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“Jerusalem Day” and the fiction of “unification”

Today is “Yom Yerushalayim,” or “Jerusalem day.” Haaretz has
a very powerful editorial
about the plight of Palestinian Arabs in East Jerusalem and the Israeli policies that are largely responsible for that plight.

What do the advocates of the one-state solution say about Jerusalem? For decades, it has been two cities, not one. The Arabs in East Jerusalem have been involved begrudgingly in municipal governance with the Israelis since the late 1960s, but Arab needs have often been ignored. One sometimes hears Israeli and Diaspora Jews brag that East Jerusalem’s Arabs have gotten much better services and more resources and more democracy than they had under the Jordanians. But the grim reality is summed up well by the Haaretz piece. And that reality is becoming more oppressive every day. Doesn’t it make more sense for the Palestinians to have their own capitol and manage their own affairs? Isn’t that the humane and practical thing to do?

Given the competing myths and competing claims and the deep-seated religious feelings about the city among both peoples, wouldn’t efforts to create a “united” municipal government in one national entity end up doing more harm than good, exacerbating tensions, leading to unresolveable fights over everything from sewage treatment to building permits to access to holy sites?

The one-staters on this blog have asserted that Israel is already one, de facto state, so it makes more sense to deal with that reality rather than strive for a two-state solution that will never happen. But the division of Jerusalem into two, distinct, de facto cities is clearly a present-day reality. Why not adjust to it rather than try to impose a utopian solution?

If the “unification” of Jerusalem under Israeli rule since 1967 has been a fiction, why would it be any less fictitious in a bi-national state?

Forty years of ‘unity’

By Haaretz Editorial

What a pity that we can’t convert into shekels the lip service public figures have been paying for 40 years to the slogan “united Jerusalem.” The sea of words that has been spilled over the biblical reference to Jerusalem as a city that has been “joined together” could have filled the deep and gaping chasm between East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem.

As every year, the joy of Jerusalem Day, which is commemorated today, will skip over a significant portion of the city’s residents. All that is left of the annexation of Palestinian neighborhoods to the western, Israeli part of Jerusalem is a dry Knesset law, government decisions that lack substance, and the blue national identity cards that symbolize Israeli residency.

Jerusalem Day reminds a third of the 730,000 residents of the ostensibly united city that they are second-class citizens – or, worse still, a “demographic problem.” Israel has separated them from their brothers in the West Bank and has made no effort to give them the feeling that they are wanted here.

After listening to the flowery speeches of the politicians and city leaders about the removal of barriers between the eastern and western sections of Jerusalem, the celebrants are advised to cross the line that marked the city’s border until the Six-Day War. A few hundred meters from the Western-looking areas of West Jerusalem, they will discover neglected neighborhoods and dilapidated infrastructure, poverty and overcrowding, unemployment and despair. These are the outcome of 40 years of deliberate discrimination. In practice, more than 30 percent of Jerusalem’s population receives just 10 percent of the city’s budget.

In the new neighborhoods established for the Jewish population in the “united Jerusalem,” not one child stays home because of a shortage of classrooms. By contrast, some 15,000 children in East Jerusalem are not registered with the education authorities in the city due to a shortage of more than 1,300 classrooms. It’s no wonder that half the high school students in East Jerusalem drop out of school.

East Jerusalem is also home to 75.8 percent of the poor children in the city. Some 22 percent of East Jerusalem residents – about 31,600 people – are under the care of the municipality’s welfare services, and 62 percent of families there live below the poverty line.

The construction of the West Bank separation fence has allowed the government to revise the borders of Jerusalem, which were drawn in the heat of the city’s capture, and separate from hastily annexed Arab neighborhoods. However, the politicians are sticking to their shallow slogans. Fearing that their rivals will accuse them of dividing Jerusalem, they perpetuate the deprivation of a third of its residents; some 55,000 East Jerusalem Arabs who hold blue identity cards and live in the “Jerusalem envelope” area have found themselves on the other side of the fence, cut off from the city’s municipal center.

