Analysis

A Closure of East Jerusalem Would Be Ruinous for Both Sides

It is impossible to separate the two halves of the city all at once – and that would be an admission of the illusion of a united city.

Olivier Fitoussi

Twelve terror attacks and attempted attacks have occurred in Jerusalem over the past two weeks. Most were stabbings that ended with the terrorists’ death a short time after they managed to stab and injure a civilian or police officer.

Tuesday was the deadliest day of all, with three Israelis killed in two separate terror attacks that occurred at the same time in different parts of the capital. What was new was the use of a gun in Tuesday’s attack in Armon Hanatziv, as well as the possibility that the three terrorists in the two attacks had coordinated between themselves.

Alaa Abu Jamal, the terrorist who killed Rabbi Yeshayahu Krishevsky by ramming his company car into people waiting at a bus stop then stabbing his victims, was a neighbor of one of the two terrorists in the attack in Armon Hanatziv. In addition, he is a cousin of Ghassan and Uday Abu Jamal, who carried out a terrorist attack last November at a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood in which four worshippers and a Druze policeman were killed.

Just last week Ghassan Abu Jamal’s house was demolished in Jabal Mukkaber, but this time it seems – as opposed to the hopes of the supporters of home demolitions – that such actions did not deter his cousin from carrying out a similar terrorist attack. Whether intentionally or not, he also used the same type of butcher’s cleaver that the Israeli public remembers so well from the bloody pictures from the synagogue.

Tuesday’s terror attacks continued to spread far from their original flashpoint, the Old City of Jerusalem. For this reason, and the deadliness of the attacks, they had a dramatic effect on routine life in Jerusalem. The streets and businesses emptied out, helicopters clattered in the skies all day long, sirens wailed time after time, and there were sights heralding the worst in the streets: soldiers running with loaded weapons after a rumor of another terror attack; passersby questioning a young Palestinian about his identify, and he pretending to be Jewish; police officers conducting a violent search of a Palestinian and forcing another to undress and take off his shoes. The social networks were filled with endless rumors about attacks that never happened all over the city.

The feeling of a state of emergency and rage that floated in the air forced Mayor Nir Barkat and government ministers to provide answers. The answer raised Tuesday for the first time of declaring a curfew on the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem is possibly the worst one they could have found. Not only is it impossible to separate between the two parts of the city in one stroke – certainly not in a way that would prevent Palestinians who want to attack from moving from side to side – and not only would it be an admission of the illusion of the unification of Jerusalem, but the consequences of such a step would be ruinous for both halves of the city.

Marik Shtern, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, has been studying the economic ties between the two sides of the city for a while, and in particular the employment patterns of Palestinians in the western part of the capital. His analysis shows that almost half of those who are employed and live in the eastern part of the city work in the western part, or elsewhere inside Israel. Some 35,000 Palestinians from East Jerusalem work in West Jerusalem alone; which means that 35,000 Palestinian families depend on the economic ties between the two parts of the city for their livelihoods.

This dependency of East Jerusalem on the western part of the city for making a living is very clear, but is not only a one-way street. The relative level of the workers in East Jerusalem in certain industries has made them irreplaceable, says Shtern, and certainly they cannot be replaced quickly.

Workers from East Jerusalem make up 75% of all those working in the city’s hotels, 65% of those employed in construction, 52% of the workers in transportation, 29% in industry, and 20% of those working in health and welfare services. In recent years there has also been a major increase in the number of these workers in sales and services. This is why a closure of East Jerusalem would bring about an immediate and severe economic crisis in the entire city.

Add to all this keeping East Jerusalem residents away from the stores in western Jerusalem. In the summer of 2014, after a semi-official boycott by Palestinians of West Jerusalem because of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, stores in the Malha Mall reported a 15%. drop in sales. Shtern says that the overwhelming majority of terrorists who have carried out the recent attacks were not employed in western Jerusalem. Alaa Abu Jamal, who worked for the Bezeq telephone company, was the exception.

On Tuesday afternoon, dozens of young people carrying Israeli flags gathered in Zion Square in downtown Jerusalem for a spontaneous demonstration. They sang “Oseh Shalom Bimromav” (He who makes peace in the heavens) and danced in circles. Not far away sat another group of young people, who passed a folding baton from one to another and talked about how effective it was in repelling terrorists.

An older man, seemingly Haredi, walked around on the light rail tracks shouting “Death to Arabs” at passersby. The trains themselves passed by, back and forth, but they were almost completely empty of passengers.

On the extreme right’s social networking messages went back and forth containing instructions on how to behave: “Do not stand next to any Arab under any circumstances! As of today, every Arab, the nicest and most liked who studies and works with you, has a very high possibility of being a terrorist.”

But inside the coffee houses, restaurants and shops in the city center, the Arab and Jewish employees continued to work together. It seems the business and social ties that have been formed in Jerusalem over the 48 years of unification will not be cut even during the latest troubles. Whoever wants to can find something good in this too.