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Grassroots Jerusalem: A Platform for Palestinian Self-empowerment

ForumZFD interviews Fayrouz Sharqawi

Forum participates in tour of jerusalem
© Vieira

“Everyone who comes here seems to have a solution for the Palestinian people, except the Palestinians of Jerusalem themselves.” This is how Fayrouz Sharqawi opens her guided tour through the Palestinian neighbourhoods and Israeli settlements of Eastern Jerusalem. Within a stunning three and a half hours Fayrouz presents a narrative of Palestinian Jerusalemites, that “counters common misconceptions about Jerusalem”. forumZFD had the opportunity to join her tour to learn about the devastating impact of Israeli development policies on Palestinian livelihoods and the efforts of local initiatives to provide self-reliant alternatives. Around 80 of such community initiatives are connected through the Grassroots Jerusalem online platform. Together they share resources, exchange knowledge and find strategies of resilience and self-empowerment, as Fayrouz explains in this interview.

Global Mobilization Coordinator Fayrouz Sharqawi has been guiding the Political Jerusalem Tours for eight years. Here she recounts how in June 1967 Israel annexed 70,500 dunums of the Eastern part of Jerusalem, applied Israeli law and thirteen years later declared Jerusalem to be the “eternal and united capital of the Israeli State.” The 40 per cent of Palestinians living in Jerusalem are not given full citizenship but only “permanent residency papers” – a precarious status that can be revoked if they shift their “centre of life” away from Jerusalem.

Why did you start the Political Jerusalem Tours and what makes them different from other tours?

The need [for giving a political tour through the city] was clear to us from the beginning since there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation when it comes to Jerusalem. A lot of people around the world are misled by their media and that is why we thought there is the need for a genuine Palestinian tour that provides the Palestinian narrative.

They also say that it [the tour] is slightly different from most narratives or tours that are provided by Palestinian organizations because we do not focus only on the Israeli occupation and displacement policies but also give our comments on international involvement and our perception of what proper self-empowerment within Palestinian communities means. This also touches upon the aid sector and how people here have the perception that they [workers of international aid organisations] are the saviours and that are here to ‘save’ or help ‘these poor Palestinians’. I think it brings up a new kind of challenge that they did not really expect in a political tour of Jerusalem. They might have thought that it is going to be about the Israeli policies but then they realise that we present them as part of the problem. And it is hard to accept as someone who relocates their lives and comes here to work, but I think it is totally fair and totally justifiable that we make these comments heard, especially to the people who are within these systems.

Fayrouz shows the division of the city: On one side rapid infrastructural developments, high rises, green parks and buzzing economic centres, on the other side neighbourhoods without sidewalks, without enough school buildings, without adequate trash collection and without building permits to account for the growing Palestinian population of Jerusalem. Both sides are administered by the same municipality of Jerusalem and fall under the same “Master Plan” for development and planning

What are the most inspiring developments you see in the wide network of communities you support and what are their strategies for resistance?

Even though the situation is very bad in Jerusalem for the Palestinians – and I realise how frustrating and devastating the tour can be – I think it is great and wonderful to see that, despite this very limiting environment and this very harsh political reality, Palestinian communities are always able to find this hope and inspiration, this drive and willingness. There is a lot of activism happening on a very small localised scale. And that is why the goal behind our networking is to connect these initiatives and organisations to each other. I think that once they can build networks, they can form a bigger coalition on the Jerusalem level, a network that is working for the whole city – seeing the city as one place, and not as different struggles that are happening within very small communities.

In many places around Jerusalem the wall separates Palestinian neighbourhoods from each other, cutting off former economic centres from their clients, schools from their pupils and the only Arab university of Jerusalem (Al Quds University) from its students. Fayrouz explains that the economic impact of the wall together with policies that prohibit the import of certain goods like dairy products is felt by the community. Therefore, Grassroots Jerusalem tries to support local initiatives in income-generating activities.

Would you say that that networking is, what is most needed to organise the Palestinian communities in Jerusalem?

Definitely! I think this is most needed for us, to cooperate and to share resources, to share experience and knowledge. And to share our own experience about overcoming challenges, be it Israeli policies or donor policies, to be creatively supporting the revival of our economy; because that is the main field: If we really want to achieve true self-empowerment it has to be economic.

Instead of becoming dependent on donor money, Grassroots Jerusalem supports local initiatives in thinking of alternative ways to fund their activities and create change in their communities, for example through crowdfunding. Fayrouz believes that economic stability is a precondition for making independent decisions, becoming self-reliant and raising one’s voice for social change.


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