Violence in Jerusalem
In the wake of the recent flare-up of inter-communal violence in Jerusalem, new walls and concrete barriers are rising in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, blocking roads to and from Arab neighbourhoods in the city, which is home to Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites.
The closures, which are described as temporary, could lead to a de facto partition of Jerusalem, a paradoxical turn of events that contradicts the long-time pledge by Israel’s right-wing politicians to keep “Jerusalem united”. It is increasingly clear that what they really mean is keeping Jerusalem “under Israeli domination”, even if that means walling off parts of the city and making life unbearable for its Palestinian residents. By the same token, they can quash Palestinian hopes of some day establishing the capital of their future state in the eastern part of Jerusalem.
The Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, which under Israeli rule have suffered from poor infrastructure and lack of educational and social services, will suffer further from the closures. Some Arab neighbourhoods will be cut off from the West Bank at the same time that the separation barrier already isolates one-third of East Jerusalem’s residents from the rest of the city.
Tensions sparked over suspicions that Israel was considering a change in the status quo of Jerusalem’s Old City, including access to al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest shrine of Islam, which is on the same site as the Jews’ sacred Temple Mount and Western Wall.
Despite the Israeli government’s denial of any intent to alter the status quo, the provocative behaviour of Jewish settlers has ratcheted up tensions. It did not help that members of Binyamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition have been pushing for “Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount”.
Israel’s history of unilaterally changing the situation in the West Bank through the illegal expansion of settlements does not give much credence to its pledges to respect international law, especially given that Israeli settlers have for years been encroaching on East Jerusalem itself.
The international community should not allow Israel to use the current wave of violence as an excuse to make life even more miserable for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Many hard-line Israelis might think that could encourage more Palestinians to leave, thus opening East Jerusalem to more Jewish settlers.
More than 300,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem but they can lose their residency permits at the whim of Israeli authorities. They have even fewer rights than the 1.7 million Arabs who are actual Israeli citizens but who are reminded every day of their status as second-class citizens.
If a recent poll by Israel’s Maariv newspaper is any measure, Palestinians in Jerusalem, as well as Arab citizens of Israel, have reason to worry. The poll indicates that a majority of Israelis support not only the separation of Jewish neighbourhoods from Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, but also collective punishment measures, including “an economic boycott of Israeli Arabs” and the transfer of Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan.
Israel must make clear that it will not change the status quo of Jerusalem under any circumstances until final status negotiations are held and a comprehensive peace is reached.
As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said before travelling to the region, “Walls, checkpoints, harsh responses by the security forces and house demolitions cannot sustain the peace” that Israel says it wants.