- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2006

JERUSALEM — An unanticipated consequence of Israel’s West Bank security barrier has been an influx of Israeli Arabs into Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem who hope to remain on the Israeli side of the barrier.

Salam Kusideh is one of a growing number of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who have moved across the highway from Arab neighborhoods of Beit Hanineh and Shuafat in search of cheaper housing and a better quality of life in the Jewish suburb of Pisgat Ze’ev.

After eight months in his five-bedroom duplex, Mr. Kusideh is encouraging other Palestinians to follow.

“I tell them the conditions are excellent here,” the 38-year-old carpenter said without hesitation. “Everything is orderly.”

The security barrier, designed to seal off Jerusalem from the West Bank, has driven up real estate and rental prices in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as thousands of Palestinians return to the city limits.

Fearing that they may be stripped of residency rights that give them access to Israeli government social services, they are willing to pay higher prices for small dwellings on the Israeli side of the barrier.

“They want to escape the wall,” said Jamal Natsche, a real-estate broker from Beit Hanineh. “If you’re stuck on the other side, in the long run, you’ll lose your ID.”

The rising prices in Arab neighborhoods are prompting people such as Mr. Kusideh to consider Pisgat Ze’ev, which was developed as a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem in the 1980s. There, an influx of Palestinians is driving prices in the opposite direction.

Only a few hundred Arabs live in the neighborhood of 45,000 residents, but the flow is increasing.

“I didn’t expect that they would sell it to us. There are a lot of Jews that won’t sell apartments to Arabs,” said Mr. Kusideh’s wife, Grace, who hails from a Christian Palestinian village near the West Bank city of Jenin.

At work, she faced disbelief from fellow Arabs.

“I told them we bought in Pisgat Ze’ev, and they said, ‘What? Pisgat Ze’ev is a [Jewish] settlement.’ They were a bit astonished.”

The economics of the Jerusalem housing market are making the move to Pisgat Ze’ev increasingly attractive for Palestinians. The two-bedroom apartment that the Kusideh family once rented for $400 a month in Beit Hanineh is going for more than $600.

Israeli banks, meanwhile, are willing to offer mortgage financing for home purchases in Pisgat Ze’ev, but not in Beit Hanineh, and Pisgat Ze’ev offers a much higher level of planning and services.

Mr. Natsche said the bureaucratic procedures for buying in Jewish neighborhoods are more transparent, making it easier to buy, but Jewish homeowners often show resistance.

“In the long run, prices are going down because the area is being invaded by Arabs,” he said. “When [sellers] hear I have an Arab client, they hesitate and say that they don’t feel comfortable doing the deal, even though it’s the same money.”

Mr. Kusideh said he enjoys good relations with his Jewish neighbors, exchanging greetings and honoring holidays, such as by observing the socially imposed ban on vehicle traffic during Yom Kippur.

The neighborhood’s shopping mall is the picture of integration between Jews and Arabs, but at a mall coffee shop, Palestinians say Jews are reluctant to rent to Arabs, while Jews whisper rumors about Arab teens making aggressive advances on young women.

Mr. Kusideh said a neighbor, Yossi Shuna, persuaded other Jews in his apartment building to accept his family and to stop parking in his reserved parking space.

“He’s a good man,” Mr. Shuna said of his new neighbor. “Some of my best friends are Arabs. I’m originally from Iraq, so my mentality is Oriental Arab. I get along with them.”

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