Wednesday’s vehicle attack in Jerusalem, which killed baby Chaya Zissel Braun and wounded seven others, brought the wave of violence that has afflicted the city for the last three months to new heights. The violent demonstrations, the stone-throwing, the Molotov cocktails and the clashes with police haven’t let up since the murder of teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir in early July.
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Following Wednesday’s attack, rightist politicians, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called for a harsh crackdown on the rioters. Yesterday, a meeting called by Netanyahu approved a significant increase in both manpower and high-tech equipment for the Jerusalem police, in an effort to prevent the situation from deteriorating.
But it must be understood that the problems in Jerusalem won’t be solved by employing more force or beefing up law enforcement. At yesterday’s meeting, the prime minister reiterated the hollow slogan that “United Jerusalem was and will remain Israel’s eternal capital” and promised to restore peace and quiet to the city by means of “an extremely harsh response to every attempt to harm its residents.” Netanyahu also attacked Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – as if he were the one directing and organizing the children of the stones in East Jerusalem – as well as the international community, for its “weakness.”
“Here, there is no such weakness,” he declared. “We will stand up strongly for our rights and our obligation to defend our capital. We will do so forcefully – and we will win.”
But the violence in Jerusalem didn’t arise in a vacuum and won’t dissipate in the face of the prime minister’s “firmness.” The roots of the violence lie in the despair and fear felt by Palestinian residents of the city. The collapse of the diplomatic process, the growing calls for changing the status quo on the Temple Mount, the ongoing neglect of Palestinian neighborhoods on one hand and the government’s encouragement of the spread of Jewish settlements in the heart of those same neighborhoods on the other – all these form the swamp from which violence and terror grow.
Ignoring the roots of the problem and focusing instead on law enforcement and punishment won’t solve the problem, and are liable to make it even worse. What is needed is a political horizon that would include discussion of one of the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – namely, the status of the city of Jerusalem.