Israel's Fictional Undivided Jerusalem

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

Israel's near hysterical reaction to a Swedish proposal to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, their stubborn refusal to include East Jerusalem in their questionable "settlement freeze" and their defense of repressive policies imposed on Palestinians in the area of that holy city are framed in language that masks their real intent.

When Israel speaks of Jerusalem they often frame their concerns as based either on religion or historical attachment. Jerusalem is, they will say, "our eternal undivided capital," and they will add "we longed to return for 2000 years." While not dismissing the religious importance of the city, given its pivotal role in all three Abrahamic faiths, the disturbing reality that emerges from an examination of Israeli practices in the area around Jerusalem exposes, quite simply, that their efforts speak more of a naked land grab of Palestinian territory than they do of religion.

When Israelis speak of an "undivided" Jerusalem, what they are referring to is much more than the old city and even more than the historic neighborhoods of the Jerusalem municipality. For Israel, Jerusalem now means the area they unilaterally annexed and declared as "Jerusalem" in following their occupation of the city in 1967. This annexation has not been recognized by any country and has been condemned by multiple unanimous UN Security Council resolutions.

This "annexed zone," encompasses a large swathe of the West Bank, which includes a number of Palestinian villages. It is a weirdly configured area (looking more like a "gerrymandered" U.S. Congressional District than natural borders of a city) that reaches north to the outskirts of Ramallah and south to Bethlehem. To establish the fiction that this entire area is "Jerusalem," Israel extended its law and even offered Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians within the new borders. And to the settlements/colonies they built (more like massive suburbs of high rise buildings) within this annexed zone Israel gave the more benign name "neighborhoods."

These Israeli colonies, now home to almost 200,000 settlers, snake up and down hillsides, strangling the smaller Palestinian villages they surround. The villages, which lost their land to confiscation to make way for these massive building projects have, themselves, been unable to grow, and their residents have had their movements circumscribed and normal commerce impeded.

In reality, the "division" that should be addressed is not that of Jerusalem into East and West, but Israel's division of Jerusalem and its environs from the rest of the West Bank.

For generations Jerusalem has been the metropol for Palestinians in the West Bank. Not just a religious center, it was the hub of commerce, and within the city were major Palestinian cultural, social, educational, medical institutions and more. Severing the city from the rest of the West Bank, in effect, cut the heart out of the body with dire consequences all around.

Added to this are several other factors that have made clear the Israeli's deeper intent. Since the mid-1990s Israel has had in place a "closure" of greater Jerusalem, severely limiting access and egress to the "annexed zone." While this was initially accomplished via roadblocks and checkpoints, these have largely been replaced by a near 30 foot high concrete wall which, when completed, ominously extends well beyond even the expanded annexed area bringing additional Israeli settlements within its' grasp.

It is even a fiction for Israel to describe historic Jerusalem as unified. Looking at the city from any elevated area the "Green Line" that separated East and West until 1967 is clearly visible. Up to the line on the West side is modern with high rise buildings, new roads, and the infrastructure of a modern city. Because of discriminatory government spending on development projects, the Eastern side of the city remains sorely in need of infrastructural improvements. In fact, the only modern projects one sees in the East are pockets of Israeli colonies that have been forcibly imposed in the midst of Palestinian neighborhoods. What this reveals is that far from unified, the East is a merely occupied with colonies of conquest dotting its landscape. And try to get an Israeli cab in West Jerusalem to take you to an Arab neighborhood in the East and you will quickly discover how divided Jerusalem really is.

Israel has also taken measures to thin out the Palestinian population within their version of "greater Jerusalem" while making a determined effort to increase the area's Jewish population. Last year alone, Israel revoked the "residency permits of over 4,500 Palestinians and ordered the demolition of almost 1,000 Palestinian homes (3,500 such demolition orders have been issued in the last five years of which 500 have actually been destroyed. At the same time that they are thinning out the Palestinian population they announced the construction of 900 new housing units to be built in their "neighborhoods" while official plans provide for 14,000 additional settler homes to be built in the area over the next several years.

This, they feel they can do, having been emboldened by President Bush's April 4th 2004 letter to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon which, in effect, gave U.S. blessing to the massive "settlement blocs," in and around Jerusalem and in the broader West Bank, referring to them as "realities."

All this explains why the Israeli reacted with such hostility to the Obama Administration's initial refusal to consider a "settlement freeze" that did not include Jerusalem and the Swedish proposal for the EU to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian State. Acceptance of either initiative would have forced suspension of their "land grab" to the north, east and south of the city, putting an end to their attachment to this ever-expanding, but fictional "undivided" Jerusalem.

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