Benyamin Moalem

It’s time to formally divide Jerusalem

The idea of an undivided capital is precious, but terrorism is too high a price to pay
View of the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, August 26, 2022. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Illean)
View of the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, August 26, 2022. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Illean)

Two weeks ago, seven people were killed in a shooting attack outside a Jerusalem synagogue. Last weekend, three Israelis were killed, including two young children, in yet another terrorist attack in Jerusalem. And on Monday, a police officer was killed, and another person injured in two more attacks against Israelis in Jerusalem, in what has been a string of terror attacks committed by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. Even if, as some claim, these are indeed isolated occurrences, the expression of support for these attacks together with the celebrations of the murder of innocent Israelis seen in the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem along with the ongoing riots there, are far from that.

Unlike Palestinians living in the West Bank, the 360,000 or so Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are considered permanent residents of Israel, carry blue Israeli ID cards, receive Israeli social benefits, can travel freely within Israel, and have all the rights of Israeli citizens — except the right to vote in national elections. Additionally, they have the right to obtain Israeli citizenship, should they request it, though only about five percent have exercised that option since East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel and Jerusalem was “unified” in 1967.

Despite these privileges, terrorism emanates from these East Jerusalem neighborhoods, and, frighteningly, many of the terrorists are children. Three of the attackers in the past three attacks over a two-week span have been between the ages of 13 and 14, and most of the other attackers are not much older. Something is seriously wrong with how at least some Arab children in East Jerusalem are raised.

Over the summer, six schools in Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem were found to use textbooks “praising prisoners and their armed struggle against the State of Israel” and containing conspiracy theories about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Furthermore, last July, an East Jerusalem high school put on a play in which students disguised as militants pointed guns at other students dressed as religious Jews, blindfolded and kneeling. Finally, if the hateful education children receive in the schools or at home were not enough, there’s no shortage of incitement on social media, glorifying terror attacks against Israelis for Palestinian youth to consume.

It has been Israel’s long-standing policy, both on the political right and the left, that Jerusalem is Israel’s undivided capital. Likewise, most Israeli Jews (and many American Jews for that matter) cannot bear the thought of ever dividing the city again. The opposition to parting with the portions of Jerusalem that have significance to the Jewish people, beyond being part of Greater Israel, such as the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives, is understandable, but how many Israelis have stopped to ask why a “united Jerusalem” has to include all of East Jerusalem? How many Israeli Jews have anything to do with neighborhoods like Issawiyah, Shuafat, or Beit Hanina, much less visit them? Why do these neighborhoods need to be a part of what Israel calls “Jerusalem”? There is no reason for the vast majority of the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to be a part of what Israel calls Jerusalem merely because, in 1967, the government arbitrarily determined that these neighborhoods are part of Jerusalem.

Additionally, it’s undeniable that the city is already effectively divided. Israeli Jews rarely, if ever, venture into those neighborhoods where illegal construction is rampant and municipal codes are much less enforced than they are in Jewish neighborhoods. Until recently, the police either did not want to or could not demolish illegal structures for fear of international repercussions and/or the threat of starting a riot. Even now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been blocking efforts by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir to act on the numerous demolition orders slated for illegal structures in these areas.

To illustrate, just recently, a large home in East Jerusalem housing some 100 people from 11 families was ordered to be demolished because it was built on land designated for public use. Despite the court order, Prime Minister Netanyahu does not seem keen on following through anytime soon, and for good reason: he has no interest in igniting an already volatile situation. This one example is but a link in a long chain of illegal construction in Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. At the moment, there are over 30 outstanding demolition orders for illegal structures in East Jerusalem. Formally splitting the city into two municipalities will allow these residents to determine their own municipal codes permitting them to build as they please.

So, how would this work? Back in 2017, it was reported by Ben Caspit in Al-Monitor that none other than Prime Minister Netanyahu himself asked then-MK Anat Berko to draft a map that would effectively separate most Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem from the rest of the city.  The report stated, “According to [Berko’s] plan, almost all the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would be transferred to Palestinian control. In the first stage, they would be under Palestinian civil rule with Israeli security control, like Area B of the West Bank. In the final stage, they would have area A status, that is full Palestinian control. This would decrease Jerusalem’s population by 300,000 Palestinians, leaving some 30,000 Palestinians alongside the more than half a million Jewish residents of the city. The Jewish demographic majority in Jerusalem would grow from the current less than 70% to more than 95%. Israel would be spared the billions of shekels it now pays in National Social Insurance payments and various stipends to the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem…”

While these neighborhoods are much too close to the heart of Israel to be granted Area A status any time in the near future, there’s no reason these neighborhoods cannot be spun off into a new municipality which would be unannexed from Israel and granted Area B status. Doing so would serve the interests of the residents of these neighborhoods who overwhelmingly identify as Palestinians and have long complained that their neighborhoods are neglected by the city, as they would then have full control over their municipal needs. On the flip side, the residents of these neighborhoods would no longer be permanent residents of Israel — though they could be eligible for work permits within Israel; would no longer be eligible for citizenship; and would no longer be entitled to Israeli governmental benefits.

Over the years, far too much significance has been given to the concept of a “united Jerusalem.” Since the beginning of 2023 alone, 11 Israelis have been killed and many others have been wounded in terror attacks perpetrated by the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. There should be no question that separating these neighborhoods from the rest of the city is in Israel’s best interests by enhancing the Jewish character of the city, contributing to its financial stability and, above all, strengthening its security. Conversely, the Palestinians would have a municipality in Jerusalem to call their own. In last Saturday night’s airing of “Meet the Press” with Amit Segal and Ben Caspit on Israel’s Channel 12, it was suggested that Israel’s options in East Jerusalem might be either learning to live with the occasional terror attack or building a wall. If that is the case, and, sadly, we have seen too many terrorist attacks, let’s build a wall and divide the city once and for all.

About the Author
The author curates and explains the news from Israel on Instagram: @bymoalem. He previously worked as a foreign law clerk for the Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel and now works as an attorney.
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