The Jerusalem division delusion

Dividing Jerusalem will solve neither the problem of how to maintain a Jewish majority in the capital nor the very real security issues facing its residents, such as the violence that has flooded out of east Jerusalem since the latest intifada started.

By Nadav Shragai, ISRAEL HAYOM

More than 20 years ago, the diplomatic and security leadership of Israel entered dark days when it signed the Oslo Accords. The results were tragic: More than 15,000 terrorist acts committed against the State of Israel, over 1,500 Israelis murdered, thousands more wounded, and great suffering for the Palestinian population.

Dividing Jerusalem could bring a disaster of similar proportions, if not worse, upon the city.

The possibility of dividing Jerusalem is removed from reality, even before we get into the religious, historical and national disputes. Division is irrelevant even before the argument about justice and historic truth. It might be possible on paper, by drawing a line on a map, but not in actuality.

Believers in division raise two main arguments in favor of it, one demographic, the other security-related. The demographic argument touches on the need to preserve a Jewish majority in Jerusalem by detaching Arab neighborhoods. This “separation” is presented as an inevitable necessity given the ongoing decline of the city’s Jewish majority and the possibility that trend could gain momentum. The second argument, the one about security, comes up because of the waves of violence and terror that not infrequently spill out of the Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. They argue that separation via division will make the city’s Jewish population safer.

This article is an attempt to dismantle both those claims. The division of Jerusalem and removing the Arab neighborhoods, we will discover, could place Jerusalem in a much worse situation as far as security goes, make the Jewish neighborhoods many times more vulnerable, and very likely interfere with the security and intelligence services’ ongoing, targeted handling of Palestinian and Islamist terrorism. That terrorism, its perpetrators are announcing even now, will not stop after the city is divided.

Moreover, division, as we will see, will not only not benefit the Jewish majority in Jerusalem, but could harm it. There is indeed a demographic problem, but there are braver, less dangerous ways to confront it than running away and, heaven forbid, wreaking demographic and defense havoc upon the city.

Jews leave, Arabs move in

Jerusalem, many of us forget, was already divided once, in 1948. The War of Independence and the division of the city caused many residents to leave. About a third of the people who lived in east Jerusalem (some 28,000 people, mostly Arameans) left. About a quarter of the residents of the western half of the city (some 25,000 people, the vast majority of whom were Jews) also left. Only some returned after the security situation improved.

Another such division would turn several border neighborhoods into fringe areas that would likely suffer from terrorist attacks, shelling attempts, thefts, plummeting home values, and other problems. This budding atmosphere was observable in last summer’s “Jerusalem Intifada” in the northeastern neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev, which was under the threat of shelling from the adjacent Shuafat refugee camp.

The much harsher circumstances in the early years of the new millennium prompted many residents of the Gilo neighborhood to leave their homes when they came under fire from Beit Jala, which had been conceded to the Palestinians. The atmosphere in the Jewish neighborhoods built to the north, south and east of the old border since 1967 points to a similar possibility: Separating from adjacent Arab neighborhoods could turn the Jewish areas next to them into border communities, leading to Jews moving out (fleeing) those neighborhoods, much like in 1948.

Because of the shortage of apartments in Jerusalem and the rising cost of housing, many of them will make their way out of Jerusalem, heading for the city’s periphery or even farther away. This is the first Jewish demographic loss.

Dividing the city and giving up the Arab neighborhoods could also lead to another wave of Arab residents moving into the “Israeli side” of Jerusalem. Something like that happened when the security fence was constructed in the north of the city: Tens of thousands of Arabs moved to the Israeli side of the fence so as not to lose the many privileges of residency.

The Arabs who moved to the Israeli side did not turn into Zionists. They asked to keep their stipends from the National Insurance Institute and other benefits, as well as the health services they use today. They also asked for continued easy access to every place in Israel, for freedom of movement and speech, and, of course, high wages, which they also enjoy in the “Israeli” area. On the Palestinian side of the fence, all these benefits are undependable, or don’t exist at all.

One typical example of this trend is the sharp increase in the number of residents of the Arab neighborhood Beit Hanina since the security fence was built. From 2000 to 2005, the population of Beit Hanina grew by 15.5 percent, but in the subsequent five years, after the fence was constructed, it grew by 39.5 percent, and as of 2012 was home to 34,840 residents, according to figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics. This is the second Jewish demographic loss.

