Israel Closing Socio-economic Gaps in East Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Sept. 26 - Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat and Israel’s Ministry of Health are making large strides to improve socio-economic conditions in Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. A new infant care center that provides free services was opened in Silwan, a populous East Jerusalem neighborhood, on Sunday (Sept. 25).

”The center in Silwan is the first to open under Mayor Barkat's administration, and is part of his strategy to close gaps in Arab neighborhoods throughout Jerusalem in the areas of education, infrastructure, community services, culture, permitting process, and welfare services,” a media statement explained.

As part of a collective effort to invest in Arab residents of Jerusalem, the municipality is closing gaps by focusing on community administration, business, education and welfare.

An unprecedented $80 million is being allocated to the design and construction of 300 new classrooms and advanced computerization capabilities for many of them. Some 5,000 children in East Jerusalem attend summer camps run by the city’s community councils.

Another element is the expansion of community council budgets in Silwan and Zur Baher, also in East Jerusalem. The project includes a new community center, nursery schools, infant welfare centers and a cultural and sports center.

$135 million is being invested in the construction of new roads and sidewalks in East Jerusalem. Jerusalem’s new light rail system also provides cheap and convenient transport between the Old City and some East Jerusalem communities.

The initiatives include a rezoning of East Jerusalem neighborhoods that includes a “new legal mechanism intended to assist Arab residents with proof of land ownership,” a municipality press release stated. Other efforts include naming unnamed streets in East Jerusalem with the cooperation of local residents and the opening of post office branches in A-Tour, Ras el-Amud, Issawiya and Beit Hanina.

In a recent poll that hypothetically asked East Jerusalem residents if they wanted to join a new state of Palestine after a two-state solution is reached or become Israeli citizens, only 30 percent chose Palestinian citizenship. Job opportunities and Israeli health insurance were the top reasons given.

In a poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza commissioned by The Israel Project in the summer of 2011, jobs and quality of life proved to be the main issues that concerned residents.  Eighty-three percent of over 1,000 Palestinians polled said jobs were their number one priority.

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