Yakir Segev, who holds the portfolio for east Jerusalem in Jerusalem's municipal council and a member of Mayor Nir Barkat's faction, is known as a rightist. But even he understands that the villages left on the other side of the separation fence are no longer part of the capital. "The State of Israel gave up the neighborhoods on the other side of the separation fence," said Segev on Thursday during a conference on "municipal equality in east Jerusalem."
In a conversation with Ynet, he explained, "The municipality has internalized the message which came from the Israeli government that these neighborhoods are not a part of Jerusalem, and is acting in accordance. The Palestinian Authority is the one repairing the roads and is the one operating the social infrastructures."
"The neighborhoods are outside the realm of the State of Israel, and certainly the municipality's. From a practical standpoint, this is Ramallah. Beside the half-delusional Right, I don't know anyone who is really trying to enforce Israeli sovereignty on these areas," he added during the conference, which was organized by Shachar – the youth guard of the Labor Party in Jerusalem – and Ta Ofek, which represents the Labor Party at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The neighborhoods and villages left on the other side of the fence are included in Jerusalem's municipal area of jurisdiction, but, in reality, the fate of their close to 50,000 residents remains unclear. It is unclear who is in charge of providing them with municipal services.
In a conversation with Ynet, Segev explained the situation. "Formally, they are part of Jerusalem, but in nearly ever other practical manifestation, they are not. The State removed itself from all responsibility. The implications of this can been seen on the residents living there, who are in very significant distress. The police do not enter without a military escort; medical services are provided by the Red Crescent. It is Ramallah in every manner and way," he said.
School in Akeb
Segev continued on to explain why Israel is insisting on maintaining sovereignty there: "The fence was built on this route for a demographic reason – to remove 50,000 Arabs from Jerusalem. Now, the situation is being left as is. They simply don't want to say, 'We already gave up part of the Jerusalem neighborhoods.' Otherwise, people will ask, 'If we already gave up parts, why not divide (the city)?'"
To put his statements in context, it should be noted that Segev is known for his rightist opinions and even established the PR department of the Yesha Council.
One example of how the residents are suffering from the current lack of municipal clarity was recently published in Ynet. A gang of armed men commandeered a school in the village of Akeb. Police failed to show up, despite repeated calls from teachers on the site.
The Jerusalem vicinity community board is also under threat of closure. "The State of Israel made a commitment to establish a community board and allocate NIS 14 million (about $3.7 million) to it every year. In reality, the budget is less than half that, and most of it goes to very specific things like transportation to schools," said Segev.
Separation wall near Shufat (Photo: AP)
The community board runs extra-curricular activities for children, as well as community, social, and religious workshops and activities. Because of the budget issues, which fall between cracks regarding who is responsible for funding, residents of the neighborhoods and villages covered by the board suffer.
City council member Meir Margalit (Meretz), attended the conference in which the councilman for east Jerusalem spoke, and described to Ynet the consequences of relinquishing the Jerusalem-vicinity neighborhoods. "The Jerusalem Municipality is harming the residents and itself. There is no such thing as an 'empty space', when you leave a space, it is occupied by delinquent elements or fundamentalists, and in both cases this is bad for Israel."
The council member said the decision to leave the neighborhoods out of the separation fence hurts all parties involved. "I would like to point out that the residents on the other side of the fence are not stupid as someone in the government has assumed. They picked up very quickly that Israel's intentions sooner or later are to take their residency permits away from them, they locked their houses on the other side of the fence and moved to the Jerusalem side."
He said this fact has created a serious urban problem, "because the infrastructure couldn't take the load. Starting with the sewage and the water infrastructure that collapsed because thousands of residents became part of the western side of the fence, and ending with systems such as schools, welfare and infant health care centers that found themselves with an excess population.
"Further damage caused as a result of the fence is a shortage in housing units: There is a rise in real estate prices, and a rise in the illegal construction rates. All this paints a picture of foolishness. A fence is being built to get rid of 50,000 resident, they get wise and move back to the other side, and cause a collapse in the local systems," the council member said.
Esti Kirmeier of the Jerusalem Labor Party youth said in response to Segev's comments: "We appreciate the honesty with which Segev addresses the matter of the wall and the construction in the east of the city. It's time that for Israel, after 43 years, to make a decision on the status of the eastern neighborhoods and rescue its residents' from the daily chaos in which they live."