The Jewish sages asked themselves what brought about the 70 CE destruction of Jerusalem. Their conclusion was baseless hatred. Since the collapse of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative, the abduction and murder of three Jewish teens from the West Bank, the revenge kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teen from east Jerusalem and the eruption of war in Gaza, Jerusalem has witnessed a proliferation of racist, nationalistic hatred.
Ultra-nationalist Jews have perpetrated approximately 50 attacks against Palestinians, murdering one teenage boy and leaving dozens of people injured. Only some of these events were reported. On the eve of the Jewish fast day of Tisha Be’av two attacks were perpetrated against Jews by Palestinians, leaving one dead and six wounded, including one in serious condition. While hatred, violence and racism are not new phenomena in Jerusalem, during the past three months they have consumed the city, threatening to destroy the few sanctuaries of life and sanity still holding on.
Whoever fears baseless hatred between Jews, but does not recognize the damage of hatred beyond the community, is necessarily afflicted by hate. Sinat Hinam is just that – baseless, widespread and ever-expanding.
But hatred does not develop in a void, nor does it feed only upon itself. It is easy to put the onus on extremists and thugs; in reality, its origins can be found much higher up in the social and political establishment. Since 1967, Israeli government policy on Jerusalem has been premised on deep-seated ethnic and national discrimination. Resource distribution and development plans in Jerusalem overtly evidence demographic considerations, leaving Palestinian neighborhoods grossly neglected in terms of planning, infrastructures and services. Racism is embedded in the DNA of life in Jerusalem: in the legal differentiation between Israeli citizens and Palestinian residents, in a public sphere that reflects nothing of the city’s bi-national character, and in a variety of daily practices that deprive and exclude Palestinians.
This reality dictates how Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem perceive one another and provides the ideal conditions for breeding hatred and violence, which consistently lurk beneath the surface of the city and palpably erupt in times of crisis.
On the eve of the war in Gaza, an account of the failure of Kerry’s peace initiative was published, citing Netanyahu’s refusal to discuss the issue of Jerusalem as one of the primary obstacles to progress. With no prospect for a political agreement, Jerusalem continues to devolve into a bi-national but unequal city marked by severe discrimination, conditions which in turn exacerbate hatred and violence among both Israelis and Palestinians.
Some claim that Jerusalem has already opted for a bi-national solution, pointing to the more prominent presence of Palestinians in west Jerusalem shopping and recreation centers, job markets and even Israeli institutions of higher learning in recent years. But this outlook applies to a very narrow strata of life in Jerusalem and even these indicators have decreased with the tension of recent weeks.
Jerusalem will not be able to bear such systemic inequality for much longer; the events we have recently witnessed could soon enough be revisited, fundamentally destabilizing life in the city.
Particularly in the absence of a political resolution, whoever cherishes Jerusalem should fight for a city that truly denounces any manifestation of violence and racism.
It will be impossible to confront racism on the streets without confronting the very same racism that dictates severe discrimination in education, infrastructure, planning and construction, culture and management of public space in the city.
The prime minister and the mayor have expressed their sorrow over the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the teenage boy from Shuafat. If they are genuinely concerned with challenging hatred in Jerusalem, they must adopt a different model of management in the city: zero tolerance for racism and violence, fair distribution of resources and infrastructure and recognition of both Israelis and Palestinian national and political aspirations to the city.
The author is executive director of Ir Amim.