort to Judaize Arab Jerusalem. This Judaization includes geography, history and culture. Even though the overwhelming majority of Palestinian Jerusalemites boycott Israeli municipal elections, the municipality wants to integrate Jerusalemites into municipal institutions. What’s more, even though the municipality collects the “Arnona” property tax and other taxes from Palestinian Jerusalemites, which amount to 35% of the municipality’s budget, the money it spends on services in East Jerusalem only ranges between 6-7%.

    As part of its ongoing and accelerated Judaization policy, the municipality resorted to creating these so-called “community centers” in some neighborhoods, under the pretext of improving services. This was an attempt to coerce Jerusalemites into recognizing the annexation of Jerusalem as the “united capital of Israel.” However, Jerusalemites are fully aware that East Jerusalem itself– the heart of the occupied Palestinian territory – is the main problem, not anything pertaining to services.

    Media and political analyst Rasem Obeidat

    In the next stage, occupation authorities will adopt several scenarios in order to eliminate any activity or institution that stands in the way of its plans and projects in the city. First and foremost, this includes efforts to turn Jerusalemite neighborhoods and towns into isolated societal units separated from one another, thereby undermining any association based on nationalism between them and limiting their concerns to socio-economic ones.

    They also want to create alternative local leaderships in place of national leaders and figures in each village where each of these local leaders is granted authorities linked with the Jerusalem municipality, similar to the situation in villages west of the city such as Abu Ghosh, Ein Rafah and Beit Naquba. This means police stations would also have to be set up in each of these towns and villages. In addition to the presence of the so-called “people’s police”, this means they would also have access to schools, give lectures and intervene in problems that happen inside school grounds.

    They will also coordinate with tribal committees, which would become the main reference for social disputes and quarrels, acting in the capacity of the police and therefore disrupting Palestinian families. They will unravel the social fabric by entering homes and infringing on in their privacy. The police stations will include spaces for the community centers, which will serve as the alternative to Palestinian clubs and centers. A considerable budget will be allocated to these centers so they can hold activities in these neighborhoods and schools. The municipality will create local agents and contractors and allocate budgets to them for holding these activities within their towns. People’s everyday lives and issues will revolve around issues like approval for structural plans, obtaining permits, etc.

    In order to combat this, we need to formulate a unified strategy in which the PA, the private sector and Jerusalemite institutions participate. Efforts need to be made to establish Jerusalemite institutions and clubs to fill the gaps and be a plausible alternative for the public in terms of services, activities, quality and fees. If this is made available, it will prevent the community centers from becoming the alternative for our students, children and marginalized sectors. The strategy must be to pump real budgets into these youth centers so they succeed in attracting these social sectors.

  • Note: The content of this interview does not reflect the official opinion of MIFTAH. Responsibility of the information and views expressed in the interview lies entirely with the interviewee.

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