Is Jerusalem Day a Reason to Celebrate?

Jerusalem Day, which falls this year on May 9-10, is meant to remind Jewish Israelis of our historic connection to our capital and commemorate the city’s liberation and unification. In light of the human rights violations taking place in Jerusalem and the efforts to prevent any possibility of a political solution with the Palestinians, it is worth considering whether we have a reason to celebrate and whether this is indeed the realization of the dream of the Jewish people who prayed to return to Jerusalem during two thousand years of exile.

The Holy City has become a regular scene of human rights violations, which do not receive much public attention, despite the significant moral issues and the contrast to Jewish and universal values. What is happening now in Jerusalem could ignite the Middle East and the entire Muslim world.

A perfect storm occurs in Jerusalem and as usual, our tendency is to recognize the disaster only when it is too late, as was the case with the recent disaster at the religious celebration on Mount Meron.

In the past weeks, there have been protests by young Muslims who were prevented from gathering in the Damascus Gate plaza during Ramadan and TikTok videos depicting a number of Arab Jerusalemites beating Jews. We witnessed as well as the violent and inciting reactions of the “Lehava” racist organization, which were exacerbated by unemployed ultra-Orthodox who cured their boredom by beating Arabs.

However, these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. These events are alarming reminders of a much larger phenomenon of a vicious and strategic movement to push Palestinians out of their homes, in magnitudes greater than anything we have seen since ‘67. Simultaneously, there is an organized and concerted effort to disrupt the status quo on the Temple Mount.

The displacement of Jerusalemite Palestinians is being done by settler associations, including “Nahalat Shimon”, “Ateret Cohanim” and “Elad”, who are generously funded by the Israeli government and American right-wing donors under the auspices of a discriminatory Israeli law. These associations are working for a blatant and aggressive Judaization (not to say ethnic cleansing) in East Jerusalem.

38 Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah are about to be thrown into the street from their homes where they lived for 54 to 73 years on the pretext that the houses were at some point in history Jewish property. Hundreds more families are in danger of suffering evacuation from their homes in Sabatan al-Hawa, Silwan, and there are 76 demolition orders pending in the orchard area to create a stage in the pseudo-biblical amusement park in the City of David.

This is while many Israelis live computably in Palestinian homes because of the so-called Israeli law of “absentee property” passed in 1948, which allowed the State of Israel to confiscate “absentee” properties of Palestinian-owned homes in Jerusalem. Due to this law’s discriminatory nature, the courts often rule in favor of the settlers. The likelihood of Palestinians in East Jerusalem receiving justice in Israeli democracy is akin to the likelihood that Black people in America could receive justice in the American democracy during the “Jim Crow laws” era.

Palestinian Jerusalem residents have been the recipients of blow after blow. They heard from Trump Administration that Jerusalem is not on the table in his “Deal of the Century”. They cannot vote in the Palestinian elections because Israel is not politically capable of making a decision on the issue, and the Palestinian Authority took advantage of that fact as an excuse to delay the elections which they feared losing.

Violations of the status quo on the Temple Mount have already caused internal political challenges for the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan, whose stability is crucial for Israel’s security. In addition, the issues on the Temple Mount are causing an increase in radicalization, strengthening of extremist factions, and signs of growing Turkish influence in East Jerusalem.

The construction plan for the “Givat Hamatos” neighborhood, which was approved before the Biden administration entered the White House, could severely damage the ability to implement the two-state solution in Jerusalem.

Even now, if we were to ask all the residents of Jerusalem to sing “Hatikva”, we would find that there is no Zionist majority in our eternal capital. According to data published this week by the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Affairs, 38% of Jerusalem’s residents are Palestinians, 22% are ultra-Orthodox, many of whom live life as separatists from the state. Zionists are a 40% minority in the Israeli capital.

An arrangement that would allow a capital for the Palestinian state in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem while making special arrangements in the Holy Basin is a clear Israeli Zionist interest, but is under constant threat due to the steps already outlined.

Typically, the provocative and demeaning “flag parade” in the streets of the Muslim Quarter during Ramadan planned for Jerusalem Day is certainly not helpful to calm the storm. The State of Israel should learn from the steps taken by the police, who realized that they had erred in closing the Damascus Gate and repaired it before it was too late.

If we really want a capital of peace and a fraternity that expresses the Jewish dream and the Zionist vision over the generations, we should quickly confront and correct the current short-sighted policy. This change will also prevent Jerusalem from again becoming the scene of a dangerous explosion that transforms a solvable national conflict which should be resolved in negotiations, into an uncompromising violent religious war that will lead to rivers of blood and tears.

About the Author
Nadav Tamir is the executive director of J Street Israel, a member of the board of the Mitvim think-tank, adviser for international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and member of the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative. He was an adviser of President Shimon Peres and served in the Israel embassy in Washington and as consul general to New England.
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