Looking for a Home in Jerusalem
“If you could choose to live in any Jerusalem neighborhood, where would it be?” my roommate asked me as we discussed our plans to look for a new apartment.
“I want to live in an Arab neighborhood or one bordering an Arab neighborhood,” I responded immediately. It was a fast and easy response for me, but i in reality, the process is much more complicated and difficult.
In Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods, there are no online directories or bulletins where all available apartments are advertised. Palestinian society functions on a different system, one that relies on reputation, honor, and mistrust of strangers. This system involves a personal connection to the community that is passed on by word-of-mouth communication to obtain access to apartments. The way to go about it is to to ask fellow Palestinians if they know of apartments for rent, and they in turn pass the information onto their circles, and so on. Eventually, due to one’s personal connections, you are considered reliable, and therefore apartment owners are more willing to show you their apartment and eventually rent it.
This is the heart of Palestinian society in many ways. As an individual you have less credibility and reputation. Who you are connected to, and more importantly who you are related to, is a large part of your public credibility and value.
The beneficiaries of this system, and the leading tenant population for Palestinians seeking to rent apartments, are internationals -- those who work for the various international consulates, organizations, and churches. I do see the attraction. Arab houses are usually more spacious compared to equivalently-price apartments in West Jerusalem. Arab neighborhoods are geographically closer to their work, schools, etc. Their lease is usually closed ended, which means there is always anex it for both sides. And most importantly, internationals earning a foreign salary can pay well, far more than the average Palestinian or even Israeli.
For me, even as a non-Jerusalemite Palestinian, I struggle to find apartments for rent.
I think the system itself is not time efficient. Passing on my inquiry through all my networks is unpredictable. One friend could immediately reply, “Actually, my grandfather has an apartment. I will get you the information tomorrow,” or another friend could say “I do not know of any right now, but I will ask around.”
So far, my roommate and I have been successful in looking at a few apartments through our church pastor. My pastor passed our request to the church members, and some have responded that they are moving, and their apartments are in Palestinian neighborhoods. The apartments we did see were beautiful, spacious, and well maintained. One of them is just being built, and everything in the house is brand new!
The only downside to these apartments is their price. It is very expensive for me, a local, who earns a local salary. As much as I love some of the apartments, and I want to live among my own people group, I am somewhat frustrated and shocked at these rental prices.
This is the only reason I am forced to consider Jewish neighborhoods, or even bordering neighborhoods, because they might be affordable. However, that comes at a high price for me. My roommate is a Christian who has lived most of her life outside of the country in which she was born as she is a third-culture kid. We have had to discuss possible scenarios of looking for apartments with Jewish home owners.
“I don’t want to be in a position where I am denied the option to rent an apartment because I am Arab. I do not want to be rejected, and I think you should go and ask the owner first, and if they are not against having an Arab tenant, then I can come and see the apartment. If my ethnicity bothers them, then having me view the apartment is unnecessary.,” I told her while trying to hold back my pain and hurt at these possible scenarios.
“I do not want to rent from someone who doesn’t want Arabs either,” my roommate said.
I realized that, on one hand, the requirement to have a personal Palestinian connection in order to have access to apartments, and on the other hand, the possibility of being rejected or denied rent because of my ethnicity, is what makes me question whether I will ever be able to call Jerusalem home. A city that has recently celebrated 50 years since its victorious reunification hides an ever-widening rift of deeply divided communities that make it far from welcome for those residing in it.