In his December 3
Jerusalem Post op-ed, “Sur Bahir – Facing Jerusalem’s reality,” Seth Frantzman
identifies the root of recent violence in Sur Bahir, including the wounding of a
two-year-old girl: “[T] he culture of violence and hate... encouraged by
community leaders, parents and authority figures.”
understandably disturbed. There is no more universally repugnant image than a
stone catapulting through a car window and striking a vulnerable
Writing off violence in the center of one of the world’s most
entrenched conflict zones to Sur Bahir’s “culture of violence and hate,”
however, does little to make the city safer for any of its residents. Violence
in Jerusalem is perpetrated by many parties and activated by a range of deeply
psychological, emotional and political impulses. Any honest discussion of
violence in Jerusalem must acknowledge the context in which it finds expression
– if not a recognition of the occupation, at minimum, a nod to the deep,
systemic socio-economic and political disparities that separate east from west
in this most conflicted of cities.
A fair discussion of violence in Sur
Bahir is incomplete without acknowledging mounting anti-Arab violence in the
city, perhaps best symbolized by the August 2012 near-lynching of Jamal Julani
in the very heart of Jerusalem. Dozens of boys chased Julani and several friends
through the center to Zion Square and continued to beat him unconscious after he
collapsed. This crime was not an isolated event but rather part of a trend of
attacks on Palestinians that includes a growth in so-called “tag mehir” (price
tag) violence; incitement by rabbis; nationalist soccer- related violence; and
numerous incidents in seam-line neighborhoods.
By altogether ignoring
extreme violence perpetrated by Jews – and their political underpinnings – one
can be easily led to the conclusion that violence is exclusive to the
Palestinian community. Bearing that in mind, it is also critical to recognize
that although most Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem are not the scene
of violent stone throwing, fundamentally they are actually much like Sur Bahir.
And it is those similarities that also contribute to the friction between east
and west Jerusalem in our increasingly bi-national but shamefully unequal
Unlike the planned community of Har Homa, which sits across the
road, Sur Bahir has no well paved roads, solid infrastructure, recycling cages or
playgrounds dotting either side of the main road.
Roads go neglected for
years. With no sidewalks, cars dodge children walking back from school in the
middle of traffic. Trash piles up by the side of the road.
There are no
SUR BAHIR is part of an east Jerusalem that feels like a
ghetto, not a planned community. Living conditions are defined by a staggering
79.5 percent poverty rate (85% for children). Despite 350,000+ Palestinians
constituting more than 1/3 of Jerusalem’s population – and most religiously
paying their arnona – the Municipality allocates a mere 8%-10 % of the budget to
meeting their needs. Due to the dearth of 2,000+ official classrooms in east
Jerusalem, as well as grave disparities in allocation of professional resources
like guidance counselors, 36% of children do not complete a full 12 years of
But the most critical determinant of life and society in east
Jerusalem is the fact that Palestinians living there lack any citizenship
status. They are permanent residents – citizens of no country – prohibited from
voting or running in national elections and living under constant fear that
their residency – conditional as it is – may be revoked at any time. Israel has
revoked the residency of roughly 15,000 Palestinians since 1967. It is the
primary tool for displacing Palestinians from the city.
like Israelis, must be able to enjoy not only the fulfillment of their basic
rights to infrastructure and education but their collective rights to access
their own public spaces, express their political aspirations, plan and build and
run the public institutions that dictate the conditions of their
Given the sharp and enduring divisions in social, political and
economic rights and realities for the two national groups that call Jerusalem
home, the suggestion of “coexistence” some promote as an antidote to violence is
insulting at best.
Attempts at peace are, notoriously, times of elevated
violence and during this very tenuous period in negotiations, violence –
perpetrated by both Jews and Palestinians – will no doubt continue to rise. It
is the responsibility of all moderate voices not to blame but to forcefully
condemn and demand zero tolerance for racism and violence in our city. And to
boldly assert the rights of all residents – east and west – to live without fear
in the city they call home.
The author is the director of international
relations and advocacy for Ir Amim (“City of Nations”).