As Israel marks 40 years of the "reunification" of Jerusalem, it is extraneous to point out just how divided the city really is. Except for the messianic lunatics, anyone with eyes in his head knows that our capital is more divided than ever, and it will become even more divided in future – territorially, and even more so, conceptually.
For this reason, the situation in Jerusalem is more fragile than ever. East Jerusalem is in turmoil, frustration and anger rule the street, and the smell of an explosion hovers in the air, while pyromaniacal gangs roam the city's alleyways playing with fire.
For decades, life in east Jerusalem has been conducted according to very delicate laws. The braking system and delicate balance made it possible for Palestinians to breathe and maintain their dignity. In exchange, they accepted Israeli sovereignty and learned how to hide under its wings.
Governments understood that the most effective way to rule the eastern part of the city was to allow as much freedom of action as possible, in order to allow for a dignified, profitable existence.
Since, 1967, senior city officials have warned not to push too hard, so as not to create frustration and despair. They knew the city was simmering, close to the boiling point, and that when God forbid it exploded – it would consume everything in its path, including West Jerusalem. Thus, the city created a modus vivendi in which Palestinians were discriminated against, but there was a groove through which they could breathe easy and maintain their dignity.
In recent years, however, this approach has changed. The process of brutalization that has overtaken our forces in the territories has not bypassed Jerusalem, and the period of "enlightened occupation" has given way to a grotesque, violent, and destructive authority. A long list of wrongdoings has sabotaged the delicate fabric that took decades to create, and the tension level has risen to very dangerous levels.
The fence has delivered a fatal blow to normal life, cut off residents from their families, from their financial and cultural centers, and many have been forced to pick themselves up and move, despite all the hardship involved, to the "right" side of the fence.
Tens of thousands of families, whose livelihood is based in the territories, have been left penniless, and with no income. Despair is having a field day, and could break out at any time.
The quiet transfer currently being pushed by Israel's Interior Ministry – by way of revoking residency permits and blue identity cards (indicating Israeli citizenship), blocking reunification between Jerusalem Palestinians married to residents of the West Bank, refusing to register new children in the population registry and more – has struck a fatal blow to their dignity and their rights.
And if this is the fate facing Jerusalemites with blue (Israeli) identity cards, what must it be like for an entire sector of the population that was born and live in Jerusalem but hold West Bank ID cards?
Until recently, these people lived in Jerusalem without fear, until one day when the state suddenly decided to treat these people as foreigners. People were hunted down, without regard for the fact their homes and families are here. Social benefits were revoked by the National Insurance Institute, including child welfare subsidies and health insurance. These moves contributed much to people's feelings that they had nothing to lose.
The fatal blow to the texture of life has also been caused by the humiliating attitude taken by security forces with regard to residents
Add to that the ongoing house demolitions being carried out by both the City of Jerusalem and the interior ministry and that threaten tens of thousands of families who have committed no crime other than putting a roof over their heads without a permit, after being refused such a permit by the municipality.
Some 250 structures have been destroyed in the past two years, along with the lives of hundreds of families. Suppressed rage climbs to incredible heights when a family watches its home destroyed, and its hard-earned savings disappear under the blade of a reinforced bulldozer.
Add to this heavy fines imposed by the courts on illegal builders that often destroy a families ability to put bread on the table, and often result in arrest for family heads who are simply unable to pay.
Against this background, an unprecedented economic crisis is hanging in the air. It started at the beginning of the second intifada and left most residents with nothing. City of Jerusalem welfare services report that no less than 67 percent of East Jerusalem residents live below the poverty line. Even the "well off" who have managed to climb above the line have done so only by a few dozen shekels. This fact may have rescued them from the statistics, but not from the cycle of despair.
And as if this weren't enough, residents have had to deal with the provocations of people who have made it their mission to Judaise the eastern part of the city, to push out Arab residents and sabotage any possibility for a future political settlement – people from organizations such as Ateret Cohanim, Elad and others. These people have no qualms about the methods in which they purchase properties and conduct archeological digs even close to mosques.
Do-gooders doing harm
These digs could ignite not just Jerusalem, but could also burn down the entire country as well. And the actions of "green" organizations and other "do-gooders" simply fan the flames. The parks authority, for example, expropriates lands by declaring them "national parks," thus avoiding the need to pay landowners for the land.
And what about the "tolerance museum"? It was built on top of an old Moslem cemetery.
Eastern Jerusalem is on the threshold of a powerful explosion. This explosion will bear no relation to nationalist elements. Rather, it will happen because of the catastrophic blend of all the factors mentioned here. It will be ignited by a seemingly meaningless spark, almost certainly having something to do with the border police, a ministry of the interior guard or a city inspector.
And this spark will ignite a massive wave of flame that will immediately alter the reality in the eastern part of the city, and will consume anything and everything in its path.
The writing is on the wall, but Israel's senior officials don't walk around on this side of the city. And so they don't see it coming.
Dr. Meir Margalit is a historian and a former Jerusalem city councilor