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What It's Like To Live In East Jerusalem: A Palestinian's Perspective


We have one perspective now on life in east Jerusalem. It's one of countless perspectives, of course, at a moment of especially troubling violence in numerous parts of Israel of the West Bank and Gaza. Young Palestinians have stabbed Israeli Jews apparently at random. Israeli settlers have attacked Palestinian farmers harvesting olives. What's been described is a kind of leaderless Palestinian uprising centered on east Jerusalem. That's historically the Arab side of that city. And its Palestinian residents include the man we'll meet next, Zachariah Sabella. He's a development worker. He's 31 years old and has spent his life under Israeli governance in east Jerusalem. What's it been like to grow up as a Palestinian in east Jerusalem?

ZACHARIAH SABELLA: Well, it wasn't the easiest of lives growing up here. It's really a segregated city. Israeli and Arab neighborhoods are really disconnected from one another. The services, municipal services, to Israeli neighborhoods and the Palestinian neighborhoods are not the same. Infrastructure is relatively weak in east Jerusalem. So it's not the best of lives.

INSKEEP: We should remind people that this is an area that was captured by Israel in a 1967 war. Israelis have annexed east Jerusalem as part of Israel. Much of the world does not accept that. Do people in your area, just people you talk with, broadly accept the idea that they are part of Israel?

SABELLA: No, they don't accept the idea that they are part of Israel. East Jerusalem is an integral part of the future Palestinian state. That's at least how people feel here. It's really a neglected part of town, and, you know, people are kind of lost. They feel neglected. They feel that their needs aren't cared for. Seventy-five percent of the population here lives below the poverty line. So you know, it's hard really to have a good life in this part of town.

INSKEEP: Does that in any way, though, justify the violence of recent days?

SABELLA: It doesn't justify the violence. I think the majority of people here reject violence. It's not a nice thing, obviously. But at the end of the day, people understand where it's coming from. You know, when you have young Palestinians with no prospects, no economic prospects, no social activities, no hope, and a lack of a political vision for these young people, they have nothing to lose. And, you know, it's - violence is not only one-sided, you know. You have to also look at the violence coming from the other side.

INSKEEP: There's been something strange about these knife attacks, though. It's not like individuals are lashing out at the state, lashing out at security services. They're stabbing random people on the street.

SABELLA: I really can't understand the mindset of someone who wants to stab another person. But at the end of the day, it's a symptom of a bigger problem. And, you know, we've been saying this for a very long time. A lack of a political vision to end the occupation of the Palestinian people once and for all is going to empower those who have no hope to, you know, to act in such a violent manners. You know, the problem is much bigger than somebody waking up in the morning and saying, you know, I want to stab someone. It's really deeper than that. And those who try to attempt to, you know, portray it as a result of incitement or because people simply hate, you know, others, it's simplifying really a more complex problem.

INSKEEP: Although there certainly has been incitement online and elsewhere.

SABELLA: I mean, incitement is subjective. I mean, if you look at the political rhetoric of some of the Israeli officials, that can be incitement. You have ministers today in the Israeli government that have taken pride in killing Arabs and that have called, you know, Palestinian children little snakes and who have called Palestinians animals. These are the people that are in government today in Israel. And, yes, of course, I mean, people have to tone down the rhetoric, but we have to be a bit objective at looking at, you know, both sides of the equation.

INSKEEP: How has daily life changed in east Jerusalem these last few weeks?

SABELLA: As a Palestinian, I was a little bit anxious because, you know, there was - we looked at social media, we looked at, you know, news reports, and we constantly saw, you know, the extra judicial killings of Palestinian youth, the news reports in Israel portrayed as, you know, all those killings are necessary. But, you know, when you look at some of those videos, you're really shocked, and that caused a bit of anxiety for young Palestinians like myself. So, you know, we tried to stay home as much as possible, and it wasn't pleasant. I think things are relatively calming down in terms of, I guess, violence. But still you see restrictions on access and movement for the Palestinian neighborhoods, and people are not happy about that.

INSKEEP: Zachariah Sabella, thank you very much.

SABELLA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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