Rights for all residents of Jerusalem

By altogether ignoring extreme violence perpetrated by Jews – and their political underpinnings – one can be easily led to the conclusion that violence is exclusive to the Palestinian community.

east Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
east Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In his December 3 Jerusalem Post op-ed, “Sur Bahir – Facing Jerusalem’s reality,” Seth Frantzman identifies the root of recent violence in Sur Bahir, including the wounding of a two-year-old girl: “[T] he culture of violence and hate... encouraged by community leaders, parents and authority figures.”
Frantzman is understandably disturbed. There is no more universally repugnant image than a stone catapulting through a car window and striking a vulnerable toddler.
Writing off violence in the center of one of the world’s most entrenched conflict zones to Sur Bahir’s “culture of violence and hate,” however, does little to make the city safer for any of its residents. Violence in Jerusalem is perpetrated by many parties and activated by a range of deeply psychological, emotional and political impulses. Any honest discussion of violence in Jerusalem must acknowledge the context in which it finds expression – if not a recognition of the occupation, at minimum, a nod to the deep, systemic socio-economic and political disparities that separate east from west in this most conflicted of cities.
A fair discussion of violence in Sur Bahir is incomplete without acknowledging mounting anti-Arab violence in the city, perhaps best symbolized by the August 2012 near-lynching of Jamal Julani in the very heart of Jerusalem. Dozens of boys chased Julani and several friends through the center to Zion Square and continued to beat him unconscious after he collapsed. This crime was not an isolated event but rather part of a trend of attacks on Palestinians that includes a growth in so-called “tag mehir” (price tag) violence; incitement by rabbis; nationalist soccer- related violence; and numerous incidents in seam-line neighborhoods.
By altogether ignoring extreme violence perpetrated by Jews – and their political underpinnings – one can be easily led to the conclusion that violence is exclusive to the Palestinian community. Bearing that in mind, it is also critical to recognize that although most Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem are not the scene of violent stone throwing, fundamentally they are actually much like Sur Bahir. And it is those similarities that also contribute to the friction between east and west Jerusalem in our increasingly bi-national but shamefully unequal city.
Unlike the planned community of Har Homa, which sits across the road, Sur Bahir has no well paved roads, solid infrastructure, recycling cages or playgrounds dotting either side of the main road.
Roads go neglected for years. With no sidewalks, cars dodge children walking back from school in the middle of traffic. Trash piles up by the side of the road.
There are no playgrounds.
SUR BAHIR is part of an east Jerusalem that feels like a ghetto, not a planned community. Living conditions are defined by a staggering 79.5 percent poverty rate (85% for children). Despite 350,000+ Palestinians constituting more than 1/3 of Jerusalem’s population – and most religiously paying their arnona – the Municipality allocates a mere 8%-10 % of the budget to meeting their needs. Due to the dearth of 2,000+ official classrooms in east Jerusalem, as well as grave disparities in allocation of professional resources like guidance counselors, 36% of children do not complete a full 12 years of education.
But the most critical determinant of life and society in east Jerusalem is the fact that Palestinians living there lack any citizenship status. They are permanent residents – citizens of no country – prohibited from voting or running in national elections and living under constant fear that their residency – conditional as it is – may be revoked at any time. Israel has revoked the residency of roughly 15,000 Palestinians since 1967. It is the primary tool for displacing Palestinians from the city.
Palestinians, like Israelis, must be able to enjoy not only the fulfillment of their basic rights to infrastructure and education but their collective rights to access their own public spaces, express their political aspirations, plan and build and run the public institutions that dictate the conditions of their lives.
Given the sharp and enduring divisions in social, political and economic rights and realities for the two national groups that call Jerusalem home, the suggestion of “coexistence” some promote as an antidote to violence is insulting at best.
Attempts at peace are, notoriously, times of elevated violence and during this very tenuous period in negotiations, violence – perpetrated by both Jews and Palestinians – will no doubt continue to rise. It is the responsibility of all moderate voices not to blame but to forcefully condemn and demand zero tolerance for racism and violence in our city. And to boldly assert the rights of all residents – east and west – to live without fear in the city they call home.
The author is the director of international relations and advocacy for Ir Amim (“City of Nations”).