I've written several times about Isaweea (or Isawiya), the Bedouin-Arab village or Jerusalem neighborhood whose border is about 200 meters from my balcony. I have never visited Isaweea during our 22 years of residence in French Hill.
Arab friends and students have urged me to stay away, and two near lynchings of Jews who went there by mistake add to the message.
Our balcony offers a spectacular view of Isaweea and other Arab villages, beyond to the Judean desert, and on a clear day to the Jordan Valley and the city of Amman, Jordan on top of the next mountains about 35 miles away. I spend time most days pondering the past and future while looking at that view, and recently noticed something new.
About 500 meters, as a crow would fly, is one of Isaweea's dirt roads, with new homes being built right up against the road and maybe even into the roadway. Alongside is one of the village garbage tips, where residents empty their trash down the hill.
What we see in such a picture is both the lack of municipal concern for Isaweea, and residents' lack of concern for anything other than their own convenience.
An Arab political activist, who is also a PhD and teaches social science at an Israeli college, once described Isaweea to me as a collective prison maintained by Israeli Jews.
Having witnessed two early evening attacks by Isaweea young men on French Hill young women, and hearing about more as well as several fire bombings of French Hill synagogues and community centers, I'm not all that sure that "prison" is inept or improper.
Who started the hostility? is a question without answer.
Not all of the 15,000 residents of Isaweea deserve imprisonment. However, they all suffer from attacks by village residents on city trash collectors, ambulances, fire brigades, and the Israeli branch post office, which contribute to the lack of continued services. Also important is the Palestinian campaign against Jerusalem Arab residents voting in municipal elections. You get what you vote for is well known as an explanation of public policy. The corollary is If you don't vote, you don't get.
Many of Isaweea's men work in Israeli building trades. Family members build their houses in their spare time. Most if not all are "illegal" in not having building permits, or passing inspection for being worthy against the prospect of earthquakes and other dangers.
The municipality has not done the detailed planning that would allow residents to apply for building permits.
When the next big earthquake happens (and Jerusalem is close to one of the world's great fault lines), we can expect piles of rubble where Isaweea now stands, lots of screaming people, and perhaps village residents throwing stones at the aid workers who come to help.
Every once in a while the municipality decides to demolish an illegal structure, goes through the judicial process required, and sends the police to protect the bulldozers.
There are varying reports about the availability of playgrounds in Isaweea. I haven't gone into the village to look for myself.
Boys and men come regularly from the village to the school playground that abuts our building for a pick up game of football. They make noise, not noticeably more than Jews who do the same thing, and occasionally a ball flies over the fence and lands on our balcony. Then comes a knock on the door, a polite expression of regret and request for the ball.
We have also had rocks thrown into a window from the schoolyard, and "Fuck the Jews" grafiteed on the school wall.
Israel may be stuck with Isaweea, no matter what happens on the Israel-Palestine front. The topography of the village attaches it to us. It is built on a ridge going out from the area between Mt Scopus and French Hill, with the only paved road connected to French Hill. The dirt road on which new structures are being built winds down a steep hill to connect through the back side of a gas station alongside one of the roads to the Jordan Valley. Improving that exit will take a lot of work, as well as removing those buildings being constructed on the present roadway.
Things were better before the first intifada that began in 1987. We traveled freely to Bethlehem and Ramallah. On winter days we lunched outdoors under the grape arbors in Jericho restaurants. Jericho is more than a thousand meters lower our home. Mid-winter temperatures are 10-20 degrees (Celsius) warmer than Jerusalem, with virtually no chance of rain.
Those days are gone. So is the view we had of the Dead Sea. The buildings of Isaweea now stand in the way. The Palestinians chose two waves of violence, and Israeli politics have moved to the right. John Kerry did not come close to bridging the gaps.
We're living better than our neighbors in Isaweea. We make do without a view of the Dead Sea. All the roads in French Hill are paved, and there is municipal trash collection at least once a week. The municipality employs residents of Isaweea, or some other Arab neighborhood, to clean our streets, tend the flowers in our traffic circles, and drive the trash trucks. Most of us vote in municipal elections, we do not stone ambulances, fire trucks, or police cars, and we have not burned our post office.
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