It is no secret that the Palestinians of East Jerusalem have suffered decades of distress and deprivation at the hands of [Israeli] city leaders and governments. Israel's planning policy in Jerusalem has been and still is the creation of a large, undivided city (East and West) with a prominent Jewish majority by bringing down the percentage of the Arab population to 36% or less of the total population of the "unified" city.
The planning problems of the Palestinian population are numerous: severe housing shortages due to obstacles placed in the way of Arab residents who wish to acquire building permits; a strict and heavy-handed enforcement policy, including the demolition of houses built without a permit by those who fail to obtain permits; shortages of classrooms and social services; extremely poor road conditions in Palestinian neighborhoods; and discriminatory allocation of resources, which benefit the western part of the city at the expense of the eastern.
It is important to understand that East Jerusalem is composed of villages which have developed into urban neighborhoods. Although zoning plans have been prepared over the years for the majority of the Palestinian neighborhoods, most are characterized by extensive areas designated as green or open areas, in which construction is prohibited. In addition to these limitations on building, road networks remain sparse and underdeveloped. In other words, most existing plans do not fit the needs of Palestinians living in those neighborhoods.
Bimkom works to address these issues in cooperation with the Palestinians, and it tries to help them deal with the Israeli authorities. It is currently active in addressing a number of building-related issues including:
1. The New Jerusalem Master Plan: This plan for Jerusalem will have a profound impact on the future of East Jerusalem neighborhoods. One The Palestinians of East Jerusalem have suffered decades of distress and deprivation at the hands of Israeli city leaders and governments. element of Bimkom's activities is to analyze in depth the implications of the proposed plan and present its conclusions to the initiators and formulators of the plan, the municipal planning committees and various Israeli and international media outlets. Despite the fact that some of these recommendations have been accepted, the program is still very problematic with regard to Palestinian neighborhoods.
2. Jabal al-Mukabber: In this Jerusalem neighborhood, Bimkom cooperates with residents to promote fair and proper planning. It claims that its relationship with the Arab residents underwent a change after the planning authorities admitted that there were problems with the existing plans and began to make new plans for parts of the neighborhood. This joint activity with Jabal al-Mukabber residents produced a comprehensive planning document in an effort to have impact on future planning carried out by the Israeli authorities.
3. Al-Issawiya: Together with the residents of al-Issawiya, Bimkom carried out an alternative planning process whose purpose was to provide an answer to the lack of planning by the establishment. Currently, it is trying to remain in contact with the Municipality of Jerusalem in order to continue promoting the program.
It is important to understand that this cooperation with Palestinian residents is not an everyday occurrence. In order to achieve full cooperation, there is a need for building trust between the two sides. This is no simple matter, given the treatment that the residents normally receive from the Israeli authorities. It is difficult to predict what will happen and whether the situation of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem will indeed improve in the near future. It is evident that almost on a daily basis more conflict is going on between the residents and the authorities, as residents struggle against the opacity and lack of cooperation of official institutions. Hopefully, in time, the Israeli authorities will recognize their responsibility toward the residents of East Jerusalem, and will ensure that the residents are provided with the living conditions and the environment they deserve.