In the fall semester of the school year 2017-18, 460 East Jerusalem Palestinian students enrolled in preparatory programs of three Israeli higher education institutions in West Jerusalem — The Hebrew University, Hadassah College, and Azrielli College. This ostensibly minor number of students represents a 60 percent increase over the enrollments of the previous school year 2016-17 (286 students) and 160% increase over the school year of 2015-16 (175 students).
In the last decade, several reports have indicated an unprecedented growth in demand among East Jerusalem Palestinian youth for Israeli tertiary education. We estimate that, in total, East Jerusalemites amount to up to 2,500 students in various Israeli higher education institutions in West Jerusalem. This phenomenon is mirrored by increased utilization of other Israeli facilities in West Jerusalem by East Jerusalem Palestinians, including commercial centers and public transport. In addition, since 2004, there has also been a significant rise in the number of applications for Israeli citizenship by East Jerusalem Palestinians. In light of the traditional residential, cultural, and social segregation of Palestinians in Jerusalem (both enforced and voluntary), this phenomenon may indicate a partial shift in local Palestinian politics of space. We term this shift “functional Israelization,” a pragmatic engagement in Israeli practices that stems from economic dependency and geographical entrapment.
Against the backdrop of continued socio-economic decline and increased functional Israelization, the contemporary political environment of East Jerusalem has been characterized by overt national radicalization. Between July 2014 and November 2015, East Jerusalem has been experiencing a wave of violent political upheaval bearing significant human and economic cost for the city’s Palestinian and Israeli residents. The increasing socio-economic distress and deprivation, ongoing attempts to settle Jews in Palestinian neighborhoods, growing national religious tensions around the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount complex, radical Islamic incitement, and ongoing collisions with the Israeli security forces have culminated in a series of violent incidents. Unlike during the Palestinian uprising of the early 2000s, East Jerusalem Palestinians have taken a leading role in the most recent wave of resistance — dubbed by Israeli journalists the “Jerusalemite Intifada.”
Functional Israelization and national radicalization are the two faces of a new period in the history of East Jerusalem — Post Oslo Period. The unofficial collapse of the Oslo Accords and the construction of the Separation Barrier has created not only physical division between East Jerusalem and its hinterland in the West Bank, but also economic and political division. With their “back against the wall” many young East Jerusalemite see Israeli West Jerusalem as their only possible future for personal development. In Post-Oslo Jerusalem, you can support Hamas, and hope that your son will manage to be accepted to the Hebrew University or even obtain Israeli citizenship. However, functional Israelization does not mean that normalization is near, the ongoing ban of municipal elections (also in 2013) and the firm resistance to the insertion of Israeli Bagrut to East Jerusalem high schools’ curricula has reflected the fact that along integration, national and political walls are kept firm and solid.