This is how casting off the city’s Arab neighborhoods could create a process that is exactly the opposite of what the Jewish side wants: Tens of thousands of Jews leaving the neighborhoods that will become border towns, as happened in 1948, on one hand, and on the other, tens of thousands of Arabs flooding the Israeli side of the fence, as happened when it was first built. These two processes might be much more deeply entrenched than in the past because of the size of the current population in the city — about half a million Jews and some 300,000 Arabs.

There are not only security but also demographic ramifications to this kind of movement. Even today, Arab families are slowly moving into the Jewish neighborhoods next door to their own. This is happening at the north end of the capital, in French Hill, Neve Yaakov, and Pisgat Zeev, as well as in Armon Hanatziv. Data from the CBS for 2010 indicate that 3,378 Arabs without Israeli citizenship but with residency status were living in mostly Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, while only 2,537 Jews were living in the city’s mainly Arab neighborhoods.

No apartments

How, then, do we address the continual drop-off in Jerusalem’s Jewish population, the possibility that soon the Arabs might be the majority? The dry facts teach us that the main causes of the diminishing Jewish demographics are the masses of Jews leaving the city, and to a lesser degree, the high birth rate in the Arab population.

Some 18,000 Jews leave Jerusalem every year, and only 10,000 move in. In the past 22 years, some 370,000 Jews have left the city. If only half of them had stayed, there would be at least another 150,000 Jews living there today. The same is true for the future. If “only” 10,000 Jewish residents leave in the next decade, matching the same number of Jews who move there, our demographic situation will be unimaginably better.

The “Jewish side” has certainly taken the “lead” over the Arab side in recent years when it comes to birth rate and natural population increase, leading to a change. However, that change does not guarantee a new surge in the Jewish majority, because the Jewish population simply doesn’t have anywhere to live.

Time and again, research shows that the main reason why residents leave is the serious lack of available apartments and the high cost of existing housing. In the past decade, an average of about 2,000 new apartments have been built in Jerusalem each year, while over 4,000 are needed. The lack of construction is affected by diplomatic pressure, which Israel cannot face down, and campaigns by environmental groups.

A recent poll conducted by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies for the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry indicated that for all three of the city’s Jewish sectors (secular, modern Orthodox, and Ultra-Orthodox), lack of housing was the main reason they were leaving Jerusalem. The profile of those who leave the city is also cause for concern: Most are young and educated, although growing numbers of haredi residents are also moving away.

But it’s not just housing. Dozens of government decisions designed to strengthen the city and attract new residents have remained on paper or were only partially implemented. A prominent example was the decision to move ministry offices and other government institutions to Jerusalem, a saga that has been underway for years. Ideas that have not been put into action would give new Jerusalem residents financial incentives and other benefits, making living there attractive and business ventures profitable. An examination of these decisions shows that, among other factors, if the annual rate of housing construction is not doubled, and the many government decisions intended to draw people to the city are not put into action, Jews will continue to leave en masse.

There are other guidelines that can influence and even stop the constant dwindling of the city’s Jewish majority, which today stands at only 62 percent. Years ago, the government decided to establish an “umbrella” municipality, which would de facto put another 120,000 Jews under the auspices of Jerusalem. The decision was never implemented. The population in question lived in the range of “greater Jerusalem,” in communities such as Ma’aleh Adumim, Beitar, and Givat Zeev.

Another possibility that was initially raised here was to found a separate local authority under Israeli sovereignty for residents of the Arab neighborhoods in north Jerusalem who were left “behind the fence.” Officially, the areas in question were part of Jerusalem, under Israeli sovereignty. In practice, they were a no man’s land, where Israeli rule and sovereignty were greatly lacking. The Jerusalem Municipality does not function in these areas and does not provide the residents with the services to which they are entitled. Even Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat wants those neighborhoods to be separate from the rest of the city.

Everyone could profit from a move like that. Founding a separate local authority would remove tens of thousands of Arabs from the city without them losing their residency documents; without any change to Israeli sovereignty in the area; and in a manner that would both lessen the financial burden on the Jerusalem Municipality and be an economic bonus to the Arab residents, who would get their own local authority.

