Thursday, November 01, 2007

An American in East Jerusalem

Two Fridays ago, I went on the Ir Amim tour of "East" Jerusalem. ("East" is in scare quotes because some of the areas we visited, which are within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem but were under Jordanian control from 1948 to 1967, aren't "east" at all -- Gilo is southwest, and Pisgat Ze'ev is north.) There's a lot to say about it, but I'm not going to write a long post now. In the meantime, I highly recommend the tour to anyone who has the opportunity.

For the moment, I'm just going to comment on two areas in which my American bias gives me a different perspective on the issues. Not necessarily right or wrong, just different.


In American cities, the way that neighborhoods change their ethnic composition is not through wars or peace negotiations or top-down government decisions, but through a combination of individual decisions. Certainly there are root causes related to economics, urban planning, racism, etc., but the proximate cause is that lots of individuals of a particular ethnicity decide independently (as a result of all these root causes) to rent/buy in the neighborhood. This means, among other things, that there are (at the very least) transition periods when the neighborhood is ethnically heterogeneous.

I understand that Jerusalem is different for all sorts of reasons, but the degree of segregation (almost complete), and the fact that neighborhoods haven't flipped between Jewish and Arab in the last 40 years (except when new Jewish neighborhoods were built) still grates on my American intuition.

The discourse also seems weird. I've heard someone refer to a "settlement" in East Jerusalem that consisted of a few floors of an apartment building. Is it appropriate to refer to everywhere Jews live as a settlement? I have no doubt that in the case in question, or other cases such as the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva (which is smack in the Muslim Quarter, and has its own IDF security detail), the motivations are exactly the same as trailer parks on isolated hilltops in the heart of the West Bank - viz., to create "facts on the ground" (and, IMO, to destroy the possibility of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state). But are motivations what define a "settlement"? If I rent an apartment in East Jerusalem without political motivations, does my apartment instantly become a new settlement?

And what about the flip side? Why aren't there more Palestinians living in West Jerusalem? I know there are issues of who can go where based on what color their ID is, but what about Israeli Arabs (who have Israeli citizenship)? Are the obstacles only economic and social, or are they also legal? I don't know the laws about buying property, but there are plenty of apartments in West Jerusalem owned by people who aren't even Israeli citizens,
so it would seem that this can't be restricted to Jewish Israelis. And, of course, I'm renting an apartment in West Jerusalem (as are many non-Israelis), and I was never asked whether I was Jewish.

On Har Hatzofim, I'm reminded every day that I'm surrounded by East Jerusalem, as I hear the amplified call to Dhuhr coming from every direction. Where is the neighborhood mosque here in West Jerusalem? (We do have the Monastery of the Cross, which I visited today and I'll blog about later.) It must have existed at some point, since I'm just over the hill from Katamon, which was an Arab neighborhood before 1948. Was it turned into apartments after 1948?

I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing in the long run, since it will make an eventual two-state solution easier. But I'm just trying to understand how neighborhoods have remained so stable in Jerusalem, while I've watched them change rapidly in New York. What's the deal?

(The partial answer seems to be "In hachi nami." In response to a question, the Ir Amim tour guide said that 25% of the units in Pisgat Ze'ev were bought by Palestinians, which was perhaps not the original intent when it was built.)


On the Ir Amim tour, we learned that the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem were offered Israeli citizenship in 1967 when East Jerusalem was annexed to Israel, and they turned it down in order not to confer legitimacy on the Israeli annexation. (I'm still not clear on who the "they" is -- it couldn't have been everyone spontaneously making the same individual decision, nor could it have been Jordan, who had been in charge until then. Who was the leadership speaking on behalf of East Jerusalem residents in 1967?) To this day, even though East Jerusalemites are not Israeli citizens (and thus cannot vote for Knesset), they can vote in Jerusalem municipal elections, but overwhelmingly don't, for the same reason.

Again, coming from America, where voting is a sacrament, I say: What's up with that?!

The haredim don't recognize the legitimacy of the state either, but that certainly doesn't stop them from voting in national and municipal elections and milking the state for all they can get. (And haredi men and women vote, even though women almost certainly wouldn't have suffrage if the haredim were completely in charge -- they're not going to unilaterally disarm and cut their Knesset representation in half.) And this seems like a pragmatic solution that East Jerusalem Palestinians should be pursuing in their own interests. As the tour bus took us from Gilo to Sur Baher to East Talpiot to Jebel Mukabar, we saw the contrast between the municipal services provided to Jewish neighborhoods, with sidewalks and streetlights, and to Arab neighborhoods, with garbage piling up on the side of the street. It would seem that having a representative on the City Council would be the first step toward getting the garbage picked up. In a better world, the Jerusalem municipality would provide services to all neighborhoods without prompting, but here in the real world of Yerushalayim shel matah, it shouldn't be left to Jewish Israeli lefties to advocate to East Jerusalem; East Jerusalem should be advocating for itself. As for national elections, if East Jerusalem Palestinians were to vote (if the offer of citizenship is even still available), the Arab parties' representation in Knesset would increase significantly, and they would become more important in coalition arithmetic.

