Who does Jerusalem really belong to?

Although Israel claims Jerusalem is a united city and that its municipality services Jewish and Arab neighborhoods alike, this has not been accurate for many years.

November 6, 2014 21:34
4 minute read.
Jerusalem tensions

An Israeli woman (C) and a Palestinian woman gesture at one another during a protest by Palestinian women against Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 Many columns have been written about Israel’s inability to bring about quiet to the Gaza Strip and to reach a political or military agreement that would help normalize Gazans’ daily lives. But not much is written about Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was reunited in 1967 and has remained thus under full Israeli sovereignty since then. Israeli law rules there and Israeli police walk its streets.

But is Israel truly in control of all of Jerusalem? Since early 2012, there has been a marked increase in terrorist acts in east Jerusalem. Dozens of Molotov cocktails have been thrown at Jews, the light rail is constantly being stoned and hundreds of Arab youth have thrown stones at cars, telephone wires and electricity poles. There have been several stabbings involving knives and axes and terrorists have run over civilians with earth-movers and cars. The most recent incident was the attempted assassination of Yehudah Glick. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) thankfully succeeded in identifying a number of local suspects either before or just after they carried out attacks and it has been quite impressive how quickly it has been able to uncover the identities of terrorists.

In east Jerusalem, though, the number of violent incidents has skyrocketed.

This is disturbingly reminiscent of how things were in 2000, just before the outbreak of the second intifada.

The dynamics and the security situation are extremely similar.

A number of factors have led to the escalation of tensions that also existed in 1999:

• The first factor is civil unrest. The combination of living in an area with crumbling infrastructure and watching as political negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians fail has created a feeling of frustration and has led to violence.

• The second factor is lack strategy.

In the same way the government operated poorly and inefficiently during Operation Protective Edge this summer, it failed to implement a proper strategic plan in east Jerusalem. The city is only actively involved in putting out fires.

• The third factor is deterrence. In the absence of a long-term strategy and appropriate legislation that would back up our security forces, we find ourselves in the absurd situation where policemen spend a good portion of their time running after youths who have thrown stones, detaining and then arresting them. The police have no power to do more than this. They are not allowed to open fire or to respond with more force even when extreme violence is being used. The IDF does not intervene in violent situations even in an effort to create deterrence. The Shin Bet has arrested and interrogated dozens of Arab youth in east Jerusalem over the past two years and has prevented many attacks planned by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Because the government has no overall action plan, the situation on the ground remains problematic.

• The fourth factor is the Palestinian Authority. Similar to the days before the second intifada, the PA leader, Mahmoud Abbas, lacks both the leadership capabilities and the decisiveness necessary to reach an agreement with Israel. Moreover, Abbas makes statements that encourage unrest and disturbances in residential areas, as well as on the Temple Mount, and uses these as a tool to pressure the government.

• The fifth factor is right-wing organizations.

Right-wing Jewish activists are taking advantage of the fact that the government is not actively enforcing municipal legislation. They are purchasing real estate and moving into Arab neighborhoods, thereby creating Jewish enclaves within Arab areas that are already rife with conflict.

The neighborhoods of A-Tur, Isawiya, Ras el-Amud and Silwan have been functioning autonomously for years now. The police rarely enter these areas and the municipality has not built infrastructure or carried out repairs in these neighborhoods; sewage can be seen flowing in the streets. The residents of these densely populated neighborhoods are for the most part loyal to the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The only activity taking place there these days is the purchase of apartments by right-wing groups.

Residents of these neighborhoods view themselves as Palestinians and not as Israelis, and most of their municipal interactions are with the Palestinian Authority and not with Israel.

Although Israel claims Jerusalem is a united city and that its municipality services Jewish and Arab neighborhoods alike, this has not been accurate for many years. The only activity the government carries out in these neighborhoods is intelligence gathering in an effort to thwart violence. In the absence of any efforts by the government to improve infrastructure and the standard of living in east Jerusalem, it is only a matter of time before the next intifada breaks out.

The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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