Calming tensions in Jerusalem

"Four ticking time bombs in Jerusalem may explode at any second"

By MEIR KRAUS
October 8, 2015 20:54
4 minute read.
Jerusalem

Police at a security barricade in the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

 
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Keeping Jerusalem stable cannot be achieved by augmenting police and security forces. If we continue in our pattern of ignoring the roots of the problems in Jerusalem, the terrorist attacks we are experiencing are sure to continue for years.

Four ticking time bombs in Jerusalem may explode at any second: the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif; living conditions for Palestinians; the neighborhoods beyond the security fence; and the Jewish communities in Arab neighborhoods. If we do not implement policies to address these challenges, large-scale violence is likely to break out.

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What policies can be implemented to address these challenges? Temple Mount: The increased Jewish presence on the Temple Mount has been perceived by Palestinians as a real threat to their sanctuaries. Israel, for its part, cannot give up the rights of Jews to express their beliefs at their holiest site. However, Israel should clarify – not only through declarations, but also by actions – that it recognizes the existing status on the Mount, which has been a Muslim place of worship for hundreds of years. Israel should make clear that it has no intention of unilaterally changing the status. It should acknowledge that the rights of Jews on the Mount will be implemented in a peaceful way. Such a clarification may help to decrease the tensions, in addition to maintaining the agreed-upon understandings with Jordan following the previous round of violence in 2014.

Living conditions for Palestinians: Eastern Jerusalem (the Arab neighborhoods) is a neglected part of the city. Its residents have only partial rights, and 75 percent of them live under the poverty line.

Most of the streets have no sidewalks.

There is no enforcement of law and order unless related to a security issue. Hundreds of classrooms are missing in the education system, and the achievements of the students are very low. Sewage flows down openly through the Kidron Valley, a place full of heritage, nature and culture. Palestinians there despairingly see the huge, seemingly unbridgeable gaps between the eastern and the western parts of the city with much frustration and feelings of discrimination in their hearts and minds. The existing efforts by the Jerusalem Municipality are limited by resources, and they cannot alone overcome almost 50 years of neglect. A national plan is needed for reviving this area, its infrastructure and its services for residents.

Neighborhoods beyond the security fence: The security fence left a number of Jerusalem neighborhoods, containing about 100,000 Arabs, outside the perimeter, yet still within the municipal border.

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Because of this, the municipality cannot fulfill its responsibility in providing development, infrastructure maintenance, and services to these neighborhoods. As a result, these neighborhoods have effectively become a no-man’s-land. The government has yet to make any decision regarding the authority responsible for these neighborhoods. Such a decision is urgent and vital.

Jewish communities within Arab neighborhoods: The Jewish communities in Arab neighborhoods have enhanced the Arabs’ feelings of displacement and discrimination in Jerusalem. While Israeli Jews are claiming their pre- 1948 properties in east Jerusalem, Arabs cannot reclaim their properties from pre-1948 in west Jerusalem.

It is also very difficult for Arabs to legally build apartments in eastern Jerusalem. From the Palestinian perspective, Israelis are taking their homes from them in their own neighborhoods. While the government presents this issue as one which must be addressed by private property laws, this is in fact a national security issue. The government has the legal tools to prevent additional Jewish building in the heart of Arab neighborhoods; the government must put its tools to use.

The temporary periods of relative calm in Jerusalem, along with intermittent cooperation with eastern Jerusalem’s residents, lead some decision- makers to blindly believe that there is a chance for long-term coexistence with the situation remaining as it is. However, no sociological theory validates circumstances in which about 300,000 inhabitants, who are discriminated against on a national and ethnic basis as well socioeconomically, will accept such discrimination and inequality in the long term.

Will the intensity and the volume of violence decrease? Nobody knows.

Perhaps it will, as it has in the past.

Will the Temple Mount situation and the other ticking time bombs explode again in the future? Yes, they will – unless we work rigorously to decrease the tensions and to greatly improve the life conditions of Jerusalem’s residents.

Almost a year ago, researchers Dr.

Amnon Ramon and Lior Lehrs at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies presented Israeli decision-makers with a report that analyzes the roots of the problems in eastern Jerusalem and provides recommendations to address the explosive reality. Are there ways to decrease the tensions without a comprehensive solution regarding Jerusalem? Yes, probably, and the steps presented in this report may help.

However, we will not experience full peace and quiet in this city without a comprehensive agreement.

The writer is CEO of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

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