Jerusalem Day celebrates an illusory unification
A few weeks after we said "Next year in Jerusalem" at the Passover seder, Jerusalem Day has arrived, forcing us to ask whether this is the Jerusalem we meant. Jerusalem is currently enjoying a pleasant spring. The sun is shining. And in the west of the city, traffic circles are blossoming, while thousands of armed policemen and civilians are afraid of the next explosion.
Is this the Jerusalem to which Diaspora Jews dreamed of returning? The united Jerusalem that stretches from Shoafat to Beit Sahur? A city where on one side they build a monster like the Holyland apartment complex, and on the other there is no master plan, there are almost no building opportunities, and thousands of people live in fear that their homes, which were built without permits, will be demolished?
Did we imagine that when the Jews returned to Jerusalem they would evacuate Palestinians from their homes in order to settle in them? Is it possible to celebrate the "unification of Jerusalem" when Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah are expelled from their homes under the aegis of the court to let Jews live there in their stead?
As opposed to the Jewish holidays, which are celebrated at home and bring us close to the Jerusalem that is in our hearts, Jerusalem Day invites us to go outside, to performances, rallies and a parade through the streets of the city. On billboards, Mayor Nir Barkat invites us to "participate in celebrating the 43rd anniversary of the city's unification," as well as in Education Week, whose theme is "Breakthroughs Beyond the Walls." This theme, Barkat said, "conveys our conviction that through competent education, it is possible to break out of dangerous vicious circles, overcome obstacles and look forward into the future."
But "Breakthroughs Beyond the Walls" education week includes no mention of Nadia, who cannot get to her school in Jerusalem because of the wall. No thought is given to the thousands of Palestinian children for whom the schools have no room, or to the hundreds of children harmed by pollution from a factory next to the only school dedicated in East Jerusalem this year. In Jerusalem, which is celebrating its holiday with drums and dancing, 74 percent of Palestinian children and 47.7 percent of Jewish children live in poverty.
The victory parades on Jerusalem Day celebrate a unification that never took place in a city whose unity was invented. In 1967, Jerusalem tripled in size, swallowing up East Jerusalem as well as 28 Palestinian villages. Today it is the largest city in Israel, and its borders are an insult to the map. Over one-third of the privately-owned land in East Jerusalem has been confiscated, and neighborhoods for Jews only have been built on it.
Jerusalem, which celebrates its unification today, is a city divided between Jews, for whom the city is planned, and Palestinians, whom the State of Israel views as foreigners in their own city. Construction for Jews only continues, even though in recent years the negative balance of migration from Jerusalem has only grown, such that when we subtract the thousands of Jews leaving the city from the natural increase, the city's Jewish population is hardly changed.
But for Palestinians, whose average fertility rate is higher and who are not leaving the city, not a single neighborhood has been built. There is no master plan and building permits are very scarce. But there are many demolitions of homes built without a permit.
Divided Jerusalem is celebrating a unification that never took place. It is celebrating occupation and ongoing discrimination against more than one-third of the city's residents, to whom the municipality allocates less than 14 percent of its budget.
The Jewish people's connection to Jerusalem has no need of parades with thousands of armed policemen and civilians. What Jerusalem needs is fresh thinking that learns from the past and offers hope to all the city's residents: Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims, Christians and Jews. Next year in a Jerusalem that is rebuilt with equality.