Jerusalem Update


Picture a beautiful city
which has a small neighborhood with nice little
pubs and restaurants only five minutes walking
distance from the downtown district. Imagine
sitting in a chic bistro in that neighborhood,
sipping cool draft beer while soft music plays in
the background. You are with friends, talking
about work, sports, or politics.

Continue with the image,
and assume that less than 100 yards from the
restaurant is a detention center. It is a warm
April evening, and while you enjoy dessert, only
the thick sound-proof walls of the cells keep you
from hearing the screams of a political prisoner
who is being tortured there.

Tragically, this is not an
imaginary city but a real one, Jerusalem. On
April 25, 1995, Abd al-Samad Harizat, a computer
scientist, was "shaken" to death in the
detention center known to Israelis as the Russian
Compound, and to Palestinians, as Jerusalem’s
Moscobiyyah. According to Amnesty International,
a British forensic pathologist who attended the
autopsy concluded: "there is no doubt
whatsoever about the cause of death … he died
from torture." Restaurants and pubs outside
the prison were open that night, cheerfully
serving their clientele. Harizat was not the
first to die there.

It isn’t hard to discern
the deadly undercurrents which are at work in
this city, the prevailing inequity between Jews
and Palestinians, and the injustice it brings in
its wake. Jerusalem is not the only "mixed
city" where Palestinian residents are
discriminated against–Haifa, Jaffa, and Acre are
other examples. Yet, the abuses of Palestinians
living in these cities hasn’t been in quite the
same league as that to which the East
Jerusalemites have been subjected.

Jerusalem, one might also
recall, differs from the other "mixed
cities" because of its religious importance.
Thus, there is a disturbing correlation between
the spiritual significance of the city and the
injustice taking place within it. This
frightening convergence between the spiritual
ethos and injustice is a direct consequence of
Israel’s 30-year-old imperative: the holiest city
for the Jews must be dominated by the Jewish
state regardless.

Accordingly, the objective
of every Israeli government–backed by the
religious parties–has been to gain full control
of Jerusalem. This drive for mastery and
domination of Jerusalem is at the root of
Israel’s effort to subjugate its Palestinian
residents, and the many violations committed
against them is a natural result of this
objective. The decision to build 6,500 apartments
on Har Homa is only the most recent indication of
this strategy.

B’Tzelem, an Israeli
information center for human rights, points out
that in the past 30 years some 38,500 housing
units were built on lands expropriated from
Arabs, and taken over by Jews. Instead of easing
the housing shortages for the overcrowded
Palestinians, the municipal planning authorities
have drastically restricted development and
limited the area designated for Palestinian
neighborhoods. At the same time, construction of
Jewish neighborhoods throughout East Jerusalem
continues to flourish and Jews are encouraged to
settle in them. The Jewish population of East
Jerusalem, which stood at zero in 1967, will be a
decisive majority by the year 2000.

Israel’s policy is to
surround the Palestinians, choking off the Arab
neighborhoods. The idea is simple: encircle East
Jerusalem with Jewish neighborhoods, and in this
manner foreclose any possibility of it evolving
into the capital of Palestine.

Adding insult to injury,
Prime Minister Netanyahu lied when he proclaimed
that the government approved the designation of
3,015 apartments for Palestinians. No government
decision has ever been made to that effect.
Netanyahu’s deceit is not a new phenomena. Barton
Gellman from the Washington Post reports
that the "last time Israel expropriated a
large chunk of East Jerusalem for Jewish
construction, in March 1980, it pledged to
authorize 18,000 Arab apartments in Beit Hanina
neighborhood alongside a new Jewish neighborhood,
Pisgat Zeev. The municipal planning board stalled
the plan for years, cutting it to 16,000 units,
then 11,000, then 7,500, but still leaving it
unapproved. Seventeen years later not one
apartment has resulted. Pisgat Zeev, by contrast,
is today a suburb of 35,200 Jews."

Israel’s policy of
systematic and deliberate discrimination against
the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem in
all matters relating to land, development, and
housing construction is but one manifestation of
its will to dominate. This will has been
translated into policies ranging from torture to
bureaucratic restrictions, which in turn have
transformed Jerusalem into a city where injustice
is rampant and where Palestinians are
dehumanized. Since spirituality and widespread
injustice cannot coexist, a 2,000 year old symbol
of spirituality is being destroyed. Israel’s
decision not to relinquish control over any part
of what it considers its eternal and indivisible
capital, has altered Jerusalem, inexorably
transforming it into this generation’s golden
calf. In the vicinity of a golden calf, the Book
of Exodus reminds us, it is not unusual for
violence to erupt.