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Usually Palestinians suffer home demolitions, they don’t build. So what allows the little building that does happen? (Photo credit: Flickr user karathepirate)

In my final days in Jerusalem I found myself in conversation with a businessman from East Jerusalem that raised more questions for me about the day-to-day working relationship between Palestinians and Israelis. My acquaintance has been building new apartments in East Jerusalem. When I expressed my understanding that getting permits to build in East Jerusalem is extremely difficult for Palestinians to do, he said that he had worked for the government and so had good connections. He said he had gotten the job originally because his father had been friends with a previous mayor of Jerusalem. As we discussed the difficult economic times in real estate, he told of losing a money in a project in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem – indeed, one considered a settlement by the international community since it is on the other side of the 1967 Green Line. When I expressed surprise at his being able to be involved in a project in a Jewish area (I did not approach the settlement issue) he said he worked with a Jewish partner. He said he had many Jewish friends, even a friend who live in Kiryat Arba – perhaps one of the most ideological settlements, located near Hebron. He told a story that once after a loss in his family, these friends came and stayed with them for three days.

Because many East Jerusalemites do not have Israeli citizenship, I was surprised that this man was an Israeli citizen. Perhaps he was from somewhere in 1948 Israel and had only recently moved to East Jerusalem? Perhaps his family was one of the few to accept Israeli citizenship when it was offered? I had thought there was only a short window of time after 1967 when East Jerusalemites had been offered the choice citizenship or permanent resident status, but now I’ve been seeing articles like this one saying that EJ folks can “upgrade” their status if they wish. In any case, I commented that being an Israeli citizen must make things easier. I meant only in business, but he was quick to correct me by telling me several classic Ben Gurion airport hassle stories. My favorite was not about him, but about him seeing a priest with one bag returning to Rome being delayed for more than an hour – “what else were they checking for?” he wondered.

I have heard other vague references to working relationships, even in Jerusalem, that allow Palestinians with Israeli citizenship to get things done. In another instance, a shopkeeper in the Old City of Jerusalem told me that he could get the necessary permits because he had Jewish friends who helped him. It is, of course, a mixed message. On the one hand it raises the specter of corruption, and on the other it suggests that people are relating to each other in peaceful ways. More generally, it makes me wonder about the actual structures that limit municipal services, like water and sanitation. What are the ways some Palestinians and Arab-Israelis use to get around the policies that limit their lives?