Voices from Occupied Jerusalem. #1: Nureddin Amro

Just World Admin Blog, Human rights, Jerusalem

On December 6, US President Donald Trump announced that the United States now recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that he planned later to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. His move directly contravened repeated UN resolutions regarding Jerusalem over the past 70 years. It was  condemned by nearly all other significant actors in the international community, including the other 14 members of the UN Security Council.

In all the commentary in the Western media over the geopolitical implications of Trump’s move, one voice badly under-represented has been that of the city’s many indigenous Palestinian residents, who have lived under Israeli occupation rule in the Eastern half of the city since June 1967. (That month, Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem but no  other significant government has recognized that act of Anschluss as valid.)

Just World Educational is pleased to announce the launch of new series on our blog that will bring the voice of Palestinian Jerusalemites to a global readership. We are inaugurating the series with the voice of Nureddin Amro, the visionary head of the Siraj al-Quds School for integrated education, who is himself blind.

In Spring 2015, Israeli soldiers inflicted on Mr. Nureddin and his family a fate they visit on several thousand “occupied” Palestinians each year when they demolished part of his family’s home. (In the photo above, Mr. Nureddin is pointing at the demolished rooms.) You can read a news account of the demolition here, and Mr. Nureddin’s own reflection on it, as published in the Washington Post, here.

What follows is an “email interview” that  Just World Ed’s Helena Cobban conducted today with Mr. Nureddin about the present-day conditions of life for Jerusalem Palestinians and what they want official and civil-society actors worldwide to do to support them.

Q. Can you give some examples of how Israel’s occupation rule affects the quality of your family’s daily life?

A. We experience every day very bad and complicated traffic jams when we go to work or schools or when moving from one place to another because of occupation checkpoints, barriers, and streets kept narrow for “security” reasons—and a very bad public transportation system in East Jerusalem.

We live in continuous anxiety and stress because of house demolitions, lack of housing, and lack of recreation places, as the occupation doesn’t allow us to expand our houses or give permits to build new ones.

We cannot establish normal social relationships or exchange visits with other people as we continue to live in a state of instability and fear because of continuous clashes, and lack of the feeling of security and safety.

Q. Can you tell me about the discrimination you experience because you’re not an Israeli citizen, or not Jewish?

A. There is a big discrimination between Jewish and Palestinian people in the city in terms of offered public services, life opportunities, and infrastructure, like having destroyed and dirty narrow streets and sidewalks in the Palestinian quarters versus developed modern and clean Jewish quarters with big public areas and gardens.

There is also a big discrimination with regard to services offered in public institutions and government offices which in the Palestinian quarters are overcrowded with people waiting in long lines and have poor work systems and lack of appropriate manpower, in contrast to the very modern and developed ones in the Jewish quarters that have a lot of employees who can process people’s work quickly.

In addition, drivers and people can hardly find parking places in the Palestinian quarters and are likely to get very high fines and charges from the traffic police for reasons of apparent harassment and not because of violation of laws by drivers, while such fines are not given to Jewish vehicle owners even if they violate rules.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem can hardly find any playgrounds or gardens where they can play with their kids, who have to spend their free time in the streets, whereas in West Jerusalem every neighborhood has more than one garden or playground.

Schools in the Palestinian quarters are ill equipped and badly overcrowded with as many as 40 students in every classroom. They lack specialized teams, have poor infrastructure, and often exist merely to host students in shelter-like systems, instead of educating them. They lack specialized instruction that can meet the various needs of their students, as opposed to the much more professionally developed and model Jewish schools in the West of the city.

Jewish people have a wide range of opportunities and scope of life available to them like grants, easy loans, employment opportunities, funds, life facilities, and a government that can listen to their needs and complaints, while Palestinians encounter fear, lack of security, arrests, poverty, violence, oppression, discrimination, various types of harassment on a daily basis, suppression, displacement, and house demolishing.

Q. Do you have family on the other side of the Separation Wall? How has the wall’s existence affected your ability to have a normal family life?

A. Yes, I have relatives and brothers living outside the separation wall, and we can rarely meet or see them as passing the checkpoints of the separation wall is a kind of risky adventure and costs a lot of effort, mental stress, and time.

This of course has had negative impact on the family solidarity and its mutual supportive relationships.

Q. What do you think about the work of the Israeli peace movement?

A. It is a weak movement that has no real impact on the Israeli government’s decision and could not change the general attitudes of the Israeli people.

Q. What do you think Palestinians should do to improve the situation in Jerusalem? Is the leadership of the PA being effective?

A. Palestinians should get united, build our institutions, develop democratic society, fight corruption, and cooperate with the international community to get our rights.

The leadership of PA is not so effective, as PA decisions don’t reflect the opinion of the majority. The PA does not respect democratic rules, and has failed to unite its people or to protect them.

Q. What should the governments of the big countries and the UN do to support the Palestinian community in Jerusalem?

A. They can play an important role to implement the international resolutions that can grant Palestinians their rights. They can impose sanctions on the Israeli government to force it respect the international resolutions. They can send forces to protect Palestinians and promote their security. Those countries can also support Palestinians financially to build their institutes and develop their lives.

Q. What can concerned people around the world do to support the Palestinian community in Jerusalem?

A. They should continue to support Palestinians in all respects, through media campaigns, organized protests, and visits to the occupied land. They can impose pressure on the international bodies and organizations to help solve the Palestinian issue, speak about the Palestinian cause to the world community, and offer financial support to the Palestinian people.