The underlying cause of the current crisis is to be found in the inherent dysfunctionality of Israeli rule in East Jerusalem
WHAT POSSESSES hundreds, sometimes thousands of Palestinian youths to clash nightly with Israeli police? That is a
question that official Israel, and most particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has neither asked nor
answered. Why? Because doing so would challenge his axiomatic faith in “united Jerusalem” – a Jerusalem that
Clashes in East Jerusalem have been ongoing since July, led by Palestinian youth, some as young as nine. More than half of the approximately 900 Palestinians arrested in East Jerusalem so far are minors.
Blinkered by the mantra of Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal undivided capital,” official Israel rejects any responsibility for the crisis in East Jerusalem. Instead it blames Palestinian parents for failing to control their children, or hints at the inherent criminality of the Palestinian residents of the city, or decries incitement by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
In truth, the proximate causes of the current crisis are “detonators” like this summer’s horrific murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the 16-year-old Palestinian boy burned alive by Jewish extremists and the rising Palestinian sense of threat to the Temple Mount.
But the underlying causes are to be found in the inherent dysfunctionality of Israeli rule in East Jerusalem, under which Palestinian youth recognize that they have no future. In short, this is about occupation. Palestinians in East Jerusalem are not Israeli (nor do they wish to be). Rather, they are marginal, disenfranchised residents in a “united” city that in reality is clearly divided, and whose ruling authorities view them as a hostile, alien population.
This perception is validated by the fact that at no point during this crisis has any Israeli official addressed the Palestinian public. Official Israel’s message, directed at the Israeli-Jewish public, but received loud and clear by the Palestinians, has been uniform: for the sake of Israel, the Palestinians in East Jerusalem must and will be broken.
Willfully refusing to acknowledge legitimate Palestinian grievances in East Jerusalem, Israel’s responses have been limited to tactics aimed at cowing the city’s Palestinian residents into quiet submission: massively increased police presence and activity; increased intelligence activities; more aggressive enforcement of parking and building code violations; punishing parents for their children’s actions; and more severe sentences for Palestinians arrested in the clashes, including a recent change in law to allow stone throwers to be sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In similar such crises in the past, Israel could have engaged local Palestinian leadership. But Israel long ago closed down Palestinian political institutions in East Jerusalem, like Orient House, and has quashed virtually any subsequent Palestinian political expression or efforts at grassroots organization. As a result, there is no Palestinian political leadership in East Jerusalem left to engage.
Hunkered down in their ideological bunker, Netanyahu and fellow travelers like Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat see none of this. Nowhere on the planet is there a prime minister or a mayor so utterly detached from the empirical realities of their nation’s capital. And until they acknowledge that Jerusalem is an emphatically binational city, in which both national collectives insist on being empowered and in which Israeli rule over 303,000 Palestinians is untenable, none of this will change.
Without making light of the need for Israeli security to maintain law and order and prevent threats to life, limb and property, especially in light of the recent assasination attempt against a right-wing Israeli activist and two deadly vehicle attacks by Palestinians on innocent bystanders, official Israel’s one-note approach to the crisis in East Jerusalem is likely to be inflammatory and counterproductive. The message of the Palestinian protesters is: our lives are insufferable. Their legitimate grievances will not evaporate through an Israeli response that simply makes their lives worse.
This round of violence was spontaneous combustion. It was started by no individual or group, and no one person or group can extinguish it. These disturbances will eventually die down – not as a result of Israeli actions but because the Palestinians have for now become exhausted.
Thus, the day things quiet down is the day the countdown toward the next round of violence begins – unless Israel is prepared to address the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the framework of a permanent status agreement that takes seriously the realities of Jerusalem and the need for a resolution that takes the interests of both sides into account.
Attorney Daniel Seidemann is the founder and director of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an NGO focusing on Jerusalem-related issues in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lara Friedman, policy and government relations director of Americans for Peace Now, is a member of the Terrestrial Jerusalem team.
This article appeared first on November 11, 2014 in Jerusalem Report, the magazine of the Jerusalem Post.