The security excuse for pushing Al-Issawiya out

“They don’t want us in Jerusalem.” These are the words one Al-Issawiya resident used to sum up what has been transpiring in the neighborhood over recent weeks, in a story by Israeli Kan News. Since June, the police have been raiding this East Jerusalem neighborhood almost nightly. Checkpoints are set up at the entrances to the neighborhood, while armed Israel Police and Border Police officers arbitrarily pull over vehicles, forcibly enter homes and clash with residents, trampling the public and private spaces of this long-targeted East Jerusalem neighborhood.

Even in a community less tense than Al-Issawiya, the residents’ patience would have run out in the face of such ongoing harassment. The police initially claimed these measures were part of a “law enforcement” operation. Yet it has not appeared to target any specific offenders or criminals; rather, the entire neighborhood of 20,000 residents.

Besides, what is the urgency of voraciously collecting payments for traffic tickets and fines in a neighborhood situated at the bottom of the municipal budget’s food chain, starved of minimal infrastructure and municipal services? After several additional days of daily incursions into the neighborhood, serious clashes have erupted, claiming the death of one young man.

According to local residents, the police said they would continue to carry out such campaigns “until all stone throwing incidents cease” — in other words, they admitted that the use of the law enforcement is only a means to impose collective punishment.  [A1] In the police’s response to an Ir Amim inquiry, Al-Issawiya is depicted as an arena rife with terrorism rather than as a neighborhood home to residents who are likewise entitled to the services and protection of both the police and municipal authorities.

The ongoing police operations generate endless friction and ultimately provide the police with the images they desire — rock-throwing, fireworks, and clashes. These images — which in turn can easily constitute additional episodes of the television series “Jerusalem District” — are used to justify more aggressive raids on the neighborhood and create a vicious cycle of violence and hostilities.

“They don’t want them in Jerusalem” is also the message implicit in legislative bills and government plans for separation and annexation that emerged under the outgoing government and now play a central role in right-wing election campaigns. Sadly, these perceptions also win the support by many on the Israeli center-left. While some of them even call for Jewish-Arab partnership, they simultaneously wave the flag of separation. In both the right and center-left camps, there is an increasing number of supporters of  unilateral plans that can only be implemented by force. Both the right and center-left espouse one Jerusalem under exclusive Israeli control that includes transfer — yes, there is no other word — of dozens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Palestinian residents of the city.

It is enough to look at Al-Issawiya to understand how such separation will look. Eight East Jerusalem neighborhoods are already physically detached from the city by the Separation Barrier, while their residents live in constant fear that Israel intends to officially sever them from the city. If they are extricated from Jerusalem’s jurisdiction, under any political constellation, these neighborhoods will invariably become isolated and abandoned enclaves belonging nowhere.

Al-Issawiya, situated above Highway 1 and adjacent to Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus, could be next in line. Residents of Al-Issawiya are concerned that such draconian “law enforcement” campaigns are intended to paint the neighborhood as a violent, lawless area, in order to facilitate the marking of it as an additional neighborhood that should be removed from Jerusalem.

With tremendous force and violence, it might be possible to remove Al-Issawiya and other Palestinian neighborhoods from Jerusalem, transforming them into a second Gaza, but it would be impossible to remove Jerusalem from them. This aggressive policy would ultimately subject the entire city of Jerusalem to a reality of incessant escalation and confrontation, requiring more forceful measures and creating an intolerable situation that no additional barriers or checkpoints could stop.

The residents of Jerusalem are the first to understand this. Objections to unilateral plans in Jerusalem are shared by many residents of the city, Israelis and Palestinians alike, while most of the plans’ supporters do not live in the city themselves.

There is only one way to address the question of Jerusalem and that is to recognize its multi-national character and to build gradually a greater understanding towards a shared and agreed future in the city. This is a difficult and arduous path, but there is no other way. Numerous Jerusalem residents share this vision and with great effort build it daily. And quite a few of them live in Al-Issawiya.

About the Author
Yudith Oppenheimer is the executive director of Ir Amim
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