Hours after receiving approval during an emergency security cabinet meeting, police on Wednesday morning began sealing off violent Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem in an effort to quell the ongoing wave of deadly terrorist attacks in the capital.
According to police, the entrances to Jebl Mukaber – the Arab neighborhood where three terrorists who were shot or killed on Tuesday once resided – have been blocked by concrete barriers manned by heavily armed security personnel, and police continue to block off other flashpoint Arab neighborhoods in the capital, including in Isawiya and Silwan.
Residents of the city, however, describe the move as short-sighted and ineffective.
Tzvi, an attorney who requested that his last name not be published, called the enclosures a “huge mistake.”
“I think that in the short-term, maybe it might be slightly effective, but long-term I think that it’s a huge mistake because it’s a division of the city, and closing off certain neighborhoods can be a very dangerous precedent,” he said.
Moreover, Tzvi said that by closing off the flashpoint neighborhoods, the government is not “dealing with the real issue.”
“The real issue is justice; it’s do you believe that the city belongs to the Jewish people,” he said. “I think the strategy of the Israeli government over the years has been ambiguous – there’s never been a clear-cut decision of who the city belongs to."
“The government doesn’t really act like the city belongs to the Jewish people,” he continued. “And if you don’t believe that it does, you bring the uprising of the Palestinians upon yourself.”
Nachman, a 23-year-old yeshiva student, said he believes the enclosures will be breached easily.
“It doesn’t help because they still have ways to get in [west Jerusalem],” he said. “They can close down the main roads to the villages, but there are always other passages, so they’re not really in a lockdown.”
Alternately, Nachman said he believes taking away citizenship and deporting Arab parents whose children kill is a far more effective deterrent.
“I think that helps more, because the parents will watch over their kids and keep them closer and supervise them,” he said. “This way, the parents will have something to lose. That will help, but I think closing the neighborhoods is a waste of time.”
Naomi, a 20-something student, described the closures as an ineffectual “band aid.”
“For the long run, it’s like a band aid and eventually they fall off,” she said. “It’s not fixing the problem – it doesn’t do anything – it doesn’t fix what’s underneath, it just covers it. The government needs to find a long-term plan, which no one has been able to do in 60-odd years.”
Meanwhile, former east Jerusalem portfolio head and Meretz city councilman, Dr. Meir Margalit, whose position has been taken over by Mayor Nir Barkat, described the government move on Wednesday as an ill-conceived bluff.
“First of all, I think it’s a bluff because it’s impossible to close neighborhoods in east Jerusalem,” he said, echoing Nachman’s sentiments.
“There’s no way to do it; even if you close the main roads, there are hundreds of ways to leave the villages. If a terrorist is motivated to kill, he can find another way to leave.”
On a practical level, Margalit said he believed the closures were little more than a weak psychological crutch for Israelis terrified by the ongoing and unpredictable attacks.
“This is just to give people a false psychological feeling that things are under control, but it’s a lie,” he said.
Still, Margalit contended that separating the warring sides of the capital is a step in the right direction.
“This changes nothing on the ground, but on an ideological level it’s very good that the government wants to divide the city, because this is something that needs to be done and it already is divided in a de facto sense,” he said.
“The city has been divided since 1967," Margalit continued. "It has never been united, so it’s good that the government is dividing it now, and what we need is a courageous leader who recognizes that the united model for the city has collapsed.”
The only solution, Margalit concluded, is to find another model where there is division and mutual autonomy.
“A model where the Palestinians can manage their own lives,” he said.