East Jerusalem’s 320,000 Palestinians now make up 37 percent of the city’s population. Suspended between Israel and the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited control, many of them exist in a kind of political limbo.
Some live a divided life, working in a West Jerusalem cafe or fixing cars by day, then protesting by night. Others put on an inscrutable public front while navigating individual peace accords with Israelis.
By now, half the East Jerusalem Palestinian labor force works in West Jerusalem, according to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, an independent Israeli study center. And below the surface, the mood of outright defiance seems to be shifting.
More than 5,000 students in East Jerusalem high schools are now studying for the bagrut, the Israeli matriculation examination that eases enrollment in Israeli universities, up from about 1,000 in 2014, according to City Hall. And 26 East Jerusalem schools offer the Israeli curriculum, taught in Arabic, as an option, compared with 161 that teach only the tawjihi curriculum of the Palestinian Authority. The number of Palestinian students registering at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has increased in recent years. Palestinian families applying for Israeli citizenship — a longstanding taboo — rose to a record 1,081 in 2016, up from a few dozen in 2003.
Yet experts on both sides say the reasons for these shifts are often practical, and do not necessarily signal a desire on the part of East Jerusalem’s Palestinians to buy into Israeli society.
“There is a serious crisis vis-à-vis 50 years of Israeli control and its system creeping in,” said Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, an independent East Jerusalem research institute. “There is no national leadership or national agenda. Everybody is trying their own way, whether in education, housing, land issues.”
“Yes,” he added, “some are taking an Israeli passport as a tool of survival. But nobody took their soul.”
Days after the club performance in West Jerusalem, Mr. Jaber and I were walking to his home, in a tiny, arched nook off a bustling bazaar in the Muslim Quarter, near a gateway to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound. He had barely walked three steps before two armed Israeli border police officers stopped him and asked to check his identity card.
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