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Jerusalem: the unholy city

Star of David against background of fireIn its long and chequered history, Jerusalem has been occupied by dozens of conquerors. Babylonians and Persians, Greeks and Romans, Mamluks and Turks, Britons and Jordanians – to mention just a few.

The latest occupier is Israel, which conquered and annexed Jerusalem in 1967. (I could have written “East Jerusalem” – but all of historical Jerusalem is in today’s East Jerusalem. All the other parts were built in the last 200 years by Zionist settlers, or are surrounding Arab villages which were arbitrarily joined to the huge area that is now called Jerusalem after its occupation.)

[Last] week, Jerusalem was in flames – again. Two youngsters from Jabel Mukaber, one of the Arab villages annexed to Jerusalem, entered a synagogue in the west of the city during morning prayers and killed four devout Jews, before themselves being killed by police.

Jerusalem is called “the City of Peace”. This is a linguistic mistake. True, in antiquity it was called Salem, which sounds like peace, but Salem was in fact the name of the local deity. It is also a historical mistake. No city in the world has seen as many wars, massacres and as much bloodshed as this one. All in the name of some God or other.

Jerusalem was annexed (or “liberated”, or “unified”) immediately after the Six-day War of 1967. That war was Israel’s greatest military triumph. It was also Israel’s greatest disaster. The divine blessings of the incredible victory turned into divine punishments. Jerusalem was one of them.

The annexation was presented to us (I was a member of the Knesset at the time) as a unification of the city, which had been cruelly rent asunder in the Israeli-Palestinian war of 1948. Everybody cited the Biblical sentence: “Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together.” This translation of Psalm 122 is rather odd. The Hebrew original says simply “a city that is joined together”.

In fact, what happened in 1967 was anything but unification. If the intent had really been unification, it would have looked very different. Full Israeli citizenship would have been automatically conferred on all inhabitants. All the lost Arab properties in West Jerusalem, which had been expropriated in 1948, would have been restored to their rightful owners who had fled to East Jerusalem. The Jerusalem municipality would have been expanded to include Arabs from the East, even without a specific request. And so on.

The opposite happened. No property was restored, nor any compensation paid. The municipality remained exclusively Jewish.

Arab inhabitants were not accorded Israeli citizenship, but merely “permanent residence”. This is a status that can be arbitrarily revoked at any moment – and indeed was revoked in many cases, compelling the victims to move out of the city. For appearance’s sake, Arabs were allowed to apply for Israel citizenship. The authorities knew, of course, that only a handful would apply, since doing so would mean recognition of the occupation. For Palestinians, this would be paramount to treason. (And the few that did apply were generally refused.)

The municipality was not broadened. In theory, Arabs are entitled to vote in municipal elections, but only a handful do so, for the same reasons. In practice, East Jerusalem remains occupied territory.

The mayor, Teddy Kollek, was elected two years before the annexation. One of his first actions after it was to demolish the entire Mugrabi Quarter next to the Western Wall, leaving a large empty square resembling a parking lot. The inhabitants, all of them poor people, were evicted within hours.

But Kollek was a genius in public relations. He ostensibly established friendly relations with the Arab notables, introduced them to foreign visitors and created a general impression of peace and contentment. Kollek built more new Israeli neighbourhoods on Arab land than any other person in the country. Yet this master-settler collected almost all the world’s peace prizes, except the Nobel Prize. East Jerusalem remained quiet.

Only few knew of a secret directive from Kollek, instructing all municipal authorities to see to it that the Arab population – then 27% – did not rise above that level.

Kollek was ably supported by Moshe Dayan, then the Defence Minister. Dayan believed in keeping the Palestinians quiet by giving them all possible benefits, except freedom.

A few days after the occupation of East Jerusalem he removed the Israeli flag which had been planted by soldiers in front of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. Dayan also turned the de facto authority over the Mount over to the Muslim religious authorities. Jews were allowed into the Temple compound only in small numbers and only as quiet visitors. They were forbidden to pray there, and forcibly removed if they moved their lips. They could, after all, pray to their heart’s content at the adjoining Western Wall (which is a part of the compound’s ancient outer wall).

The government was able to impose this decree because of a quaint religious fact: Orthodox Jews are forbidden by the rabbis to enter the Temple Mount altogether. According to a Biblical injunction, ordinary Jews are not allowed into the Holy of Holies, only the High Priest was allowed in. Since nobody today knows where exactly this place is located, pious Jews may not enter the entire compound. As a result, the first few years of the occupation were a happy time for East Jerusalem. Jews and Arabs mingled freely. It was fashionable for Jews to shop in the colourful Arab market and dine in the “oriental” restaurants. I myself often stayed in Arab hotels and made quite a number of Arab friends.

