Ramadan Dabash encounters opposition from all sides but finds support among Jerusalem’s Jewish community
[Jerusalem] Ramadan Dabash has lived all of his fifty-one years in Jerusalem’s southeastern neighborhood of Sur Baher – born the same year the fences and barricades separating the east and west sides of the city came down. But while the barbed wire and concrete barriers disappeared, the cultural, political and psychological dividers remained and intensified to the point where many argue the capital needs no physical delineators to illustrate the alienation between Jerusalemites.
During a recent visit to The Media Line bureau, Dabash explained that because he believes much of the animosity begins with the perceived imbalance in municipal services received by Jewish versus Arab neighborhoods, the Arab community must be in the political game in order to assert its rights and correct the discrepancy. But apparently it’s much easier said than done. While the decision by Dabash to run for a seat on the Jerusalem City Council – something not attempted in twenty years – has been met by rancor from both sides, many believe he has already won a significant victory in the form of the outpouring of support from a broad representation of Jewish Israelis who have embraced his candidacy. In fact, according to Dabash’s Jewish campaign manager, Gilad Israeli, it is the Jewish vote that will provide Dabash with his historic seat on the council.
TML’s Felice Friedson: Ramadan Dabash is an Israeli from east Jerusalem running for the Jerusalem City Council. Thank you for joining us at The Media Line.
Ramadan Dabash: Thank you very much.
TML: Ramadan, what made you make that bold move to run for the Jerusalem City Council?
Ramadan: First of all, I have lived in this city since 1967 as an Israeli citizen. We have many problems here. Who is going to take the responsibility…who is going to be in charge here in this capital? Jews and Arabs live here; some people have citizenship and some people do not have citizenship but must exist together, Jews and Arabs. So, we have to be equal, East and West Jerusalem to be together and continue our life.
TML: You grew up in Jerusalem…do you consider yourself Israeli?
Ramadan: Yes, I am Israeli, I have Israeli citizenship, so I believe that I’m a Palestinian Israeli. I live here since 1967. All my life I have lived with Israeli people. I believe I’m a part of this city of Jews and Arabs.
TML: You were raised on the east side of Jerusalem. It’s confusing to many to understand the difference between Arab Israelis, Israeli Arabs, …what does that mean? What are your rights? Are they the same as an Israeli living on the west side?
Ramadan: Not exactly. If you look at Jewish communities built over the Green Line after 1967 like Gilo, Pisgat Ze’ev, Neve Ya’akov, they are good places and they receive all the services but on the Arab side they don’t have enough services. So what is the problem? We pay all the taxes, we pay everything, but we don’t have enough services.
TML: What does that mean specifically?
Ramadan: We pay all the taxes, like arnona [real estate tax]. If we need to build homes, we also have to pay all the taxes to the municipality of Jerusalem. So, we don’t have adequate roads, school, recreation like pools, we don’t have enough places to build. We don’t have enough places for children to play. We don’t have enough schools. We need two thousand more classrooms.
TML: Your party is called, Jerusalem for Jerusalemites. How did you come up with that name?
Ramadan: At the start I took this name because I believe that Jerusalem is for all Jerusalem, Jews and Arabs. By this is I mean be united Jerusalem for Jews and Arabs. I believed this from the start. Who lives in Jerusalem, this is for him. Jews and Arabs live in Jerusalem and we need to live equal with each other. I had to change the name because it was taken, so now I change the name. Some group had the name to “Jerusalem, My City.”
TML: Ramadan, a lot of people living in east Jerusalem complain about these problems for many, many years. So how many of them are willing to come out and actually vote for you?
Ramadan: So, I say to them, you are all the time crying. The Arabs like to cry. We are crying fifty-one years. We have to stop crying. So, if I cry more fifty-one years, I don’t have nothing, so I have to do…just to do, to be inside to vote.