So it seems to me that East Jerusalem residents should be voting in any elections they can, in order to pursue their interests through government channels, while protesting the state of Israel (if that's what they want to do) in other ways. Fight the war as if there is no White Paper, and all that.


The fact that residents of East Jerusalem were offered full Israeli citizenship is, to me, the difference between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Many would lump East Jerusalem in with the West Bank, because they were both captured by Israel in 1967. But I don't see anything inherently sacred about the 1948-67 border which separated Israeli territory from Jordanian territory. There was no independent Palestinian state either before or after 1967, and Jordan isn't claiming anything west of the Jordan River nowadays. Yes, the West Bank was supposed to be part of the Palestinian state under the original 1947 partition plan, but that state never really happened, and no one is contesting Israeli sovereignty over Abu Ghosh or the Upper Galilee (except insofar as they're contesting the State of Israel in general).

Therefore, the problem I see with the occupied territories is not that Israel conquered them in the 1967 war (after all, Israel conquered other territory in the 1948 war), but that the residents have been disenfranchised for 40 years. If the West Bank had been annexed in 1967 and all its residents had been granted full citizenship, then I would consider Israeli control of the West Bank much less morally problematic. Since annexing the territories would mean an impending end to a Jewish majority in Israel, it's time for Israel to separate itself from the territories and become a fully democratic state within its borders.


I feel like a right-winger when I say some of those things. All it took to convince me that I'm not really a right-winger was my reaction last week when I heard that an organization here in Jerusalem was hosting a speaker from the Yesha Council (which should really be called "Yesh" these days) as part of an event commemorating Yitzchak Rabin's yahrtzeit. You know, for "balance". I don't know which was louder -- me hitting the roof, or Rabin spinning in his grave.


  1. it's ironic that yesh"a would be called ye"sh due to not having Aza, maybe lo Y"esh

  2. There are Israeli Arabs who live in "West" Jerusalem (i.e. majority Jewish neighborhoods). A recent Ha'aretz Magazine article wrote about some of them. I have an Israeli Arab acquaintance (seperated by 2 degrees of seperation - I don't actually know the guy), who lived in West Jerusalem for many years. There is a lot of social pressure, of the sort that is ileagal in America under the Housing Rights Act, against Jews selling apartments to Arabs in West Jerusalem.

    If you differentiate between Jerusalem and the West Bank, why are Ateret Kohanim's purchases equal to setlements?

    Now that you have analyzed why Jerusalem's Arabs should vote in municipal elections - why don't you analyze what could be motivating their political/ social/ religious leaders calling on them to boycott? Are they naive? Is there a cynical explanation?

  3. If you differentiate between Jerusalem and the West Bank, why are Ateret Kohanim's purchases equal to setlements?

    I didn't say they were. I said their motivations were the same, but then questioned whether motivations are relevant.

    Now that you have analyzed why Jerusalem's Arabs should vote in municipal elections - why don't you analyze what could be motivating their political/ social/ religious leaders calling on them to boycott? Are they naive? Is there a cynical explanation?

    Do you have something in mind?

  4. I hope you don’t consider it impertinent of me to answer some points in your post.

    Ateret Cohanim in the “Moslem” Quarter is actually located in the building formerly owned by the Torath Chaim Yeshiva.

    Due to the 1936 Arab riots, the Yeshiva was forced to evacuate the building they owned. The keys to the building were handed over to a neighboring Arab family to act as custodians until they could return.

    In 1967, when Jews were able to return to the sites of their original homes in the Old City, these keys were returned.

    Because of this Arab custodian, the Ateret Cohanim building is the only shul and yeshiva in the Old City (out of some 80) that wasn’t destroyed by the Arabs in 1948.

    As I’m sure they mentioned on the Ir Amin tour that what is today called the “Moslem Quarter” of the Old City used to be a mixed quarter.

    For nearly 100 years up to around 1936-1948, the Jewish residents made up the majority of that Old City residents, including in the “Muslim” Quarter.

    Until around 15 years ago (when the Arabs finally realized the significance of it), you could walk around the "Moslem" Quarter and see where all the Mezuzot used to be embedded in the doorposts.

  5. As I’m sure they mentioned on the Ir Amin tour that what is today called the “Moslem Quarter” of the Old City used to be a mixed quarter.

    The tour didn't go to the Old City. (It's not so easy to get a bus around in there.)

    When did the four quarters get their present designations? It couldn't have been post-1967.

  6. Physically, due to the layout of the streets the city was probably always been broken up into quarters since the Romans, with the Cardo running North/South and perhaps by David Street running East/West as the decumanus.

    But the ethnic designations are only around a century old, and I am pretty sure they are not the same now as they were before 1948 for the Moslem and Jewish quarters.

    I've specifically heard the Moslem quarter used to be called the "Mixed" Quarter.