Disclosing Reality: Daily Life of Palestinians in Contested East Jerusalem

8th Mar 2020 by Simon Mabon

Disclosing Reality: Daily Life of Palestinians in Contested East Jerusalem

Adel Ruished, Lancaster University

On Tuesday 21/11/2019, Israeli occupation forces in East Jerusalem stuck closure orders for six months on doors of a school, mosque, medical clinic and Palestinian media outlet in the city. In the meantime, Israeli Minister of Interior Security who signed these orders stated that these institutions practiced activities that encouraged aspirations against Israeli political plans, and endangered sovereign rights of the State of Israel in the city. This Israeli minister also added that these institutions operated on behalf of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in East Jerusalem, in clear violation of Oslo peace agreement. Moreover, directors of these Palestinian institutions were interrogated by the Israeli intelligence officers, who threatened them to imprisonment. On its side, Palestinian Jerusalemites institutions protested these Israeli orders and considered it flagrant attack on their right to education, worship, medical treatment as well as on their right to freedom of expression in East Jerusalem. Simultaneously, many observers lamented concerning the lack of genuine political will of Palestinian leadership in protecting the right of these institutions to exist, operate and provide its services in the city. In addition, they expressed resentment of ineffectiveness and ineptitude of this leadership in providing proper support, and concluded that they abandoned them. Finally, these observers suggested that Oslo peace agreements resulted in derogation the rights of Palestinian Jerusalemites to welfare and health services (MEMO, 2019).


Between the Hammer and the Anvil


The outcome of Oslo peace process not only negatively impacted every aspect in their life, but also weakened the ability to preserve existence in the city. In this regard, the decline of numbers and services of Palestinian Jerusalemite civil society institutions in East Jerusalem demonstrated the loss of vital tool that covered some of their essential health, social and welfare services. This loss resulted from the subjection of Palestinian Jerusalemites and their institutions to two contesting political agendas post-Oslo. In pursuit to entrench its political role in the city, contesting Israeli and Palestinian governments situated these institutions in double state of exception. Thus, between the hammer of Israeli government’s state of exception and the anvil of Palestinian leadership’s state of exception, Palestinian Jerusalemite institutions deprived the right to function and provide services post-Oslo. Drawing on the academic literature of the state of exception theory, it emerges that for entrenching political authority and legitimacy, governments tend to exclude part of population and submit them to emergency and exceptional laws. This leads to suspending the functioning of normal laws, depriving people political and civil rights that laid them into bare life (Mabon, 2017: 1783-4). Accordingly, Palestinian Jerusalemites prevented their right to establish and manage their institutions in East Jerusalem. They also rendered derogated the right to freedom of expression, education, worshipping and medical treatment in the city.

 The establishment of civil society institutions flourished in East Jerusalem throughout the seventies and eighties of the twentieth century. This was attributed to Israeli occupation discrimination policies in providing efficient social and welfare services to Palestinian Jerusalemites living in the city. Hence, Palestinian activists established these institutions and registered them as apolitical. The main purpose of these institutions crystallized around covering deficiencies and provision of essential welfare services to Palestinian Jerusalemites in health, education as well as cultural and humanitarian issues. Following the exclusion of the City of East Jerusalem from the Oslo peace agreement in 1993, that was signed between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), each party contested to prove its role and entrench its political legitimacy in East Jerusalem (Klein, 2008:64). Thus, the existence of independent Palestinian Jerusalemite institutions in East Jerusalem challenged both Israeli and Palestinian governments alike. Consequently, the political need for both Israeli and Palestinian governments emerged for contain and control over these nongovernmental institutions and to regulate its activities and services in the city post-Oslo (Sullivan, 1996 :98).


