by Ziad AbuZayyad
Israel occupied Arab East Jerusalem in the second week of June 1967, and annexed the city later on June 22, extended Israeli jurisdiction to it, and described that as the “Unification of Jerusalem the Capital of Israel.” In mid-May this year, Israel celebrated, according to the Hebrew calendar, the 40th anniversary of that “unification.”
But while Israel was celebrating that occasion, the Palestinians were recalling their sad memories of the occupation of Jerusalem and the consequences of the annexation to Israel and the application of Israeli laws to Jerusalem, against the wishes of its inhabitants. The Israeli celebrations consisted in large part of marches and military parades, most of which had to be cancelled due to the sudden, unseasonable downpours which did not last long but were enough to disrupt the main open-air events.
A number of seminars and meetings were also held in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other major cities as part of these celebrations — this in addition to the profusion of books and articles that filled the pages of dailies and weekly supplements, and of radio and television shows.
I took part in a number of these encounters to present the Palestinian perspective. The Palestinians view these celebrations as essentially the commemoration of the occupation of Jerusalem and not its unification — an occupation that will inevitably end, regardless of Israel’s efforts to consolidate and intensify it. A review of all the Israeli policies and practices on the ground and the damaging impact they have on the prospects of a just and comprehensive solution formed ample substantiation to my viewpoints.
Israel’s Two Concerns
There were two dominating arguments in all these Israeli debates and discussions. The first is the exaggeration of the Palestinian population growth in Jerusalem and their increased ratio to a third of the total population as a result of their high fertility rate, which exceeds that of the Jewish population. Many Israelis warn that, if this trend continues, it would lead to parity between Palestinian and Jewish inhabitants in Jerusalem in 15-25 years. This is seen by the Israelis as a threat to the Jewish domination over the city. Israel would then lose its grip on its capital because its inhabitants would not be Israel’s loyal subjects.
The second is the assertion and admission that Israel has failed to unify the city of Jerusalem and that, for all practical purposes, the city remains divided and inhabited by two distinct peoples between whom there exists neither a connection nor interaction — on one side live the Arabs, on the other the Jews. In point of fact, the policies of discrimination against the Palestinians, the neglect of Arab quarters and the destruction of the cultural, social, economic and political infrastructure in the Arab part of the city have led to the emergence of a variety of social ills, like drugs and crime, on the one hand, and the rise in religious extremism on the other. The latter was evident in the results of the legislative elections in January 2006, as it is now obvious in the growing number of young people attending mosques.
It is worth taking a closer look at the above-mentioned points which form the common denominator of all the Israeli analyses and deliberations, in order to make a proper reading of their possible implications.
The warnings about the Arab population growth in Jerusalem is, basically, a racist incitement against them and an overt and brazen call to take measures against them to prevent them from procreating or multiplying — or to search for “other means” to face the threat. This implies either actual transfer of the Arabs from the city, or worsening their living conditions to force them indirectly to leave or emigrate from the city.
The same can be said about those who decry the fact that Israel has failed to unify Jerusalem, and are calling for it to review its plans and policies in the holy city. The purpose behind that is not the alleviation of the unjust conditions under which the Palestinians are living, by acknowledging that Jerusalem is an occupied Arab city. No, the real purpose is to revise and rectify Israel’s plans and policies to enhance their efficacy in order to achieve the goal to which Israel has always aspired: the consolidation of the annexation of Jerusalem to keep it permanently in Israeli possession with the maximum Jewish population and the minimum of Arabs.
The Palestinians in Jerusalem are subjected to a great deal of suffering as a result of Israel’s systematic discriminatory practices against them. Such practices are expressed in the policy of ethnic cleansing, spearheaded by the Ministry of the Interior; the policy of withholding building permits and of the demolition of houses; the imposition of fines and exorbitant and arbitrary taxes; the building of the separation wall; the fragmentation of the city and the isolation of its neighborhoods from one another; the creation of Jewish settlement enclaves inside Arab neighborhoods so that settlers can harass and provoke their Palestinian neighbors and drive them out; and the building of Jewish settlements around Jerusalem to isolate it geographically from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories. Yet, in spite of all this, in my estimation, Israel has failed to execute its racist, settlement plan, and it has failed to carry out its project of annexation and Judaization of Jerusalem.
Not Another Jaffa
Today, over a quarter of a million Palestinians live in Jerusalem. Israel cannot drive them out of their city. And Israel will not succeed in transforming East Jerusalem into another Jaffa, where the inhabitants were forced by different means to leave the city, and some of those who have stayed under bad economic conditions have become involved in unscrupulous and illicit dealings; and where the houses have been turned into restaurants and the quarters into tourist sites, after an era when Jaffa was the most prosperous city in Palestine until 1948, and Tel Aviv was one of its neighborhoods. This will not happen in Jerusalem. And, in spite of all the measures and pressures against its people, Jerusalem will remain a thorn in the side of the occupation.
Nonetheless, we must be attentive to the dangers of racial instigation against the Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem, who are the rightful owners of the city. Such incitement and the portrayal of the Palestinians as a demographic threat and a time bomb is a blatant invitation to drive them to leave the city out of their own free will; alternatively, to implement a policy of transfer and deportation in their regard.
It is also incumbent upon the Palestinians to use all their concerted efforts to better face the perils threatening their social fabric, like the spread of drug abuse and crimes. This is why their local leadership believes that it must work to ensure social cohesion and solidarity among the citizens and to heighten their capacity to absorb the pressures and shocks to which they are exposed, in order to preserve their steadfastness and resolve not to flee their city. And if Israel has so far failed in its policy to unify and Judaize Jerusalem, its persistence in pursuing this same policy and in isolating the city from its Arab hinterland will inevitably lead to the failure of all the efforts to achieve a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the principle of two states for two peoples. The only alternative left would be one bi-national state with Jerusalem as its capital.
Civil Societies Can Play a Role
However, and whatever the future scenarios are, it is of great importance to intensify the relationship and cooperation with the Israeli peace forces and movements that reject the occupation and denounce Israel’s discriminatory policies against the Palestinians. These democratic and humanitarian forces in Israeli society must not be underestimated; they are an ally and a partner in the Palestinian struggle against racism and extremism.
Evidently, some contacts and cooperation exist between Palestinian civil society organizations and certain Israeli civil society organizations and movements. Examples are Ir Amim, Bat Shalom, Peace Now, the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, Machsom Watch, Women in Black and others. The role of civil society organizations on both sides is to deepen their relationships and to utilize them for the purpose of reaching a genuine peace and confronting extremism in the area.