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Jerusalem economy

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 23.09.2010:

A Snapshot of Jerusalem

By Simon Kouba

This Week in Palestine, September 2010

A quick look at the history of Jerusalem reveals that this city was never an industrial city or an agricultural or economic centre. It has always been a place of pilgrimage since it is the home of the three monotheistic religions. Jerusalem has been known as the capital of historic Palestine, most notably during the Ottoman rule and later during the British Mandate.

The general population of Jerusalem has always been very well educated, a fact that is due, in part, to the cosmopolitan nature of the city and its continuous popularity as a tourist destination. Many Jerusalemites have become multilingual, which gives them the opportunity to serve in various sectors of Palestinian society or even on a regional scale.

Much of the fresh produce that can be found in Jerusalem comes from the nearby villages, including Silwan in the south, Qubeibeh and Beit Hanina in the north, and, of course, the towns of Bethlehem, Ramallah, and the Jordan Valley.

It is almost unbelievable that throughout the history of the city, Jerusalem has never contained a single factory (until today in East Jerusalem), with the one exception of the nail factory, a very small enterprise that was shut down in 1967. It is, perhaps, the only city in the world that does not have an industrial zone in its municipal plans.

Construction in the city did not really begin in earnest until the latter years of the last century. Jerusalemites were never masons or workers of any kind. Builders and trades-people used to come from all over the country to work in the city. The villages around Ramallah are famous for masons, and Bethlehem is known for its finishing works. Jerusalem has always relied on these two cities for many things for its day-to-day life. When transportation became easier, people from Nablus and Hebron also came to give a hand where needed.

During the 1970s the borders of Jerusalem started to expand to the south and north, encompassing villages such as Silwan, Beit Hanina, Sawahreh, and others. On one hand these villages contributed manpower to Jerusalem but, as a result, these hands left their ploughs, so agricultural productivity declined, keeping the city reliant on other parts of the country for agricultural produce. Today, of course, Israeli produce floods the market, a result, no doubt, of the siege.

With the Israeli occupation of the city and the West Bank, together with the building of the settlements all over Palestine, the need for workers has been very great. Most workers from Jerusalem and the West Bank have found better paying jobs in the building of settlements; of course, Jerusalemites have always been the favourites of the contractors as they do not need permits and social security is cheaper.

In the late 1990s after the first Intifada the authorities started to impose new laws on workers coming into Jerusalem or “Israel,” in general, for security reasons. Now Jerusalem workers are not only favourites as they do not need any permits, but they are rare as well.

And now, moving into the new millennium, we have the Wall, which detaches the city from its natural neighbours. Smuggling workers into the city is almost impossible; permits are rarely given, even to older workers; the work-day cost has doubled again, (now triple the cost of that of the West Bank).

The contractors working in the Jerusalem area have started to retreat from the city to look for opportunities in the West Bank, especially Ramallah. So the rest of those who work in the field of construction – engineers, for example – also suffer from the very harsh regulations imposed on the building process in the city.

Finally, we can see that, even with respect to the field of construction, the city of Jerusalem is an integral part of the West Bank, not to mention that workers from Ramallah are the cousins of those in Jerusalem or Bethlehem. They share the same work, the same rights (or lack of them), and the same overall destiny.

Simon Kouba is an architect from East Jerusalem.

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