Israeli Modes of Power 


Concerning the Israeli government, the existence of Palestinian Jerusalemite institutions in the city challenged its political ambitions that considered East Jerusalem part of the undivided and eternal political capital of the State of Israel. Hence, successive Israeli governments intensified and pursued exclusion of these institutions from the city post-Oslo. This exclusion manifested with the imposition of various modes of power against functions and services of these institutions in East Jerusalem. Racial discrimination policy was the first mode of power that Israeli governments employed against these institutions, in the hope of pushing these institutions into closing and leaving the city. Unlike Israeli ones, Palestinian Jerusalemite institutions faced severe restrictions and coercive measures. According to Payes, this racial exclusion attributed to the fact that “Palestinian civil society organizations.......never constituted a part of the national Zionist-Jewish project”. He goes on to mention that, relevant Israeli authorities prohibited activities of some these institutions, withheld providing others with support, or specified the shape of offered resources to the rest (Payes, 2003: 67). Moreover, Israeli occupation authorities intensified the state of exclusion of the Palestinian institutions by imposing Israeli laws on them, unlike those in the rest of the Palestinian Territories where military occupation laws prevailed (Jubeh, 2019:18). 

Adding to this discrimination, Israeli occupying authorities imposed disciplinary mode of power for regulating the services of these institutions. To begin with, Israeli relevant authorities imposed iniquitous regulations through the introduction of the Law of Associations. This law provided wide powers to Israeli Registrar wherein it enabled him not only to investigate registration these civil society institutions, but also to cancel their registration altogether according to his own discretion (Payes, 2003:68). Consequently, Israeli Registrar embarked on regulating the institutions through the requirement to provide their detailed services and financial budgets on annual basis. In many cases, this charged institutions with failure in abiding with Israeli bylaws and requirement criteria and blocked their Israeli bank accounts. Moreover, these authorities obliged many institutions to disclose funding sources for their activities and services. 

Under the pretext of mobilising funds through Palestinian or hostile political sources, these authorities outlawed many of these institutions and suspended their activities and services in East Jerusalem. Furthermore, Nazmi Jubeh mentions that relevant Israeli occupying authorities imposed excessive and unfair commercial and property taxes on these institutions, in the hope to lead them to bankruptcy. He continues by stressing that the Israeli authorities allegedly charged many of these institutions with illegal political activities and goals that violated the state of Israel’s internal security and political hegemony in East Jerusalem (Jubeh, 2015:21).

In combination with the imposition of the racial discrimination and disciplinary modes of power, many of these Palestinian Jerusalemites institutions faced bio-political mode of power. This was demonstrated through Israeli closure orders against these institutions, whereupon Israeli Minister of Internal Security perpetually issued many of these orders post-Oslo. Under the pretext of alleged political affiliation with the Palestinian Authority or alleged coordination of anti-Israeli political activities, this minister ordered closing many organizations without previous warning. This minister also threatened to imprison directors of these organizations, in an attempt to suppress the emergence of local Palestinian leadership in the city (Jubeh, 2015:19). Therefore, These orders threatened existence and services of these nongovernmental organizations, rendering them losing legal protection and exposed to existential threat in East Jerusalem. More crucially, these orders represented collective punishment against Palestinian Jerusalemites beneficiaries, wherein it deprived them essential social, cultural, education and heath services, and laid them into bare life in the city. It is important to mention that these closure orders also resulted in loss of job opportunities for Palestinians in the city which negatively affected economic conditions in the city.


The Palestinian Modes of Power


The establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (the PNA)resulted in the emergence of another political power in East Jerusalem post-Oslo. More fundamentally, the City of East Jerusalem represented the future political capital of the nascent Palestinian state, and accordingly the proliferation of independent Palestinian civil society institutions in the city endangered political influence of the PNA and weakened its bureaucratic role in the city post-Oslo. Hence, this authority excluded these institutions, in an attempt to contain and control them. Jubeh mentions that Palestinian civil society institutions in East Jerusalem faced PNA indifference attitudes and lack of interest towards their roles and services. In addition, he points out that this exclusion aimed to absorb many of employees of these institutions in the PNA offices rendering marginalized local leadership in East Jerusalem (Jubeh,2017:20). 