This atmosphere changed gradually. The government and the municipality spent a lot of money to gentrify West Jerusalem, but Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem were neglected, and turned into slums. The local infrastructure and services degenerated. Almost no building permits were issued to Arabs, in order to compel the younger generation to move outside the city borders. Then the “Separation” Wall was built, preventing those outside from entering the city, cutting them off from their schools and jobs. Yet In spite of everything, the Arab population grew and reached 40%.

Political oppression grew. Under the Oslo agreements, Jerusalemite Arabs were allowed to vote for the Palestinian Authority. But then they were prevented from doing so, their representatives were arrested and expelled from the city. All Palestinian institutions were forcibly closed down, including the famous Orient House, where the much admired and beloved leader of the Jerusalem Arabs, the late Faisal al-Husseini, had his office.

Kollek was succeeded by Ehud Olmert and an Orthodox mayor who didn’t give a damn for East Jerusalem, except the Temple Mount.

And then an additional disaster occurred. Secular Israelis are leaving Jerusalem, which is rapidly becoming an Orthodox bastion. In desperation they decided to oust the Orthodox mayor and elect a secular businessman. Unfortunately, he is a rabid ultra-nationalist. Nir Barkat behaves like the mayor of West Jerusalem and the military governor of East Jerusalem. He treats his Palestinian subjects like enemies, who may be tolerated if they obey quietly, and brutally suppressed if they do not. Together with the decade-old neglect of the Arab neighbourhoods, the accelerated pace of building new Jewish neighbourhoods, the excessive police brutality (openly encouraged by the mayor), they are producing an explosive situation.

The total cutting-off of Jerusalem from the West Bank, its natural hinterland, worsens the situation even more.

To this may be added the termination of the so-called peace process, since all Palestinians are convinced that East Jerusalem must be the capital of the future State of Palestine.

This situation needed only a spark to ignite the city. This was duly provided by the right-wing demagogues in the Knesset. Vying for attention and popularity, they started to visit the Temple Mount, one after the other, every time unleashing a storm. Added to the manifest desire of certain religious and right-wing fanatics to build the Third Temple in place of the holy al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock, this was enough to create the belief that the holy shrines were indeed in danger.

Then came the ghastly revenge-murder of an Arab boy who was abducted by Jews and burned alive with gasoline poured into his mouth.

Individual Muslim inhabitants of the city started to act. Disdaining organizations, almost without arms, they started a series of attacks that are now called “the intifada of individuals”. Acting alone, or with a brother or cousin whom he trusts, an Arab takes a knife, or a pistol (if he can get one), or his car, or a tractor, and kills the nearest Israelis. He knows that he is going to die.

The two cousins who killed four Jews in a synagogue [last] week – and also an Arab Druze policeman – knew this. They also knew that their families were going to suffer, their home be demolished, their relatives arrested. They were not deflected. The mosques were more important.

Moreover, the day before, an Arab bus driver was found dead in his bus. According to the police, the autopsy proved that he committed suicide. An Arab pathologist concluded that he was murdered. No Arab believes the police – Arabs are convinced that the police always lie.

Immediately after the Synagogue killing, the Israeli choir of politicians and commentators went into action. They did so with an astonishing unanimity – ministers, Knesset members, ex-generals, journalists, all repeating with slight variations the same message. The reason for this is simple: every day the Prime Minister’s office sends out a “page of messages”, instructing all parts of the propaganda machine what to say.

This time the message was that Mahmoud Abbas was to blame for everything, a “terrorist in a suit”, the leader whose incitement causes the new intifada. No matter that the chief of the Shin Bet testified on the very same day that Abbas has neither overt nor covert connections with the violence.

Binyamin Netanyahu faced the cameras and with a solemn face and lugubrious voice – he is a really good actor – repeated again what he has said many times before, every time pretending that this is new recipe: more police, harder punishments, demolition of homes, arrests and large fines for parents of 13-year old children who are caught throwing stones, and so on.

Every expert knows that the result of such measures will be the exact opposite. More Arabs will become incensed and attack Israeli men and women. Israelis, of course, will “take revenge” and “take the law into their own hands”.

For both inhabitants and tourists, walking the streets of Jerusalem, the city which is “joined together”, has become a risky adventure. Many stay at home.

