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08 July

| 2020 | 17:00

Employment, Commerce, and Entrepreneurship in East Jerusalem

  • Free
  • In Hebrew
  • Live
  • Public
  • Online
  • Free
  • In Hebrew
  • Live
  • Public
  • Online
Employment, Commerce, and Entrepreneurship in East Jerusalem

This event is part of the East Jerusalem Forum Project.

Employment, Commerce, and Entrepreneurship in East Jerusalem

The focus of the meeting was on economic development: employment, commerce, and entrepreneurship in East Jerusalem, and on the planning of new employment and business centers. It was held against the backdrop of Government Decision 3790 (from May 2018) to reduce socioeconomic gaps and spur economic development in East Jerusalem, the five-year government plan to encourage economic development in East Jerusalem, and initiatives to set up new employment and business centers in the main business centers in East Jerusalem in the Um Tubba-Har Homa area and in Wadi Al-Joz, which have been in the headlines in recent months.

 

The State of Employment and Entrepreneurship in East Jerusalem during the Coronavirus Crisis

Amira Jabar, project manager for the expansion and development of services in East Jerusalem for the Municipal Employment Authority, reviewed the current situation, the problems, and the challenges in the employment sphere in East Jerusalem. She described the severe unemployment situation in East Jerusalem following the Coronavirus crisis: The crisis in the tourism sector and all related sectors, the employment situation among East Jerusalem women, only a minority of whom were employed before the Coronavirus crisis, unemployment among young people who worked at temporary jobs, and more.

Jabar spoke about the major obstacles to finding work: lack of knowledge of Hebrew; apprehensions about working in West Jerusalem (first and foremost among women); lack of recognition of East Jerusalem graduates’ academic degrees on the part of the Israeli authorities (for example, in the para-medical fields, and in the sectors of education and social work); problems of access, including the roadblocks on the way to the city, especially on the routes leading to the city from the neighborhoods beyond the security fence; the unwillingness of Jewish employers in West Jerusalem to hire Arab residents of East Jerusalem and more.

However, Jabar stresses that the Coronavirus crisis has also created several opportunities:

  • Increased openness toward the “Israeli side” among some sectors of the East Jerusalem public
  • Increased motivation to look for work in West Jerusalem
  • A significant increase in the number of people in East Jerusalem who are learning Hebrew, as well as in the number of students enrolled in the preparatory academic programs and various faculties at Hebrew University, and in other institutions of higher learning in Israel – all of which should facilitate easier access to the Israeli market

Measures to Promote Business Development in East Jerusalem

Rihaam Jaber, the director of the MATI business development center branch in East Jerusalem, reviewed the efforts to promote business development in East Jerusalem:

  • Professional training courses that were opened in 2016 (including courses which teach Hebrew for the workplace)
  • Ongoing mentoring for new and existing businesses
  • Assistance provided to receive loans guaranteed by the State
  • Opening of a special portal during the period of the Coronavirus for 250 businesses in East Jerusalem to enable online buying

These measures were successful and well-received, but are still of narrow scope due to the relatively limited budget devoted to the issue.

Employment Centers in East Jerusalem – Focus on the Old, Don’t Rush Toward the New

Fuad Abu-Hamad, East Jerusalem businessman and entrepreneur and director of the Clalit Healthcare clinic branch in Beit Zafafa, stresses the need to develop the existing commercial centers in East Jerusalem neighborhoods and not to focus solely on new centers. He says that first the problems of the “urban jungle” and “the planning chaos” in the neighborhoods should be addressed, which he lists as: the absence of paved sidewalks on a considerable number of streets, parking problems, narrow roads, and more, which make access to shops and businesses in East Jerusalem neighborhoods very difficult.

Abu Hamad highlights the problems with public transportation: for example, the lack of direct bus lines between the neighborhoods (such as between Beit Zafafa and Sur Bahar); the fact that buses don’t run after eight in the evening; the absence of the Rav-Kav transportation smart card arrangement in East Jerusalem, which could enable a family to save between NIS 500 and NIS 600 per month, and more. He claims that there is no connecting point along the American Road to the neighborhoods which it passes, in terms of anything related to the planning of commercial centers. At the same time, he praises MATI for its business mentoring, and its professional training courses, but describes these as ” a drop in the ocean,” in such a large area as East Jerusalem. He believes that MATI’s activity should be increased at least ten-fold. He spoke of the bureaucratic difficulties and obstacles involved in recruiting investors from both Israel, the West Bank and abroad to invest in East Jerusalem. Abu Hamad mentions the lack of knowledge of Hebrew as a major obstacle to finding employment in West Jerusalem. He recommends increasing the opportunities to learn Hebrew since the education system failed to teach the language. In his opinion, a breakthrough in this area could “break a barrier” that could also influence additional sectors.

Planning of New Commercial and Employment Centers in East Jerusalem

Ofer Gridenger, head of the City Planning Division at the Jerusalem Municipality claims that until recently there was almost no planning of commercial and employment centers in East Jerusalem neighborhoods. In recent years the City Planning Division of the Jerusalem Municipality, in conjunction with the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, started to plan such centers – mostly on private land – which created difficulties in the implementation of the plans. The planning of the centers is intended to address a series of municipal objectives: to narrow social and cultural gaps in the city; increase the supply and diversity of employment opportunities in East Jerusalem; increase the workforce within the Arab sector by encouraging the employment of women; increase the number of people employed in East Jerusalem; increase productivity; increase the municipality’s income (by levying business property taxes); prevent the exodus of private capital from East Jerusalem.

The municipal goal which was determined is the addition of about two million square meters of commercial and employment areas in nine new commercial and employment focal points in East Jerusalem from the “Atarot Triangle” in the north to the Um Tubba area in the south (Presentation, in Hebrew).

Promoting Quality Employment

Yaara Issar, head of Planning and Development, The Unit for Entrepreneurship and Development, East Jerusalem, at the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, reviewed the planning stages for the employment and business centers slated for East Jerusalem, which are above all intended to promote quality employment.

Issar described the difficulties involved in receiving approval from the various planning committees for the employment centers, which include difficulties in enlisting the support of various Israeli establishments to budget resources for the planning of the centers on privately-owned land. Architect Yaara Rosner-Manor, who designs employment and business centers in East Jerusalem, surveyed the detailed design process for the new employment and business centers in Isawiyya and Wadi Al-Joz (“Joz Valley”), which has been in the headlines in recent weeks in the context of moving the garages along the main road out of the neighborhood and developing more highly-skilled types of employment – including high-tech.

Main Business Center in East Jerusalem

Murad Natsheh, a city planner for the Wadi Al-Joz area and a researcher at The Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, spoke about what is needed in the Main Business Center in East Jerusalem in the area of Sultan Suleiman Street, parallel to part of the Old City wall (for example, doing away with traffic islands and areas which separate between lanes of traffic in order to widen the sidewalks), and on Salah al-Din Street, and about the possibility of transforming it into a pedestrian mall with cafés and restaurants on certain days, similar to Emek Refaim and Gaza streets in West Jerusalem. Natsheh also stressed the need to integrate commercial and residential usage and said that the supply of more housing units in the Main Business Center should be addressed, describing it as a vital need in East Jerusalem.

The discussion was moderated by Dr. Amnon Ramon, Senior Researchers and Coordinator at the  Jerusalem Institute. The event was sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung Foundation.