Ehud Barak was the first prime minister who suggested dividing the city based on the principle of what the Jews have the Jews get, and what the Arabs have the Arabs get. The Clinton plan, the Geneva Accord and the Arab peace initiative also propose a similar basis for dividing the city. It would befit Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was a senior partner to the failure when he served as mayor of Jerusalem, to replace the slogan of unity with a reasonable and fair policy for division of the city.

35 thoughts on ““Jerusalem Day” and the fiction of “unification”

  1. Sorry to disappoint you Americans who have grand schemes of 2 states and 1 state or no state…I lived in Jerusalem for more than 20 years and left only recently. The dirty little secret none of the grand planners admit to is that most Arabs in East Jerusalem will tell you that they don’t want to live in a Palestinian state. The last thing they want are Fatah chieftains or Hamas rulers telling them how to live and controlling their economy and their lives. They said that to me before the violence between Hamas and Fatah and before there was a complete breakdown of Palestininn Authority. I can only imagine what they are saying now…

  2. Dan,
    I want to thank you for willingly diving right into the middle of difficult questions.

    Most bloggers pick either the questions that will simply rally the solidarity, or market snappy headlines.

  3. Thanks, Richard. I’m trying. It is tempting to generate all kinds of controversy by affirming positions that I don’t entirely accept, i.e., by mocking lefties and righties without understanding that there are often many grains of truth in contrary positions. As I’ve written before, if you put one sensible Jew in a room, you will get three opinions..

  4. The recent “developments” in Gaza are three giant steps backwards for the world.

    I’m not perfectly clear what the fighting is about.

    Anyone know well, rather than speculatively?

    I don’t really see that much can happen until the Gaza and related conflicts at least quiet down to the point that talking is the way that conflicts are resolved.

    And, I don’t see that it is realistic for Israel to do ANYTHING unilaterally until talking is the way conflicts are resolved.

    By anything, I mean, that Israel can not possibly compromise for any basis of solution, nor can it intervene, even to reduce the Qassam firing.

    The only Palestinian unity seems to come with a focus on a common enemy, and holding oneself up as a target is NOT a humane way to assist Palestine to become healthy.

    I don’t see that many would be willing to trade with Gaza, even if Israel had less ongoing intervention. It would stay isolated, and not by external cause.

    Anyone else here have any tangible basis to conclude otherwise?

  5. In 1968, as part of a Jewish student group, I stayed for a few months on Salah al Din street, East Jerusalem’s main drag. I think we were the first Jewish kids to be put in the Arab part of town. It was fun and felt safe. Everybody told us that we wer like pioneers. In the future, Jewish kids will routinely stay there.
    I go back to Salh al Din Street whenever I’m in Israel. But no Jewish kids have stayed there since.
    The street is as un-Israeli as Main Street in Damascus. That’s fine with me.
    One unified city! Yeah, right. Two cities, just like before except with no wall down the middle (thank God for that). But two cities.

  6. Yehudah Amichai conveys the psychological divide between two tormented people in the poignant poem below. All he, an Israeli Jew, can do is explain himself in his heart to Arab shopkeeper, but he can’t say it out loud.



    On the Day of Atonement in 1967

    I put on my festive dark suit and went to the Old City in Jerusalem.

    I stood for a long time before the alcove shop of an Arab not far from the Damascus Gate, a store
    of buttons and zippers and spools
    of multicolor threads and snaps and buckles.
    A splendid multi-colored light, like an open Holy Ark.

    I told him in my heart that my father too
    had just such a shop of threads and buttons.

    I explained to him in my heart of all the decades
    and the events and the reasons I am now here,
    and my father’s shop is burned up there and he is buried here.

    When I finished it was the hour of Ne’ila.
    He too pulled down the shutter and locked the gate
    And I returned home with all the worshippers.

    *Ne’ila is the final prayer of Yom Kipuur, the Day of Atonement, when the gates to heaven are locked as the fates of all have been sealed.

