The difficulties of separating from east Jerusalem

The US embassy officially moving to Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel, was an important and historic event that will have ramifications around the world. Let us take a few moments to examine the reasons this move was not made until now and what is preventing many other countries from following suit. Before we even begin, though, we must take a look at our own conduct and investigate how the State of Israel has treated its citizens in “unified” Jerusalem over the years.

If we take a look at the capital, we will discover that it is a microcosm of the Arab-Jewish and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts, which have existed since the establishment of the country and intensified over the decades since 1967.

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From a municipal and national point of view, the moment the IDF captured eastern Jerusalem during the Six Day War, the State of Israel declared that Jerusalem had been reunified. All the neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city that had never been part of Jerusalem before were suddenly annexed by the Jerusalem Municipality. The reality on the ground, however, never actually fell in line with official declarations. In fact, to this day these neighborhoods remain autonomous Palestinian entities.

No urban development has been carried out in these neighborhoods.

Moreover, the municipal authorities almost never enter these areas and the Israel Police enters as little as possible, leaving the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to deal with arrests and other necessary activity. Students learning in schools in these neighborhoods are taught according to the Palestinian Authority curriculum, do not learn Hebrew and follow only Palestinian media sources. The level of cleanliness in these neighborhoods is not comparable with other Israeli cities. In fact, a foreign observer might even mistakenly think he’s in a third-world country, not a westernized democracy.

From a political point of view, despite the fact that the Arabs who live in east Jerusalem carry blue identity cards, they are not Israeli citizens with full rights, but residents only. They consider the head of the PA (Yasser Arafat in the past, Mahmoud Abbas in the present) their exclusive leader. When they have inquiries, they turn to the offices of the PA in Ramallah, and approach Palestinian politicians. The only exception to this rule is Hamas operatives, who of course look to Syria and Turkey for guidance. In this way, their lives are exactly the same as those of Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria.

From a security point of view, the Israeli security establishment treats the Arab residents of east Jerusalem in an identical fashion to Palestinians in the territories. The level of terrorist activity that takes place in these neighborhoods has been on the rise in recent years. The only difference in how Israeli security agents handle incidents in east Jerusalem is with respect to detentions and interrogations, since east Jerusalem residents have a different type of citizenship than Palestinians living in the territories.

From the point of view of a final agreement, we must admit that the Israeli government has not had any clear goals or long-term strategies regarding east Jerusalem. Since the reunification of the city in 1967, nothing has happened.

Not one Israeli leader has dared to verbalize any ideas about the future of our capital. It’s as if we have a bone stuck in our throat that we haven’t managed to dislodge. No political, security or municipal plan to deal with long-term issues in east Jerusalem has even been put forward.

Instead of coming up with a comprehensive and genuine long-term strategy, the government has busied itself with putting out fires and calming riots. A survey that was conducted by a large communications firm in Israel two years ago shows that 70% of Israeli citizens support detaching from the neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem.

This would include rescinding their Israeli citizenship and transferring full authority over these communities to the PA.

Because residents of east Jerusalem have blue ID cards, they are allowed to freely move within Israel and to work in Israel without having to undergo any security checks or obtain work permits.

In addition, when east Jerusalem residents are arrested, they must be treated differently from Palestinians living in the West Bank since they are Israeli citizens.

This often hampers agents’ ability to properly investigate cases.

The level of incitement against Israel has risen in east Jerusalem in recent years as a result of residents’ frustration due to difficult living conditions and a neglected educational system. There’s been a steady rise in the number of “lone wolf” attacks coming from these neighborhoods, and the fact that barriers are erected so that residents of eastern Jerusalem cannot enter the western part of the city during riots or terrorist attacks shows that there is already a de facto border between the two sides of the city. Whether or not to make this separation official is a difficult dilemma that Israel has been wrestling with for a few decades now, and which the international community has also voiced its opinions about.

The time has come for the State of Israel to establish a clear strategic policy that defines Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel. The time has come for Israel to officially separate from the neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. After we make this bold move, the countries around the globe will no longer be able to ignore our claim that Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel. In this way, Israel will be able to finally create a long-term strategic plan, which might improve things for the entire Palestinian community in Israel. And the sooner these changes are made, the better.

The writer is a former brigadier general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

Translated by Hannah Hochner.