Confirmed: Jerusalem is NOT a United, Undivided City

During a press conference early last month, Jerusalem’s Mayor Mr. Barkat commented that the world doesn’t get it. He said: “I don’t think they really know the plan. There is a conception that we’re waking up in the morning and building for Jews and discriminating against Arabs, which is exactly, it’s untrue.”

Mayor Mr. Barkat went on to say that Jerusalem’s master building plan has been in effect for just under 15 years. This master plan includes adding 50,000 apartments to the city’s existing Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. Having grown up in Chicago, in the years prior to the US Congress passing, at President Mr. Johnson’s uriging, The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 (aka “The Open Housing Act”), I have a clear view of what a segregated city looks like. In pre-Open-Housing Chicago, the expression was “Chicago, A City of Neighborhoods.” Lurking behind that phrase was the legal reality that a large part of the city’s residential deeds included the words “This building shall not be sold, leased or rented to Negroes or Jews.” Granted, none of Jerusalem’s residential properties include any such sentence in their ownership deeds. In Jerusalem, “The Eternal United Capital of Israel,” we are an enlightened people, our city’s master plan calls for “adding 50,000 apartments to EXISTING JEWISH AND ARAB NEIGHBORHOODS.” Does this mean that Jerusalem, like the Chicago of my childhood is “A City of Neighborhoods?”

Within the framework of the city’s master plan our condo recently received a building permit under the subsection: “TAMA 38: Earthquake Building Reinforcement Construction.” The terms of our building permit provide for our six-unit condo to be strengthened against earthquakes and to add two additional units. Construction work began last month. As is typical in Jerusalem’s construction industry, Jews and Arabs are working together on  our building. All of our construction workers, Jews and Arabs, are full legal residents of Jerusalem. They work as one team, a shining example of co-existence that leaves all of us feeling proud to be part of this fair city.

Last Saturday night at 10:00 p.m., the anti-theft alarm on one of the tractors sitting in a partially dug out ditch at the back of our building went off. The alarm was easily three times as loud as the average anti-theft alarm on cars. Almost immediately neighbors from the surrounding buildings began calling or coming around asking that the alarm be turned off. One of the other owners in our building took it upon herself to call our building project manager, who called the main contractor, who took responsibility for getting hold of the sub-contractor who owns the tractor. The answer came back that we shouldn’t worry that it would be taken care of within the hour.  …And then it was 11:30 p.m., several neighbors from the surrounding buildings called back wanting to know why the alarm was STILL insistently screeching loud and clear, disturbing the entire neighborhood. My neighbor called the project manager back. She reported to all of us that in a troubled voice the project manager had shared that there was nothing to be done about the alarm until morning. This, because the sub-contractor who owns the tractor, a resident of Jabel Mukaber, had been prevented from leaving his neighborhood at 10:30 p.m. The sub-contractor shared with the project manager that he had shown his blue Jerusalem Resident ID card and his construction union card to the border police at the roadblocked entrance of his south-eastern Jerusalem Arab neighborhood. The border police had determined that there was no medical emergency and therefore there was no reason for the sub-contractor to leave his neighborhood! The sub-contractor even tired explaining to them that municipal laws apply harsh fines for long ringing vehicle alarms and that by not turning off the alarm he was exposed to the possibility of having to pay a large fine.  The border police were unimpressed, the sub-contractor was forced to give up and return to his home. My neighbor shared that the project manager had added the embarrassed comment, “We’ve tried, so sorry, there is nothing to be done about it, except to live with the ringing alarm until tomorrow morning.”

All Saturday night long until 7:30 Sunday morning, the alarm on the tractor sounded on and on…preventing many of us from getting any sleep. All night long ringing in my head right along with the screeching alarm, were Mayor Mr. Barkat’s last words at the previous month’s press conference: “There’s only one way to live in the city of Jerusalem, in a united, undivided way.”

Mayor Mr. Barkat when a sub-contractor who like me and all of my neighbors is a resident of what you call a united, undivided city, can’t drive cross town to turn off the anti-theft alarm on his tractor, it is clear to me that it is YOU who doesn’t get it. Or perhaps, you Mayor Mr. Barkat, would have all of us understand that construction, co-existence and unity are daytime only, sound-bite to the international media, activities. As for me, sadly, I realize that it is “confirmed: Jerusalem is NOT a united, undivided city.”

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