  7. I find it amusing that Chana presumes to speak for E al-Qudsis, when she likely only saw them from a distance as most Urshaleemites do… MJ captures the reality much more closely. The majority of Palestinian Jerusalemites have refused an open offer of Israeli citizenship, despite the fact that they pay taxes and derive few of the benefits due to citizens. As I favor a 1 state solution by principle, I have no beef with Palestinians who seek Israeli citizenship, but I also respect those who decide at a high price to refuse to accept the ‘unification’ (nee occupation) of E Jerusalem. They may not wish to be ruled by an ineffective quisling ‘government’ such as the PA, but then honestly few Palestinians do. So there’s no way you can look from West Jerusalem over to East Jerusalem and say you see a unified city. It simply aint so.

  8. And if I may be permitted another talkback comment:

    Richard’s question is a very important one. What’s happening in Gaza is very disturbing (few would disagree, I suspect) but the reason for these events can’t simply be the competition between Hamas and Fatah on an ideological level. I don’t know the full story — few who are outside of Gaza probably do as the place has been locked off from the world like a prison (I went there for lunch during the Oslo days on a day trip from Jerusalem… now it’s virtually impossible to be let in by the IDF without special permission and a several hour wait at Eretz, eventually entering by walking through scanners and bizarre newworldorder security devices).

    But on the violence: Other commentators have noted the attempt by the US and Egypt, in cooperation with Israel, to beef up Dahlan’s forces in recent months has likely played a big role in what’s happening. Dahlan’s a swaggering goon who refuses direction even from Abbas — a kind of mini-Saddam type (without the autogenocide). Hamas has been watching the buildup with concern, knowing that the core intention of Dahlan’s foreign backers is for him to eventually take them on. Then recently, Dahlan was apparently very unhappy about the joint patrols that Abbas and Hania agreed upon, and perhaps some of the local Hamas commanders didn’t take to the idea much either. They didn’t submit to oversight by the independent PA minister of the interior, who then resigned. By coincidence (?) Dahlan left Gaza a few days ago for surgery in Egypt and in the interim a few “normal” skirmishes have led to a much more intense confrontation.

    I think Hamas — at least the local leaders in Gaza — have decided that it’s better to take on Dahlan now rather than wait for all the new equipment and training (his militia’s being trained in Egypt apparently with US advisers) to take effect. Check out the TV coverage of the clashes — the Fatah guys all have brand new gear, flak vests, etc. Hamas wants to show that in addition to electoral support they also have muscle — and so far they’ve shown themselves to be the more capable side.

    No doubt it’s more complex than this summary, but I have to say that this seems much more convincing than the ‘tribal’ argument you read about in the papers.

    Of course the outcome of the violence will only deepen the misery of the already economically boycotted, IDF-bombed and imprisoned residents of the beautiful coastal strip (few ever comment on this — Gaza is a beautiful coastline). And the fish I had in a restaurant on the coast there was amazing.

    Anyway, that’s my fairly uninformed understanding of the recent events in Gaza, for what it’s worth.

    Sorry for the length of this…

  9. Why not take the situation at face value:

    The Arabs are good-for-nothing animals that have a culture of death and killing…

  10. In many native-settler conflicts there is a large contingent that goes into exile in order to develop a military liberation struggle. This was true of all of the African colonial struggles. The more entrenched a settler population is, the longer the struggle lasts and the bigger the divide between the exiles and the internal resistance. This was a problem in both South Africa and Palestine. On top of this Arafat imitated the model for Arab states and developed a very corrupt regime in the PA. This corruption allowed Hamas to take control in the last election. The fighting is between the more popular Islamist Hamas and the less popular secular Fatah.

    The Arabs, like the Africans before 1990, does not really have much of a democratic political culture. Political disputes are solved either by co-option or by force. Zimbabwe faced similar struggles both before Rhodesian UDI and after majority rule. South Africa experienced minor interorganizational violence in 1959-60 as the Africanist PAC split from the interracial ANC. Later the ANC fought with the ethnic Zulu Inkatha for about seven years from 1987 to 1994. Neither a one-state nor a two-state solution is possible as long as the Palestinians are still fighting for power among themselves.

