Jabal al-Mukaber is a small Palestinian village located on a hill southeast of occupied Jerusalem and to the east of the old Ottoman-era railway station. The village is bordered by Abu Dis and a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyah to the east, Silwan and the Old City of Jerusalem to the north, a-Thori and Sur Baher to the west, and a-Sheikh Sa’d and Sur Baher to the south.2
It was occupied and illegally annexed by Israel in 1967. Since then, the occupation authority’s land rezoning program has led to a severe housing shortage and forced young familes to migrate from the area. Furthermore, years of underinvestment by the municipality has left what should be a major city centre neighbourhood without basic services such as sidewalks or streetlights.3
Jabal al-Mukaber was given its current name after the second Righteous Caliph Omar Bin al-Khattab praised God, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is Great) on its hill following the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 637 BCE.4 5
Before the 1948 Nakba, Jabal al-Mukaber was home to Arab College. Alan Cunningham, the seventh and last British High Commissioner of Mandatory Palestine, put Arab College under the administration of the International Committee for the Red Cross after the expiration of the British mandate on 17 May 1948. Before the eruption of a battle in August of that year, Ahmad Hussein Hirmas, an employee at the Palestinian department for education, tried to save the college’s library and managed to remove over 13,000 books before Zionist militias succeeded in taking over the building and stealing many valuable books. This event became known as Israel’s ‘Great Book Robbery.’6
Among Jabal al-Mukaber’s most prominent clans are al-Ja’abra, Sarawkha, Bashir, Oweisat, Shuqeirat, Mashahra, Obeidat, Za’atreh and Ja’abis.7
According to Shabab al-Balad Intitiative,8 the majority of Jabal al-Mukaber’s residents work as employees in the service and private sectors. Despite the large amount of agricultural lands in the village (according to ARIJ, 1,549 dunums of Jabal al-Mukabber lands are considered ‘arable’ land), the agricultural sector is very weak.
Also according to Shabab al-Balad, there are three medical centres in the village, all belonging to three Israeli “health maintenance organisations.” As for transportation, they say the United Tours bus company runs 14 buses between the village and Damascus Gate. Before 2004, there was no public transportation system that served Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, and so residents used unorganised ‘service’ taxis (shared taxi vans).
The village is home to one of Jerusalem’s best football/soccer clubs. The Jabal al-Mukaber football club won the West Bank Premier League title in 2010. However, due to restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation, the team cannot play its home games in Jerusalem because players with Palestinian Authority IDs cannot enter Jerusalem. This forces players to travel across the Wall to play their games in Faysal al-Husseini stadium in a-Ram.9 Among the local associations working on coordinating community work and activities in Jabal al-Mukaber is the Nuran Association.10
Settlement expansion and land expropriation
Since its occupation in 1967, the lands of Jabal al-Mukaber have been subject to a number of Israeli confiscations for the sake of colonial goals such as building settlements and bypass roads.11
Six-hundred and eighty-four dunums of the village’s land (almost 14% of the total area) were confiscated for the construction of East Talpiyot (in 1973) and Nof Zion (2004) settlements. In addition, 49 dunums were expropriated under the pretext of “public services,” 1,190 dunums were declared “open spaces,” and 1,549 dunums were declared “agricultural lands,” none of which are allowed to be built on. This leaves an area of only 1,563 dunums for residential use, only 16% of the total area.12 This has created a serious housing crisis in the neighbourhood, with young Palestinian couples among the worst affected.13
There is a severe shortage of classrooms in Jabal al-Mukaber. The head of the parents committee, Mahmoud Oweisat, describes the situation of education in Jabal al-Mukaber as “tragic” and blames the Jerusalem occupation municipality and the Ministry of Education for preventing residents from building schools.14 According to Oweisat, there is a shortage of 80 classrooms and insufficient computer labs, chemistry labs, and other facilities such as playgrounds and yards for the children all of which the committee has long been demanding from the occupation municipality and meeting officials.15 Further affecting education in the village, the Israeli Ministry of Education has been trying over the last few years to impose a new curriculum on the students of Jabal al-Mukaber that distorts the Palestinian narrative and excludes the Palestinian national voice.16
Infrastructure and services
Even though Jabal al-Mukaber residents pay taxes to the Israeli occupation municipality, they are denied the basic services that Israeli residents receive. Roads in Jabal al-Mukaber are dangerous and inaccessible and there are no sidewalks or streetlights in the neighbourhood. Residents are not connected to the municipality’s sewage system and the Israeli occupation municipality frequently cut off their water supply, forcing resident to collect their drinking water from rooftop water tanks. The neighbourhood has neither a mail service nor a decent waste-collection service.17
The Annexation Wall
The construction of the Wall has segregated Jabal al-Mukaber from the West Bank and from East Jerusalem localities such as Abu Dis, a-Sawahrah a-Sharqiyh and a-Sheikh Sa’d. This is particularly devastating to their historical relations with these villages.18
Worse, however, is that the Wall has divided Jabal al-Mukaber and disconnected it from the small adjacent village of Sheikh Sa’ad with which it has always had strong family and economic ties. Some community members actually consider a-Sheikh Sa’d a neighbourhood within Jabal al-Mukaber.