Jerusalem's forgotten neighborhoods
Op-ed: The fences are getting higher, and more isolating; five East Jerusalem neighborhoods which military and police forces refuse to enter have been completely abandoned; the Emergency hearings held on the matter are not a substitute for in-depth discussions on the situation.
Last week, on one of those boiling days, professor emeritus Abraham Holtz entered his shower at his home in the Armon HaNetziv neighborhood in southern East Jerusalem when suddenly a Molotov cocktail was thrown into his bathroom window.
In terms of height and distance, the shot was accurate. If the young people of Jabel Mukaber utilize these skills for
basketball, the Middle East would look very different. Professor Holz fled, and the bathroom has now become a pilgrimage site. A symbol of our era. One day this event will become a family anecdote, meanwhile it remains carbonized on the bathroom’s walls.
I came to visit them on Wednesday afternoon, and from the balcony we looked upon on the nearby street in Jabel Mukaber. It is from there most of the stones and Molotov cocktails are thrown. The Ben Lulus who live below them have been the victims of most of the attacks, but other families have also had their fair share. During the month of March, in the yard below, Arab workers worked hard building new means of protection. In this conflict, one hand throws and the other builds.
During the the second intifada, residents raised a natural barrier which blocked the line of sight and the stones thrown from the village, and now the police have trimmed the vegetation to build a huge fence which will reach the building’s roof.
While looking around on the balcony we talked about Shai Agnon, Professor Holz’s domain of expertise. Agnon's house in the nearby Talpiot neighborhood burned down during the Palestine riots of 1929. Then, Haj Amin al-Husseini incited Muslim worshipers. Since then the same days of fires come along with seasons of incitement.
The gap between the declarations of the city’s unity and the reality is reflected in this courtyard at the edge of Armon Hanetziv, a short distance away from where Alexander Levlovitz died this week, when he returned from the holiday meal, on a route where stones are frequently thrown.
Such is the situation there, and in all the neighborhoods bordering Palestinian neighborhoods. The fences are getting taller, and more isolating, highlighting the process that is going on. I wrote repeatedly about the five Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the separation fence, which military and police forces have stopped entering altogether. Everyone takes the law into thier own hands there. It seems that the emperor has no clothes and yet no one sees.
High-rise buildings are built without supervision and the approval of engineers. Palestinian policemen tour there – probably under an unspoken agreement. The neighborhoods are considered to be a part of Jerusalem only on maps and only for economic needs - social security benefits and identity cards from the Interior Ministry. Absurdity incarnate. Now it's creeping into other neighborhoods.
The fence being built between Jabel Mukaber and Armon Hanetziv is remarkably similar. If we learn from experience - in the coming years security forces will leave, then municipal inspections will stop and the education system will disappear. The limbo that has taken over the five separated neighborhoods will come there as well. Only declarations of unity of the city will remain.
Above the road there is a rocky hill known as the Park of Tolerance, behind which flies a huge flag of The United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) which supervises the 1949 ceasefire. The UN invests about 31 million dollars a year in it. I was invited to visit there a few years ago. I was impressed by the European style gardens, the Victorian-style guest room, the drinks and the view. I was also impressed by the futility of the body that should be monitoring the ceasefire on a border that no longer exists.
This is not the only absurdity in this neighborhood. Not far from there the prestigious burial cave of Yeshua son of Joseph was discovered. The Christian faith claims that Jesus ascended to heaven. Jews turned him into the father of sin, and Muslims made him one of their prophets. It would be better for everyone to forget the cave and the conjectures about it. The whole area is a kind of parody of history, of the dangerous kind. Monty Python meets reality. The dead past mixed with the present.
Israel made two historical errors in 1967, both are tied to an inability to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. The first was the attitude towards the Temple Mount. Three days after the capture of the Old City, the IDF cleared 135 dwellings in the Mughrabi area adjacent to the Western Wall with bulldozers, as well as a mosque. This was an important decision that can only be taken during a period of a big war. The Temple Mount was not touched. Tears for generations to come.
According to Rabbi Goren's memories, at first, a place of Torah study was established by the Military Rabbinate. After that engineering officers were sent to measure the area and then Moshe Dayan stopped them and handed control over to the Waqf. From being a mosque of minor importance to Islam, (with no mention in the Koran), the Temple Mount has become part of the Arab national ethos. A powderkeg. It was possible to turn the area into a place of prayer for all religions, and to allow the Israel Antiquities Authority to supervise it and avoid the enormous destruction committed by the Waqf. A museum could have been built, as well as security and control centers to supervise the worshipers. Avoid the chaos and incitement. Instead the Temple Mount today looks like a Third World religious site.
The second mistake was the drawing up of the maps of the city in 1967. It started at a propitious moment: Major General Rehavam Ze'evi moved about with a map and a list of politicians’ requests. Teddy Kollek wanted an airport, therefore Qalandiya, which is on the other side of the fence today, was annexed. Moshe Dayan wanted to annex Bethlehem (Menachem Begin, then a minister, objected). The result of the drawing-up was a city out of proportion and control. During his first term as mayor, Nir Barkat tried to propose a plan to reduce the municipal area under his control. To get rid of the five neighborhoods on the other side of the fence and stop transferring funds to about 100,000 Palestinians who live there.
This made a lot of sense. There is historic Jerusalem, with central neighborhoods such as Silwan, Wadi Joz and Sheikh Jarrah which should be properly developed and settled as is the West of the city, and there is a farther ring of villages. Currently we are not investing enough in any neighborhood. There is no budget. Not for building, for road expansion, for determining the names of streets, garbage removal and police stations. Those who provide these services are Palestinians: Arbitration for those living on the Mount of Olives is done in Ramallah, electricity from an East Jerusalem company. Israel is fading away. Losing authority. Barkat was scathed for his plan and was frightened.
I met him two weeks ago at a street party regarding the budget in front of the Knesset organized by New Spirit , a grassroots NGO which builds on the city’s unique assets and character to transform it into a magnet for creative young people from all regions and sectors of Israeli society. Nag Hammadi, the journalists’ band, was on stage, MKs assistants, MKs and Jerusalemites who happened upon the event were crowded around. Barkat came in a good mood. He drank beer produced in the town, he laughed with the singer who laughed about Jerusalem. I kindly asked him about these neighborhoods. Barkat preferred to talk about everything except life itself.
What's the plan?
They say Jerusalem is a microcosm of Israeli society, our demographic future. Perhaps. Meanwhile it is
a microcosm of Israeli politics. The tall tales they sell us. Most Israelis want a united Jerusalem. I am among them.
This is a tool voters bring to the polls. The question is, what are the plans for it. We can vanquish terror and dissuade stone-throwers. But not through Facebook.
For now, the answers provided by the current government are emergency hearings as a substitute for in-depth discussions on the situation. Culture Minister Miri Regev calls on Facebook to stop Muslim prayers, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan calls on judges (on Facebook, of course) to punish more severely and Netanyahu declares war on stone-throwers on Facebook. Like their posts, it’s equivalent to an emergency discussion.