The Unholy City is more divided than ever before.

This article first appeared on the Gush Shalom webite


  1. swatantra says:

    These fundamentalists Jews are just as nasty as the fundamentalist Islamics; in fact there is very little difference between them. You can tell them by their distinctive black garb beards and hats, and their extreme orthodox views and their attitude to women.

    1. Robert says:

      Throwing stones in the already smashed green houses.

      1. swatantra says:

        The Heredi Sect of Ultra Orthodox Jews would prefer to throw stones at their women accused of ‘adultory’. Their political wing arThe merut Party form part of Bibi’s Coalition.
        Hamas does not really represent the majority of Palestinians, being confined to Gaza, Fatah still does.
        Its the best article I’ve read detailing the catalogue of disasters to afflict Israelis since their ‘win’ in ’67, which in fact lumbered them with E Jerusalem.
        The only solutiion would be for Jerusalem to be declared an International City, rather like the Vatican, and be govered by a triumberate of Jews Christians and Muslims; and for a One State solution for Palestine, with the disolution of Israel, rather on the lines of the Northern Ireland settlement. otherwise its endless grief for both Jews and Muslims and Christians for another 100 years.

  2. John P Reid says:

    Swat, you’re geting worse, I agree with this article,but Hamas want to wipe the Jews off the planet, and arent democrats, that makes a big difference between them and the Israelis

    1. James Martin says:

      But then you then need to explain why Israel gave secret backing and large amounts of funding to boost Hamas (and it’s previous incarnation as the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza) in order that they could (and did) weaken Arafat and the secular factions like Fatah within the PLO.

      The politics of Hamas didn’t change between then and now, and yet the Jewish state was happy to help create a powerful anti-Semitic organisation in the illegally occupied territories. Do you really think that they deserve any sympathy now that they have lost control of their monster?

      1. Robert says:

        sadly that is politics for you.

  3. prianikoff says:

    “….You can tell them by their distinctive black garb beards and hats, and their extreme orthodox views and their attitude to women.”

    It’s very dangerous to judge people’s politics by their appearance.

    Netanyahu doesn’t wear a black hat, or have a beard. Neither do the Egyptian generals who are repressing “fundamentalists” in the name of “democracy”.

    Agudat Yisrael, the party of orthodox Jews (Haredim) before the State of Israel was created, was opposed to political Zionism.
    It favoured cooperation with the Palestinian Arabs & Muslims, not ethnic cleansing.

    Many Haredi sects today, such as the Satmar and Neteurei Karta, retain this position.
    They also wear black and don’t shave their beards.

    1. Robert says:

      Totally correct.

  4. David Ellis says:

    The sectarian, settler-colonial state of Israel must be dismantled.

    1. Robert says:

      Whom do you see doing it, to be honest if any countries tried it then I can see world war 3.

      1. David Ellis says:

        The continued existence of Israel is the biggest guarantee of a Third World War. It is an imperialist state, no religion can be contained by borders, with a fixed ideology so must therefore constantly expand or fall to internal revolution. The only thing it offers Jews is permanent war. Even if every single Palestinian is wiped out Israel will remain a restless, expansionary state. Hopefully before the Palestinians are actually wiped out they can play a major roll in the dismantling of the Zionist entity. In order to do so they must first absolutely reject the bogus two state peace lie and and break from leaders who see an Israeli approved bantustan and the Gaza ghetto as some kind of nation. Their perspective must be for a unified (Israel, Gaza, West Bank) secular, democratic Palestine in which Muslims, Jews, Christians and those of no faith can live in harmony and to which the refugees can return to new jobs and homes. This will allow them to reach out to those sections of Israeli society increasingly aware of the doomed nature of the Zionist project. If the Palestinians allow themselves to be wiped out Israel will move on to its neighbours and will either eventually be obliterated by external powers or a war weary Israeli working class bent on peace, democracy and socialism. You pays your money you takes your choice.

        1. Robert says:

          Removing a country would mean a war death and killing, and whom is going to do it the UK and the USA and some of the EU back Israel.

          I do not want to see anyone killed because of the accusation is that all Israel is the same that is Hitler’s ideology .

          Israel was formed because no country wanted to have a load of Jewish people we have treated Jews the same in the past as other countries and for me saying it must be dismantled tell me what would you do with the people and if they fought.

          Or would you decide to build some more death camps Israel is not going anywhere like it or not the only way this will be settled is a war, or politically lets hope it’s politically.

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