Israeli Governments Flaunt 'United Jerusalem' While Doing Nothing for Its Arab Residents

If Jerusalem has remained 'divided' it is because the Arab neighborhoods have been neglected for the past 49 years.

Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens
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The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.
The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. Credit: Michal Fattal
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

Now that there seems to be close to universal agreement that the two-state solution is not going to be realized in the foreseeable future, attention has begun to be focused on Jerusalem. If something has to be done to move out of the present impasse, why not start in Jerusalem? To the fore come all the preconceived notions and prejudices, hidden behind a veil of liberalism and a presumed concern for the Palestinian people.

Leading the pack is the leader of the opposition, Isaac Herzog. Jerusalem, he says, is in any case not united, so let’s really separate it. We don’t need the Arabs’ sections incorporated in Jerusalem in 1967 – and sotto voce he says we don’t need the Arabs living there either. Let’s build some more walls and let them fend to their own devices.

And a supporting chorus, composed of those claiming to be liberals, chants: We don’t want any more Arabs in Israel. And without realizing it they are moving closer to Avigdor Lieberman, who wants to rid Israel of the Arab population living in the Wadi Ara area by moving the area, lock, stock and barrel, to the Palestinian side of the fence. So we’ll be solving the demographic problem as well, and then what remains of Israel will really be a “Jewish democratic state.” And we’ll be getting out of “occupied territory” – territory occupied in 1967 and territory occupied in 1949.

Ehud Barak’s motto of yesteryear, “we are here and they are there,” has been adopted by the Zionist Union. In other words, the less Arabs the better. And who cares how Israel’s Arab citizens feel when they hear that?

Before we get too enamored with Herzog’s proposal to “really” divide Jerusalem, we’d better take a look at the feasibility of his proposal. Can the population of Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods really be disentangled from “Jewish” Jerusalem, or has the integration of this population in the fabric of Jerusalem’s day-to-day life proceeded to such an extent in the past 49 years as to have reached a point of no return?

A quick look at the number of Arab taxi drivers and Arab bus drivers, and hotel and restaurant employees in Jerusalem, and doctors and service personnel in Hadassah’s two hospitals in Jerusalem, and of course the number of Arab patients in these hospitals, will make it clear that disintegrating “Arab” Jerusalem from “Jewish” Jerusalem has become essentially impossible. In addition, annulling the Israeli residency permits and withdrawing the right to apply for Israeli citizenship granted to the population of Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods in 1967 would be legally questionable and morally reprehensible.

If Jerusalem has remained “divided” it is because the Arab neighborhoods have been neglected for the past 49 years by the Jerusalem municipality and successive Israeli governments who have flaunted the rhetoric of a “united” Jerusalem but have done almost nothing to unite it. Bringing the Arab neighborhoods and their educational standards to the level worthy of today’s Israel is the real challenge facing the municipality and the Israeli government, rather than looking for ways to build more walls and separating the Arab neighborhoods from the rest of the city. What is required is a major investment in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and such a program should receive the highest priority.

Public opinion surveys taken among the population of East Jerusalem indicate that the majority would prefer to remain in Israel even if a Palestinian state were established. It is significant that their wishes seem to be of little interest to those calling for their separation from “Jewish” Jerusalem. It is pretty clear that separating them from “Jewish” Jerusalem would lead to a deterioration of their condition, even beyond their present sorry state. Their welfare seems to be of little concern to those calling for separation, little realizing that there is a connection between their welfare and the welfare of the Jewish population of Jerusalem.

Truly uniting Jerusalem is a step in the right direction under the present circumstances. The sooner the better.

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