    On Jerusalem the PLO used to claim that Rome/Vatican City and an Indian city shared by two separate states as their mutual capital were precedents for a double capital Jerusalem/Al Quds. Vatican City is totally surrounded by Rome–which wouldn’t be the case with Al Quds. And I asked an Indian about the powers of Indian states and was told that they were basically administrative divisions. In reality the closest comparisons are with Berlin during the Cold War and Belfast. Berlin was shared by two states, but only one nation and it was the capital of only one of those states. This is like Jerusalem when Jordan controlled E. Jerusalem. Belfast is split into fairly distinct ethnic neighborhoods, in many places by “peace walls.” The two-state partition of Jerusalem will be under a two-state solution a cross between the 1949-1967 Jerusalem and Berlin. It will be a unique experiment. Hopefully, it will be successful.

  11. Realistic Israeli,

    There are many blogs that would welcome that kind of claptrap. This isn’t one of them. I don’t think any other argument will work, so I’ll appeal to your sense of self-interest: try to urderstand that when you start hurling insulting, inane generalizations about “The Arabs” into a public forum, you are practically inviting insulting, inane generalizations about “The Jews.” I won’t ban you, for now, but please either stay away or offer something constructive that is connected to the topic.

  12. Let me re-phrase-

    Why not take the situation at face value:

    The Arabs are culture that honors death and killing. these killings are the problem-solving methodology of their culture.

    I don’t think that is is an inane generalization:

    “The Arabs are culture that honors death and killing”- maybe its a “generalization” that animals behave like this. Most animals do not kill one another.

  13. Kevin,

    Your theory about Dahlan makes sense. I met him when I was part of a delegation to his Gaza office, in early 1999. It was a time when the Americans and much of Israel’s center-left still wanted to believe he was the answer –a tough guy with a large local posse who also had a calm demeanor and supported the Oslo process. Since then, two different, former, mid-level U.S. officials who understood the facts on the ground better than Ross, et. al. told me they always thought he was an opportunistic thug.

    Hamas has targeted him not only because of the raw power struggle, but also because he was one of the enforcers of the PA’s crackdown on them after the bus bombings in ’96. And, at least by reputation, he is corrupt.

    I’m going into this much detail because it points to a larger, more tragic problem. That region –like all regions– needs political leaders who are giants. They don’t appear to be present, on either side.

  14. Realistic, Most carnivores do kill each other. And most of us are carnivores.

    Regardless, it does appear that the Arab population does operate under the rules of a culture that are alien to the rules we go by.

  15. Kevin,

    “I have no beef with Palestinians who seek Israeli citizenship, but I also respect those who decide at a high price to refuse to accept the ‘unification’ (nee occupation) of E Jerusalem.”

    I completely agree.

    “They may not wish to be ruled by an ineffective quisling ‘government’ such as the PA, but then honestly few Palestinians do.”

    Talk about making judgements from a vast distance! There may be many Palestinians who think the PA leaders are a bunch of “quislings,” but that is not why the E. Jerusalem Arabs don’t want to be ruled by them. One reason is ineffectiveness. The other reason is they don’t want to live in another Arab police state.

    “So there’s no way you can look from West Jerusalem over to East Jerusalem and say you see a unified city. It simply aint so.”

    I agree. It is two cities and it will never be unified. That is a tragedy.

  16. I think either Arab culture is primarily decentral in orientation, family/clan, and that a state orientation may be a square peg.

    I think Islam however is oriented to the community of Islam as a whole, in which clans and political factions are the accepted secondary social scale, a local form of struggle in a global effort.

    Again, states are somewhat of a square peg.

    Ironically, Judaism is similarly oriented to local community and to Judaism as a whole, and state is also somewhat of a square peg.

    ALL of the Arab and most Islamic states have some strong coercive force to link the square peg (state) with the round whole.

    Israel internally does not have a strong coercive state, but does relative to those that are outside of “us”. It seems to have reconciled internally to democracy.

