Analyze This: Israel's Soft Spot

How to protect the capital without dividing the city?

jerusalem fence 224 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
jerusalem fence 224 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel's terrorist enemies are in constant search for the soft spot in this society's defenses against an attack on its civilian members. The construction of the West Bank security barrier has posed an especially formidable obstacle to the terrorists, succeeding the past few years to bring a virtual halt to the suicide bombings that wreaked havoc on the Israeli population during the second intifada. But there is a weak link in that fence - Jerusalem. Not in the barrier itself, which towers over parts of East Jerusalem in the form of a 10-meter concrete wall, or even the few gaps that still remain due to topographical, legal and political complications. The problem is that over 200,000 Palestinians are living on the Israeli side of the barrier, holding Jerusalem residency identity cards that provide them with free movement throughout the city (a few thousand have even taken advantage of the opportunity given them to apply for Israeli citizenship). This population is a particularly tempting recruiting ground for terror groups as their most effective means now of striking out at Israelis across the Green Line. No less dangerous is the possibility of an individual Palestinian Jerusalemite, nursing his own nationalistic grievances, carrying out a solo attack - even on the spur of the moment, which might have been the case in Wednesday's bulldozer rampage that left three Israelis dead. This threat became abundantly clear last March, when a resident of Jebl Mukaber, a Palestinian village within the Jerusalem municipal borders and the security barrier, went on a shooting spree at the capital's Mercaz Harav Yeshiva that left eight dead. It has now been reinforced by the murderous attack carried out yesterday by Husam Taysir Dwayat, whose own neighborhood of Sur Bahir sits adjacent to Jebl Mukaber. After the Mercaz Harav shooting, voices were heard from the political and security establishment suggesting a number of new steps be taken to prevent or discourage other Jerusalem Palestinians from carrying out more terror acts, including: destroying the home of the terrorists' family; revoking any benefits they or any of the perpetrator's survivors might have as a result of their Jerusalem residency status (such as National Insurance Institute rights); revoking the residency or citizenship status of anyone found to have helped the terrorist in any way, or had prior knowledge of his intentions, and then deporting them; restricting the movement of all Palestinian Jerusalemites throughout the rest of the city, including the use of additional barriers around their neighborhoods. Yesterday, similar ideas were immediately raised again, not only by the right-wing opposition parties, but such governmental figures as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski. Though that type of broad support would appear to make these steps a done deal, it also raises the question: Why weren't they taken after the Mercaz Harav attack? The reason is that the situation is not so simple - because Israel itself has made it more problematic. And the reason it has done so, is also connected to the defense of Jerusalem - although in this case, in defending Israeli sovereignty over the city, rather than just protecting its residents. It was the desire to maintain that sovereignty in the first place that motivated the government to first grant residency status and the possibility of citizenship to Jerusalem's Arab population following the 1967 War which brought the capital's eastern half under Israeli control. It was the same consideration that motivated the government to construct the Jerusalem security barrier along a route that roughly kept the areas where those Arab residents live united with the rest of the city, rather than create a de facto separation of the capital that might weaken the Israeli claim to sovereignty over those areas. By granting special residency and potential citizenship status to Jerusalem's Palestinians, Israel has opened up a hornet's nest of problematic legal issues when it comes to carrying out retaliatory sanctions against them in the wake of terrorist attacks such as the one yesterday. For example, any home demolitions and expulsion orders against Arab residents and citizens will surely face judicial challenges that such actions violate the country's basic laws against discrimination unless they are equally applied to its Jewish residents and citizens. Coincidentally, just hours after Wednesday's incident, the Knesset Legislative Ministerial Committee went ahead with a scheduled vote on a bill that would try to circumvent this hurdle by stripping the citizenship or residency status of any Israeli Arabs involved in terrorist acts, and that of their families as well. Although the bill passed its first reading when the coalition abstained in the immediate wake of the bulldozer attack, it is far from certain it will pass subsequent readings when these passions die down, especially since it is also certain to spur petitions to the High Court of Justice that the law would be discriminatory. It is questionable too whether such sanctions would function as preventive measures, when they arguably failed to do so when applied to Palestinian terrorists (the army in fact halted house demolitions against families of terrorists four years ago after a special panel concluded they failed to discourage attacks). Certainly it is difficult to conclude, given the seemingly sudden nature of yesterday's incident, that concern over retaliatory steps would have influenced the actions of the perpetrator. Tougher restrictions on Dwayat's movements though, and those of other Arab Jerusalemites, might well have served as an effective deterrent to this attack, and possible future ones as well. But to accomplish that would mean taking such measures as adding roadblocks and checkpoints in and around Arab areas that border Jewish neighborhoods, and in some cases - such as the Old City and its environs - sit right in the heart of the capital. Creating even more barriers in the city though, just while Israel is trying to assert full sovereignty over it in the face of opposition from virtually every other nation on earth, is hardly the message that this or any other government wants to project to the rest of the world right now. Israel will clearly have to find a way to solve the security problems posed by its Arab population, without undercutting its own argument that the city must remain united under its rule. But it will clearly take something more than the kind of bulldozer approach better suited at wreaking terror and destruction, than preventing it.