Another move Israel should make is to allow greater flexibility in the conditions under which Arab residents of east Jerusalem are allowed to keep their residency status, even if they live outside the city. Currently, Israel is hasty to revoke residency status and the benefits that come with it from east Jerusalem Arabs who live beyond the city borders. This policy encourages “Jerusalemite” Arabs, who don’t actually live there, to move into the city proper. If Israel would act differently, it would make the need for many Arabs to return to the city redundant, because they would no longer be afraid of losing their rights as residents. A policy change like that would cost the country money, but in terms of demographics would help maintain the Jewish majority in Jerusalem.

The temptation to shoot

The demographic ebb and flow is just part of the delusion about dividing the city. Even if the city is divided (and the research expands on this), plenty of Palestinians would still be motivated to carry out terrorist attacks and shoot at the Jewish neighborhoods of the bifurcated city. But if Jerusalem is divided, the Jewish targets would be easier to reach, closer, and there would be much more opportunity to attack them. The other side of the coin is that it would be much harder to stop the shooting and bombings. Palestinians would also have greater access to weapons and ammunition.

Dividing the city will leave hundreds of thousands of Jewish residents along the new border exposed to real danger of gunfire and from a distance of a few dozen to a few hundred yards away, the distance between the Arab and Jewish neighborhoods. In the past, Palestinians in Beit Jala and Bethlehem fired on Gilo from similar distances. The shooting continued sporadically for about four years. A new border, estimated to extend some 46 kilometers (28.5 miles), would expose a much larger Jewish area to more incidents. Division could expose some Jerusalem neighborhoods to mortar and rocket fire, which Hamas is trying to smuggle into the West Bank and is even working on building there.

The belief that even in a divided city many Palestinians would still be highly motivated to attack rests on a number of findings:

• Most Palestinians in Judea and Samaria say in poll after poll that they support terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, and that they will not give up their “right of return” or the “stages plan” in Jerusalem. Years ago, representatives of the PLO prepared lists of “Arab property in west Jerusalem” (7,000 buildings) that they demand be returned to the Palestinians.

• In the past few years, the PLO and Fatah have grown weaker in Jerusalem, and Hamas and the Hizb ut-Tahrir movement, which oppose any compromise on Jerusalem, have taken their place.

• Not long ago, the Palestinian Authority was fully complicit in terrorism and wiggled out of taking action against it. Even today, the PA’s cooperation in stopping terrorism is limited and influenced by its own need to maintain solidarity in the Palestinian ranks and decent relations with Hamas.

For years, Arabs from east Jerusalem were mainly involved in terrorism as helpers (collecting intelligence and choosing potential targets), but since the Second Intifada have taken a main role in executing terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. Their direct role in terrorism in Jerusalem has grown significantly.

Continued Israeli security control over neighborhoods and villages in east Jerusalem is vital, mainly to eliminate small arms fire from these areas toward Jewish neighborhoods. This danger became a reality in the form of shooting on Gilo from Beit Jala, which Israel conceded to the Palestinians, from 2000-2004. In contrast, there were only a few incidents of shooting from the Shuafat refugee camp on Pisgat Zeev during the Jerusalem Intifada.

The reason for the difference is clear: the Israeli presence in Shuafat, limited though it might be, compared to the lack of an Israeli presence in Beit Jala. This proves how crucial it is to maintain tight security and intelligence control in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

While it is true that in the past few years dozens of Arabs from east Jerusalem have carried out terrorist attacks in the city, many more — hundreds — have been prevented thanks to Israel’s presence and intelligence operations in east Jerusalem. That work would not be feasible if the city were divided.

It is also true that for years Israel has mishandled its relations with the residents of east Jerusalem, failing to attend to their municipal needs and discriminating against those neighborhoods in comparison to the services provided to Jewish neighborhoods.

Israel cannot have its cake and eat it too. It cannot claim sovereignty over all of united Jerusalem while treating some of its residents as dead weight. We cannot demand the territory and neglect the needs of the population. Nevertheless, this neglect and the need to rectify it cannot be used to justify the much bigger mistake of dividing Jerusalem. You don’t fix one mistake, no matter how big, by making another, even bigger, one.

May 29, 2015 | Comments »

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