Analysis |

How Easy It Is to Prevent Escalation in Jerusalem

Palestinians are generous when they attribute Israel’s policies to the stupidity of its leaders.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Palestinians burn tires during clashes with Israeli border police in East Jerusalem, November 5, 2014.Credit: AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Almost every conversation in East Jerusalem over the past few weeks has ended with the statement: “They are stupid” – meaning the Israeli government is stupid to behave in such-and-such a way toward Palestinian Jerusalem. If they would just make it easier to obtain construction permits, they say, if they would add just a few percentage points to the budget, if they would not beat demonstrators so savagely, if they did not trump up traffic violations, for example, then the clashes would not spread like wildfire.

The settlement of Nof Tzion, on the outskirts of Jabal Mukkaber in East Jerusalem.Credit: Eyal Toueg

This is the consecutive third week with no age restriction on people attending Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and everything went quietly. Got that? No humiliations and restrictions, no rioting.

The definition of the government’s actions as stupid is a fairly common act of generosity on the part of Palestinians, the generosity of the native-born. It is the generosity of those who are well planted in the villages and neighborhoods that have turned into slums, sealed ghettos; neighborhoods that are a mixture of wide roads for the Jews, open areas where Palestinian construction is prohibited, kitschy villas and ordinary apartments that cost 400,000 dollars, because the housing shortage is so severe. If you are Palestinian, that is.

Stupidity is beyond the control of the stupid person. The poor fellow was born that way. Stupid people can be replaced and their stupid actions set right. Those who say “this is stupidity” do not say it is malice; those who diagnose stupidity do not say it is a premeditated crime. It is a demonstration of generosity when the words used to describe Israel’s policy in East Jerusalem have run out. How many times can we say apartheid, discrimination, silent transfer, expulsion, racism, exclusion, dispossession, assault, impoverishment, weakening?

Stupidity? Here are a few fundamentals of Israel’s policy in Jabal Mukkaber:

In 1967, the village of A-Sawahra was divided into two parts. One portion remained inside the West Bank, while its western portion (including Jabal Mukkaber) was included within Jerusalem’s borders and annexed to Israel. But the inhabitants continued to be members of the same tribe, marry within the tribe and bury their dead in the same cemetery on the western side.

In 1993, traffic restrictions and checkpoints began to divide the eastern portion of the village from its western part. Since 2000 and after the construction of the separation fence, the barrier between members of the tribe and members of the same families has become hermetic.

As the BIMKOM – Planners for Planning Rights nonprofit organization wrote in its survey of East Jerusalem’s neighborhoods, Jabal Mukkaber is under the most extreme construction restrictions of all the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Most of the area is off-limits for construction, and in the few places where it is allowed, no building permits are issued. The amount of open areas (not slated for development) set by the plans that apply to the neighborhood is exceptional, even compared to other East Jerusalem neighborhoods. The planned system of roads is so meager that it leaves most of the neighborhood utterly inaccessible.

In the western Sawahra neighborhood, which is close to the separation barrier, only one-quarter of the area is zoned for residential purposes. The housing shortage is so severe that young people are postponing their wedding dates or remaining in their parents’ homes. The areas slated for expropriation from Sawahra for the purpose of paving the eastern ring road, most of whose users will not be from the neighborhood (read: Jews), are larger than the total area of the neighborhood’s roads.

On top of the expropriations carried out in the 1970s for constructing the East Talpiot neighborhood, Nof Tzion, a well-planned, well-kept settlement for Jews only, was built a decade ago in the heart of the neglected half-village of Jabal Mukkaber. The planning goes back to the 1980s. Fifty dunams (some 12 acres) were originally under Jewish ownership. Sixty-five dunams (16 acres) of land were expropriated from Jabal Mukkaber for the large neighborhood, which would be suitable for the waves of immigration from the former Soviet Union. The buildings are six stories high – about 130 percent of construction – while the Palestinians on the other side are allowed only 25 percent, or two floors.

There is no stupidity here. This is a crime of discrimination being committed deliberately, with malice aforethought. It is no invention of Benjamin Netanyahu or Nir Barkat or Naftali Bennett. The intellectual property rights belong to the governments of Labor and the “moderate” Likud.

To say that the Israeli governments are stupid after 50 years – or almost 70 years – of living under their rule is an act of psychological repression, with a bit of hope for redress. The last thing that can be said of the country’s leaders and high officials is that they are stupid. To say that we, the Jews, are stupid is to throw us a last rope of rescue from ourselves and our policies.

Expired tear gas

Residents of Isawiyah and Jabal Mukkaber noticed that the canisters of tear gas that the Israel Police generously have been firing at them to subdue their demonstrations were stamped with the date 2005. Text on the canisters also read that they were suitable for use five years from the date of manufacture. So they fear that the tear gas is even more harmful than usual and will damage their health and that of their children, sick people, elderly people and pregnant women, particularly when it is fired among the residential buildings.

But the Israel Police, in its response to Haaretz, wanted to reassure the worried targets of the tear gas: “The expiration date written on the gas canisters does not refer to the gas that is used, but instead to other parts of the canister.” The police say further that the gas does no harm, but merely causes irritation of the mucous membranes.