TML: You received threats, both local and from the Palestinian side as well. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Ramadan: Look, I’m not against the Palestinian territory, or the PLO or for somebody. I’m not against anybody. I just want to continue my life. I need the service, so the Palestinian side cannot give me my service. So, also the Israeli side doesn’t give us because we don’t have anybody inside the city [administration]. So this is my life, this is for all the people here to continue our life. We have to take our service. All the people in east Jerusalem like the blue Israeli ID. When I ask somebody if you want to change your ID with the Palestinian ID, nobody wants it. So, what do you need? So, what you need is to be inside the Israeli administration.
TML: Can we go back to the threats you said have been imposed on you and what that means. Have people threatened your life?
Ramadan: Some people, yes. We have some religious people who don’t say a word and don’t do anything with another side. Also, they are working against themselves, they don’t know what they want, what they need. So, everyone goes to the Israeli hospital, like Hadassah Ein Kerem, taking all the service for health and everything. And the cars with the Israeli flags…all things with Israeli side. We are asking them, why is it forbidden in the religion? It’s not forbidden. Mohammad al-Husseini, the former imam in the Mosque of Al-Aqsa, says it is forbidden for us to vote.
TML: Is that so?
Ramadan: I think it’s not true, it’s false. Why, because Islam asks everyone, how can you bring a good life for any human, for anybody you have to give? So, if he says to me, it is forbidden…why is it forbidden…it is not written in the Quran. He says it is written in the Quran. In the Quran, it is exactly written that everything is good for the people, to help them, not to stop life, to continue life.
TML: Your own family was threatened…your son…
Ramadan: My son, not yet three years old, somebody tried to throw my baby off a balcony. I don’t know who it is exactly, so this is not good because he is a baby and we are human.
FF: What happened?
Ramadan: They tried to throw him from the balcony of my home. So, his mother sees them and starts to run for him and they ran away.
TML: Do you have any support system at all from Arab Israelis living in Jerusalem?
Ramadan: I don’t have enough people but I have some and they are trying to help me. Some people do not like it, the religious people, the PLO people are in every village.
TML: What about the Israelis on the west side of Jerusalem? Are they going to vote for you?
Ramadan: I think so…I hope…I hope they vote for me because I want to make history, to change the situation here in east and west Jerusalem. To tell the people you have leader like me, to encourage me, to continue my idea.
TML: What is the biggest problem Jerusalem is facing? And those before you have failed at it, obviously, so what would you do different?
Ramadan: For example, we have many political problems and religious and holy places problems, so I don’t want to touch these problems. So, I start with a service.
TML: What is the biggest problem in Jerusalem?
Ramadan: The biggest problem in Jerusalem today, are the buildings, the destroyed homes in east Jerusalem. So, I have to make plans for the people to make places for them. Other problems are we don’t have enough roads and education. We have a problem with education. For example, we have education for Israeli system and Palestinian system. Palestinian system is tawjihi and the Israeli system is bagrut [standardized matriculation exams]. So, they think if you teach our people for the bagrut, it’s to make ‘Israelization.’
TML: They are like the SAT’s in America.
RD: So, I make a ‘tawjbagrut.’ I have a half word, tawjihi and half word bagrut. So, what’s the problem? I have to teach my children to be lawyers, and to work and to go to the university. I can teach them both education and to continue to be in the university in the future.
TML: Your background…what did you study?
Ramadan: I learned at Technion and I also learned in Russia and Moldova. I have a PhD in civil engineering and I have an office. Also, I am now the head man of the Sur Baher village so I have many things to do. I’m married and have children. I like to help people. Before ten years till this time, I help people to stop destroying home, from my office.
TML: So, people will ask this question. They are going to say to you, “Ramadan, what have you accomplished. Why should you be running for this seat?”
Ramadan: Because Ramadan, he is born in this city and he knows everyone, the Jews and Arabs, he knows all the problems here. I want to help them, I want to change the life, I want to make a good life for them. I want to take them for peace, I think so.
TML: Are you afraid?
RD: No, I’m not afraid.
TML: What about your wife?
RD: My wife, she’s afraid. She’s afraid, but I’m not afraid, because the life is one time and I believe I have to continue.
TML: Ramadan, are you going to win?
Ramdan: Yes, thank you very much.
TML: Thank you very much.