    From my seat, that conflict of chosen institutional scale among Arabs, doesn’t look like “animals”, but definitely seems to illustrate the absence of consented civil institutions, and over a large population. (The institutions not strong or not existing, and the people themselves unwilling to submit.)

    There is the willingness to consent to family or religion (I assume, I don’t really know).

  17. Most carnivores to not kill one another. It happens- but it is relatively rare in nature. When it does happen it is usually infanticide and most often in involves cannibalism. Humans are the exception as a species that routinely engages in murder.

    It’s amusing how people like to intellectualize the Arabs ways. Read the Koran and listen to what their political and spiritual leader say- they want to KILL, KILL, KILL.

    Someday the world will realize that Israel is simply responding the the depraved people that they absorbed into their society- Israeli Arabs (MOST, BUT DEFINITELY NOT ALL OF THEM) and the Arab nations which surround Israel.

    Blaming the Arab world’s problems on the Jews is like blaming the Jews for starting World War II.

  18. “Blaming the Arab world’s problems on the Jews is like blaming the Jews for starting World War II.”

    The Arab world’s “problem” is of a conflict between their chosen social scale of governance (family, clan, waqf) and states.

    Every society exists on all social scales (family, clan, community, nation, “waqf”, world). There are inherent tensions between emphasizing one or multiple scales.

    To not be adept at family goodness is a vitamin deficiency. To not be adept at clan goodness is a vitamin deficiency. To not be adept at community is a vitamin deficiency. To not be adept at nation goodness is a vitamin deficiency, etc. Including our participation in the global.

    Responsibility and consent.

  19. Richard,

    I’m sorry, but I have to say that comments like this are very problematic:

    > The Arab world’s “problem” is of a conflict
    > between their chosen social scale of governance
    > (family, clan, waqf) and states.

    It’s just silly hot air kind of talk, straight out of British colonial governance manuals from the late nineteenth century. I would have expected a bit more nuance and depth from someone who claims to be a student of the issue as you do.

    Of course I recognise you’re trying to respond to the ethnocidal trash offered from our representative of ‘true’ Zionism, Realistic Israeli. But I won’t bother to address him/her as racism is so naked as to require no response. It gives us an unadulterated sense of what is sadly just on the surface of public discourse in Israel. Those who defend Zionism here have to accept RI as a fellow traveller, in fact a significant owner of the term “Zionism”. And what are you all going to do about it?

  20. Kevin, you don’t see a “problem” in the Arab world?

    Wake up, little Kevin. If a country has low GDP, high infant mortality, low literacy rates and is doing nothing about it- I call it a “problem”.

    Please Kevin, stop pointing fingers and try some objectivity.

  21. Ok, we’ve reached a difficult juncture here. On the one hand, I don’t want to get down into the slime and answer Realistic Israeli’s offensive generalizations or discuss the world with him. That would be like explaining the history of the Ottoman Empire to an ornery 5-year-old. On this blog, we want constructive commentary.

    On the other hand, if he isn’t disputed or condemned by me or someone else who cares about Israel, then the silence could imply agreement. And the anti-Zionists could use it as proof that anyone who cares about Israel is a “fellow traveller” with racists…What to do? What to do?

    Maybe the answer is to post a version of the words I just wrote every time RI and his real fellow travellers weigh in.

  22. You can’t solve a problem until you identify the problem. Until you understand what you are dealing with- Arabs, Arab illiteracy, and Arab culture you can’t begin to address the problem and solve it.

    I care a lot more about peace and prosperity in Israel and her neighbors than you do. I live here. I work with Arabs and manufacture in Jordan.

    Please tell me the ‘ornery 5 year old’ version of Israel’s history- you might teach yourselves something.

  23. Realistic, you seem to know little of carnivore behavior. Lions routinely kill hyenas, leapords, cheetahs and the like.

    It is not up to us to solve the “Arab” problem. Their sense of honor refutes any attempt we make.

