Walking along the dusty, garbage-covered road, past sidewalks adorned with iron pipes, I made my way to the office in East Jerusalem. This neighborhood felt different from the tourist Jerusalem I had experienced the previous weekend. Even in Jerusalem’s Old City, the chaos was at least organized. But here in Beit Hanina, a primarily Arab district, gave the impression that the neighborhood had been forgotten.
Heading straight to Ramallah after arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, my first exposure to Israel was a week later on a day trip to the Negev to visit Palestinian villages both in and outside of the Green Line. We stopped at a café in an Israeli strip mall, where a meal was about US $12 and the blasting AC made the room arctic in contrast to the desert outside.
Though the Palestinian villages on each side of the Green Line were similar with regard to resources, services and development, the difference between the Israeli parts of the territory and those outside the Green Line was stark. Bedouin citizens of Israel have been denied access to water, an essential resource determined by the Israeli Supreme Court to be a ‘right’ for all citizens. Arab citizens of Jerusalem lack the educational resources of their Jewish counterparts. Palestinians are systematically denied freedom of movement to visit loved ones simply because they hold different-colored ID cards.
Israel’s military occupation pervades every part of Palestinian life. Checkpoints dictate where you can travel and work. Walls determine whether you are guaranteed access to basic rights. Identification cards limit where you can live and who you can love. Even under Israeli control, much of East Jerusalem feels as if zoning laws don’t apply, trash collection services don’t run, and the neighborhood is neglected, though it is just steps away from brand new Israeli settlements accessed via light rail. The occupation is present in the homes, workplaces, and bedrooms of only Palestinians.
Jewish Israelis are both in theory and practice guaranteed access to water, education, and healthcare. Guaranteed rights and a good education system ensure that Israelis are free to pursue endeavors such as business, higher education, art, and travel. However, when a municipality refuses to adequately provide basic services to a certain type of person, economic disparity just becomes more entrenched, creating a system made up of those who have, and those who do not. Though economic disparity is a problem globally, in Israel and the Occupied Territories, the disparity feels much more blunt because the haves and the have nots live literally side-by-side, yet it is your ethnicity that will determine your treatment under the law. A Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem cannot move to West Jerusalem and is at constant risk of losing her ID if she visits the West Bank too often. An Israeli can move anywhere in Jerusalem and faces no risk of losing his identification status.
Classic scapegoats, such as the Palestinian Authority or the Separation Wall cannot be the only explanation of this disparity. Beit Hanina and the Palestinian towns in the Israeli Negev are proof that neither the wall nor Israeli citizenship are what determines access to services. Coming to Israel as someone new to the conflict, I can’t help but feel that the Middle East’s only democracy is somehow tainted by this inequality under the law.