The only place Jerusalem is a united city is in the imagination of people who don’t have a clue what the reality of the city is. Never is this clearer than on the yearly Jerusalem Day.
The reality of Jerusalem is a city that is utterly divided along ethnic lines and that is the subject of what can only be described as utter fantasy when it comes to the situation of the residents within it.
Let’s be clear, when politicians talk about Jerusalem they’re talking about Jewish Jerusalem, when politicians talk about never dividing Jerusalem again they are ignoring the fact that entire swathes of the annexed part of the city receive absolutely zero investment or access to Jerusalem municipal services and are inhabited by people who aren’t and don’t want to be Israeli. And by people Israel doesn’t want as citizens.
In 1967, the IDF opened the Old City of the Jerusalem to Jews and allowed us to pray from the holiest site in our religion, something deprived to us since the War of Independence. The trauma of being deprived the opportunity to be at our holiest places struck right at the heart of the country and led to the massive lie that sits at the heart of the statement “Jerusalem is an undivided city”.
It is utterly divided.
Israel effectively annexed East Jerusalem in the 1980 Jerusalem Law The thing is that despite annexing the Eastern (Arab) part of the city the state never actually provided the same level of investment or municipal services to the Arab part as to the Jewish part. It never really united the people of Jerusalem so much as imposing Israeli control over an arbitrary swathe of territory that we have called Jerusalem ever since.
Bizarrely successive politicians have refused to accept that parts of Jerusalem, annexed in the 1980 are even a part of the city. As a point of fact the wording of this law is so vague that it fails even to state the precise boundaries of the city while simultaneously laying claim to all of it.
Within this messy situation sit areas whose names have become infamous to Israelis as havens for terrorists. The number of stabbers who have come from the East Jerusalem refugee camp Shuafat is frightening. Perhaps because the military doesn’t operate there as it is considered within the Jerusalem city limits, yet the separation barrier runs through it effectively cutting it off to the rest of the city. So is Shuafat refugee camp a part of this united Jerusalem everyone is talking about?
If it isn’t, why did we annex it in the first place? If it is, why is it cut off from the city it is supposed to be a part of?
The answer is because Israel likes to play make believe and Shuafat camp doesn’t fit into the fairytale. So it is cut off, neglected and forgotten. The camp is the proof that there is no united city…and that there are parts of the city Israel doesn’t want to integrate.
But there is a ray of hope in all of this. In the determination not to divide the city and in the determination not to take responsibility for it there is a possibility for both Palestinians and Israelis to get what they want…Jerusalem as their capital.
If there are parts of Jerusalem that Israel doesn’t provide services to, has cut off from the rest of the city and generally refuses to consider a part of the capital and there is the Palestinian Authority who wants Jerusalem as its capital is there really any reason why Jerusalem needs to be quite as intractable the issue on the route to peace that it at first appears?
The major obstacle standing in the way of a negotiated settlement is the perception instead of the reality. The 1967 battle that reopened the Old City to Jews and allowed us to visit the Temple Mount once again truly was a major victory for our country.
But let’s not pretend, it didn’t unite the city.
Perhaps more importantly Israel has shown time and again that it isn’t really interested in uniting all of the city, in fact it spurns parts of it. Predominantly Arab areas receive significantly less investment than Jewish areas, such necessities as sewage, postal services, investment in education, roads and other infrastructure make it more than clear that the city is and remains more divided than ever.
So why are we pretending that this city is something it isn’t?
If we accept the truth that not only isn’t Jerusalem united, but that we don’t actually want the responsibility involved in uniting it and all that that means in terms of investment and outreach then we open up a pathway to solving the most intractable part of the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.