In an article we published recently, we described our model for resident participation in decision making in East Jerusalem. This model aims to respond to the anomalous relations between Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the Israeli establishment. We focused on our special role as a non-partisan liaison agent who facilitates the dialogue between the two sides. At the end of the article, we pointed to one of the issues we have been working on – the Silwan Mother and Baby Center, that was shut down in December 2008, creating a void of baby care (including immunizations, growth control, etc.) for around 100,000 residents.
Indeed, last year, we received a request from residents in Silwan to help them in this case. We contacted the Jerusalem municipality and created a dialogue channel that involved all professional levels at the municipality, as well as all relevant portfolio holders at the Municipality Council. As a result the two sides achieved the following understanding: the municipality will fund the reopening of the center in 2010, while the residents will help in overcoming obstacles such as finding an appropriate location for the clinic in the village and spreading the word about the renewal of the service.
However, a week ago we found out that at the final stages of approving the municipal budget for 2010, the funding for the Silwan Mother and Baby Clinic was cut out. This story was covered on Haaretz Newspaper, December 20, 2009, in Hebrew and in English. Here are two citations from the article:
Professional workers in the municipality’s community authority recently recommended to the mayor that a well-baby clinic be opened in Silwan, which would also serve the residents of adjacent Arab neighborhoods such as the Old City, Ras al-Amud and Abu Tor. The recommendation came in the wake of discussions they had held with residents of Silwan under the aegis of the Inter-Cultural Center in Jerusalem [emphasis added]. It was suggested that a clinic be opened in the Jewish Quarter at the same time.
Haggai Agmon, director of the Inter-Cultural Center [emphasis added], a non-profit organization that works to assist the city’s different ethnic groups become involved in communal life, says that “the urgent need to open a well-baby clinic in Silwan was agreed upon by both sides but to my great surprise, someone took it off the budget at the last minute.”
In the following week, we helped the residents and the municipality officials in their efforts to retrieve the budget. In between, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), sent a letter to the Mayor, reminding him that there is a Supreme Court decision from 2001 demanding adding more Mother and Baby Centers in East Jerusalem. Nevertheless, so far the budget item has not been restored.
This is very disappointing, and maybe typical of the situation in Jerusalem. However, as a non-partisan organization that identifies issues that are important to all sides – we will continue to work in the coming weeks and months, with the residents and with municipality officials, towards the reopening of this important service for babies. In the course of last week, we found out how much support we have on all sides for our actions, and although we haven’t completed the mission yet, we feel that we are on the right track.