  24. This ‘fellow traveller’ idea is eerily like Bush’s ‘you are with us or against us’.

    That said, Realistic Israeli’s responses here do have obvious racist overtones. Maybe this is because he is racist, or maybe it’s because he doesn’t understand how such things are phrased these days.

    These days, the acceptable tactic is not to attack Arab culture in general, but to attack Arab nationalism, and mourn its corrupting effects on Arab culture and morality due to its core belief of racial superiority.

    If someone points out that nationalist movements are not inherently supremacist, and their effects in e.g. the Palestinian liberation movements have been constructive: well, obviously that someone is trying to make the issue seem complicated in order to hide their own disgustingly racist beliefs. Such blatant racists are not even worth arguing with.

    (If this argument seems new to you, replace the words ‘Arab’ and ‘Palestinian’ with ‘Israeli and ‘Jewish’ and read it again.)

  25. Why does conflict occur?

    Because “they” are “….”. They are saying that “we” are “****”.

    Wrong. DNA, culture, are starting points. They construct a limited, but also wide, set of options as to how to act.

  26. Its people that get informed as to the options, and choose them.

    Much more specific and specifically responsible than “they are …” or “…ism inevitably results in ….”

    I want to re-emphasize the importance of complimentarity of social scales.

    The idea that we are just individuals within a global society ignores the reality that we are also parts of families, clan/extended families, communities, communities of communities.

    We are not just voters, consumers, ants, not even just citizens.

    It is impossible to have a healthy globe without healthy nations, communities, etc. A nation, a community, a family, does not choose good options when options available are limited to desparate ones.

    It is not demeaning to say to a clan, a community, a nation, that “you have these other options as well, with these entirely different set of consequences.”

    We don’t have to phrase each statement, nor construct each policy, as an insult or a limiting box.

    It is unrealistic to just demand, whether its “citizens” demanding, “oppressors”, or “victims”.

  27. I’m not trying to smear anyone by my use of the term “fellow traveler” for RI – it’s certainly not fair for me to group him with Dan and others who are thoughtfully attending to complex issues. But my point really is that in ongoing discussion of “progressive” or other revisionary zionisms one will have to contend with the issue that the racist rantings of RI do represent a significant current of modern Zionism. (Indeed several other frequent commentators here offer only lighter shadings of the same racism in attending to “Arabs” or “Muslims”.) This is why I go back to the question of whether revisions of zionism have any real efficacy — and why I tend to think that the underpinnings of modern Zionism leaves very little room for progressive thinking or action.

  28. Unfortunately, the proven need for security trumps the desire for progressive thinking and action.

    I would be a poor leader if I lead my people into the swamp to prove to crocodiles that they can trust us.

  29. You would also be a poor leader if you led your people to kill the tropical birds, plants, fish, and all other living just because one was afraid of the alligators (that can be accepted if one learns what their needs are).

    The art is TO learn, and TO reconcile.

  30. Hey guys, I am not being racist. I am making generalizations. If I say that the food is good in Italy and is bad in England is that racist? If I say that the Irish are smart is that racist- no is is a result of their culture.

    You are all so politically correct that you have to twist every concept to conform the dogma that you subscribe to.

    If you can’t identify a problem you will never solve it.

  31. If you have to stay away from the alligator, do it. If you have to learn the alligator’s moods and timing, do it.

    It is never necessary to annihilate. That is more an expression of our ignorance, then of our need.

    Remember Abraham if you want a good Jewish model. “If there are ten righteous men, will you spare the city?”

  32. The alligator insists on coming in and eating the people. No way to avoid it except by building a fence.

    I am not attempting to argue God out of making the Palestinian’s lives miserable. Funny that you think God, and not their Arab bretren, are behind most of their misery.

    Ibraham, not Abraham. Blame the nurse who put it on the birth certificate.

  33. You’re guessing what I think.

    So, you advocate for separation of the peoples.

    How do you propose that occur?

  34. I advocate maintaining the fence. I do not advocate relocation. I do not advocate deportation.

    I do advocate no allowance of Palestinian labor in Israel.

    I do not consider Israeli Arabs to be Palestinians.

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