A tale of two cities

Time for sovereignty in east Jerusalem

By
August 17, 2019 19:32
3 minute read.
A tale of two cities

The Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ras al-Amud is seen in front of the Dome of the Rock. (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)

For 52 years we have been blessed with a reunified Jerusalem. On paper.

We tell ourselves Jerusalem has been reunited for over half a century, but a short walk through the streets paints a different picture. While the city’s west side appears cared for and prosperous, the east seems neglected in comparison. From road quality and trash collection to safety and security, those in the east side– predominantly Arab Israelis but also many Jews who returned to these parts of Jerusalem after 1967 – live in a completely different Jerusalem from neighborhoods on the west side. This is not what sovereignty looks like.

If we are concerned about this disparity in services received, we ought to be even more alert to the sociological impact of this chasm. It has, in many ways, given rise to a divided society: Children in east Jerusalem often learn to direct animosity toward the Jews living just a few minutes away, who are meanwhile afraid to walk through whole neighborhoods of this so-called “unified” city and bring their own prejudices. Evidently, as long as Jerusalem remains a tale of two cities, we cannot justify calling her “reunified.”

So what do we do?

A unified Jerusalem cannot be built on de jure status alone. We need to take it a step further. We need to take responsibility. Only then will the united Jerusalem truly be under Israeli sovereignty.

Let’s not fool ourselves; east Jerusalemites may have permanent residency status here in Israel, but they are far from eager to live under Israeli authority. Some not only vocalize their opposition to this State, but demonstrate it: Throughout the Intifada, east Jerusalem civilians carried out countless acts of terrorism, large and small. And lest we convince ourselves such behavior is firmly in the rear-view mirror, we need only recall the onslaught of violence in summer 2014. Triggered by Operation My Brother’s Keeper in the aftermath of the kidnapping and murder of Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, east Jerusalemites rioted. They threw Molotov cocktails, pipes and stones at police. They smashed windows and cameras, and set fire to trashcans and train stations.

We gesticulate grandly about sovereignty, but apparently we’ve forgotten what that looks like. Who is responsible for Jerusalem, east and west alike? We are. Not foreign governments like Turkey or the European Union or UNRWA, who pour millions of dollars into their interests here in order to purchase their rights to an influential role. To truly unify Jerusalem in more than just words, we need to ensure we’re the ones in the driver’s seat, and from that position we have to lead by example.

So as we move government offices from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, some of them must join the Justice Ministry in the east. At the same time, we must treat east Jerusalem citizens equally to their neighbors in the west. That means we not only collect their taxes and impose fines on illegal car parkers, but also invest in local infrastructure and economic development, bringing it to par with the city’s west side. With proper investment and effort, we can move the concept of a unified Jerusalem off the paperwork and onto the streets; a shift that will benefit all those concerned, not to mention befit the magnitude of the city’s significance.

Too many people are fond of the concept of a unified Jerusalem but less keen on actually practicing it and making it happen. Yet it’s impossible to claim unity with east Jerusalem while standing immovably in west Jerusalem. A truly unified Jerusalem stems from us taking responsibility, so it’s time for us to apply sovereignty to east Jerusalem not just with our words but with our actions.

The author is a City Council member in Jerusalem for the Hitorerut Party.


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