Where the Sidewalk Ends

by Bethany Firnhaber, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student

Saturday afternoon, my colleagues and I toured East Jerusalem in a 20-passenger van. Our guide Orly Noy, an Iranian Jew, works for Ir Amim, an Israeli non-profit that focuses on promoting peace, specifically within Jerusalem.

We started at the southwest Jewish settlement of Gilo, winding our way through and around alternating Palestinian villages and Jewish settlements, and ending just north of the Old City in Sheikh Jarrah.

As we bounced around the back of the van — at times fearing for the safety of our tail bones — our guide pointed out what was one of the easiest ways to discern whether we were on Jewish- or Palestinian-owned land: the sidewalks.

In Jewish areas of East Jerusalem, quality infrastructure abounds. Roads are smoothly paved and well-lit, sidewalks are nicely laid in red brick, and the area is kempt.

The same cannot be said for the Palestinian areas with bumpy, cracked streets, which have not been repaired since before the British Mandate ended in 1948. There are no sidewalks or street lamps, and inadequate city services leave the streets lined with trash.

As permanent residents living within the municipal boundaries of greater Jerusalem — a status given to foreign citizens who choose freely to live within Israel — Palestinians should be privy to the same infrastructure benefits as their Jewish neighbors. But, evidently, this is not the case.

The issue is exacerbated by the fact that, having chosen not to participate in municipal elections, Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are left without representation in the city council. Less than two percent of the Palestinian population, our guide informed us, voted in the last city elections.

“To vote would mean to legitimize the occupation,” she told us.

So while refraining from the vote has brought the issue of Israeli occupation of Palestinian areas into a heightened, central dialogue, it has also left the population without representation and, subsequently, without sidewalks.

About the photo: A Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem has nice brick sidewalks and lamp posts. (photo: Jill Krebs)

Correction
An earlier version of this post described Gilo as an Israeli village southeast of Jerusalem. Gilo is a southwest Israeli settlement, which was revised on April 13, 2011.


Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.

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