The PNA policy of exclusion against these civil society institutions was implemented through several modes of power. Economic discrimination mode of power played instrumental role in neutralizing and marginalizing these institutions. According to Hamadan, many of these institutions felt that there was undeclared decision on the official level of the PNA departments of discarding and neglecting these institutions. She goes on to mention that, many PNA departments expressed reluctance in offering financial and administrative support to these institutions (Hamadan, 2017:163-5). Even when the PNA decided to provide small financial amounts for some of these institutions, they were required to open accounts at Palestinian banks. This paved the way for the imposition of disciplinary mode of power on these institutions. 

In order to be eligible for opening Palestinian bank account, the Palestinian Ministry of Social Welfare and the Palestinian Ministry of Interior (the PMoI) obliged these institutions to register according to Palestinian civil associations bylaws. Consequently, these ministries required the institutions to provide detailed accounts of their activities and services in addition to their sources of funds (Sullivan, 1996: 96).

Moreover, the department Registrar at the PMoI was empowered according to the law, not only to register but also to cancel licenses of these organization at his own discretion. According to Sullivan, these institutions have to provide responses for a series of questions asked by the Palestinian intelligence services that tended to eventually authorize or cancel registration applications (Sullivan,1996: 97). Therefore, these institutions were threatened to lose registration and to block their Palestinian bank accounts in case of alleged or suspicious activity or sources of funding. In addition, these institutions were obliged to dismiss Palestinian members who hold Israeli passport from their boards of directors in order to be eligible for renewing their registration at the ministry[1].    

In an interview at the Registrar department at the PMoI, senior official pointed out that “many of these institutions ignored our role and mandate, and we addressed Palestinian bank to withheld their accounts”[2]. As a result, these disciplinary regulation burdened the institutions and wasted their efforts and energy seeking abidance with governmental regulations. More importantly, many of these institutions opted to stop their services in the city, while others relocated their offices to West Bank cities outside East Jerusalem (Hamadan, 2017:166). This demonstrated the imposition of bio-political mode of power that the PNA exercised on these institutions. In other words, the PNA employment of these modes of power collectively deprived these institutions the right to operate in the city, and encroached on the right of Palestinian Jerusalemites the right to acquire health and social welfare services.




The ongoing deterioration of living conditions of Palestinian community resulted from the employment of double state of exception in East Jerusalem post-Oslo. Seeking to strengthen their control over the city, Palestinian and Israeli governments alike employed exclusionary policies against the right of Palestinian civil society organizations to provide welfare services. More importantly, these policies deprived Palestinian Jerusalemites the right to acquire such services, laid them into bare life, and left them to face their fate on their own. According to this understanding, these institutions insisted on their right to exist, function and provide services for their Palestinian Jerusalemites beneficiaries. In a report issued by Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO), these institutions agreed to unite together for challenging Israeli policies, and suggested to expose the impact of these policies to global and regional partners and donors. Moreover, they called on the PNA, among other things, “to prioritize support, including financial aid and advocacy, for Palestinian CSOs and institutions in occupied East Jerusalem in development planning, and in the framework of humanitarian and development programs” (PNGO, 2018: 40-1). 





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[1] This happened with the author in his capacity as board member of an institution in East Jerusalem.

[2] interview with senior official at the Palestinian Ministry of Interior in Al-Ram on 28/11/2019.

Adel Ruished is PhD student in Politics and International Relations at PPR Department, Lancaster University, UK. His research is concerned with Israeli-Palestinian political conflict with special focus on the City of East Jerusalem. More fundamentally, he is looking at the impact of contested political programs on the daily life of Palestinian Jerusalemites post-Oslo peace accord. Adel served for twenty years as Governmental Relations Officer, and Administrative Director for Jerusalem Campus at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem.