Thursday, January 13, 2011

Do the Palestinians of Jerusalem Prefer to be Israelis?

In 1949, when Israel's War of Independence had just recently been won, there were about 100,000 Arabs among its citizens. At the time almost no-one called them Palestinians, not even they themselves. Until then they had been subjects of the British Mandate. Now they were citizens of Israel, and no-one really knew what that meant. Over the next 15 years, for example, many of them lived under military rule, unlike the Jewish citizens. At the same time, the State of Israel invested considerable funds and efforts to ensure all their children went to school, an effort no-one had previously made. (I wrote a bit about this here). It was a complicated story, with lots of shades of gray.

Then, in 1967, it suddenly took on a new and unexpected aspect. Following 19 years of near-total separation from the Arabs of the West Bank, who often lived a mere mile or two away, suddenly the separation was over. There was no border between Bartaa and Diab, Bakaa and Bakka el-Sharkiya, Jaat and Zeita, Taibe and Far'un, not to mention Beit Safafa and Beit Safafa. And yet, it wasn't really gone, the separation. To everyone's surprise, 19 years of being Israelis vs. 19 years of being Jordanians had caused a deep rift, and everyone saw it. (There were no Israeli-Arab villages right next to Gaza).

I'm not a scholar of the matter, but my impression is that as time went on and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank lengthened into years and decades, some of the distinctions became blurred. But many of them didn't. Then, when Israel began to build the separation barrier in 2002, the blurring receded. There was the famous case of the mayor of Um El-Fahm, the largest Arab town along the Green Line, who publicly sighed with relief when the fence went up alongside his town: finally the Israeli Jews will know we're not on the West Bank and they'll come back to our stores and restaurants on weekends, he announced; we'll be able to get on with the project of integration into Israel without the confusion of the West Bank folks (two miles south of his town).

One of the most controversial things Avigdor Lieberman keeps saying is the assertion that when the time for two states really does finally come along, Israel must insist that all those Arab towns I mentioned above must be defined as Palestine, not Israel, since their denizens are ethnically Palestinians,and should live in Palestine. Nothing makes them more furious.

That's the background for this story about the town of A-Taibeh, home of the Zuabi clan and their most famous daughter, Knesset Member Hanin Zuabi, who is probably the most vocal of the anti-Israeli voices among the Palestinian MKs. Apparently she's not at all appreciated in her home town, where everybody wants to accelerate the process of becoming Israelis, not aggravate the Jews. The story may fly in the face of what you expect, but it shouldn't. Wander around the Galilee these days and there are lots of signs on many levels that the local Arabs may identify ethnically as Palestinians (and they may not), but they are very serious about being Israelis. And their Jewish neighbors, rabid rabbis or no rabid rabbis, are mostly reciprocating the process. We haven't reached utopia yet, and probably won't for a while, but the trajectory is positive. I've previously written about this here, for example).

Then there's the case of Beit Safafa. This small Arab village south of Jerusalem was divided by the Green Line in 1949. The northern half of the village was in Israel, and became part of Jerusalem. The southern half was in Jordan. Then, in 1967, the southern half was also incorporated into Jerusalem and Israel, just like  Diab, Bakaa el-Sharkiya and Zeita weren't. A Palestinian friend of mine insists that as a result, the entire neighborhood is now the most Israeli of all East Jerusalem neighborhoods. 43 years of being in Israel have erased the chasm created by those first 19 years of not being in Israel.

The crucial question is if the same might happen in the rest of East Jerusalem. What happens to Palestinians who spend 35 years with the rights and benefits of being Israelis, and then, in 2003-4, they get physically severed from the West Bank? Because that's what's happening in East Jerusalem. The 270,000 Palestinians are cut off from the West Bank on the level of daily life (though they are allowed to travel there at will). They've got Israeli freedoms, Israeli health care, Israeli social security. Economically they're near the bottom of the Israeli standard of living (except the ones who are well off), but that's considerably better than on the West Bank and the possibility of improvement is significant. They can live anywhere inside Israel, should they so decide. This practical severing from the West bank is about six years old. How long will it take to achieve the same result as the 19-year severing back in 1948-67?

The Pechter poll presented yesterday suggests the process is already well underway. A plurality of East Jerusalem Palestinians want to remain Israelis. Haaretz summarizes the findings here. The full report is here, and a presentation based upon it is here. And note - since the report itself doesn't - that the numbers who prefer to remain in Israel are actually higher than stated, since the neighborhoods of Shuafat and Kfar Akeb don't really count, since they're outside the barrier and not really in Jerusalem. Kfar Akeb, for all practical purposes, is simply the southernmost neighborhood of Ramallah.

Speculation: what happens if sometime soon - say, ten years from now, which is a mere heartbeat in the story of Jerusalem - a clear majority of Jerusalem's Arabs actively want to remain Israelis, and, just like the Arabs of A-Taibeh, they refuse to contemplate the possibility of being citizens of Palestine? What then? Does anyone ask their opinion, or does the rest of the world insist that peace can be had only by dividing Jerusalem? I ask, because so far as I can see, we're well on the way to that situation, and getting nearer all the time.


Barry Meislin said...

Silly question.

The answer to that is: exactly what was done to the good men and women of the village of Al-Ghajjar (on the Lebanese border) will be done to them.

(Unless this time, Israel puts its foot done. But should that happen, such "brazen intransigence" will be interpreted by the usual suspects, which at that moment in the future will be practically everyone around the globe, as a declaration of war against....the world. Regarding the well-being of the Palestinians, what is more important---really now? That some Palestinians might not get what they want? Or that the Zionist Entity is obliterated?)

Anonymous said...

If the conditions are right, Israel should demand a referendum. Which fair-minded democrat would object to that?

Otherwise, Israel should assert its hold over Jerusalem and make efforts to make its arab citizens more welcome.

Silke said...

why not also demant that the Arab citizens are a bit more demonstrative in their love for Israel?

NormanF said...

The Arabs may hate Israel but they don't want to live under Arab rule.

I'd say its a safe bet Jerusalem will never be re-divided again.

Lee Ratner said...

I have an unrelated question about Jerusalem that I always meant to ask but never had the oppportunity. Jerusalem is defined as a holy city along with Hebron, Tiberias, and Safed. However, what constitutes Jerusalem has changed over the centuries. Modern Jerusalem contains places that were considered to be in the boonies during the Second Temple period. So when we say that Jerusalem is holy, what do we exactly mean is holy? If the Knesset enlarges the municipal borders of Jerusalem, do the new areas become holy?

Yaacov said...

Well, Lee it's a good question and there's no clear answer. I'd say, however, following others, that the emotional connection is to what's sometimes called the Holy Basin: the area from Mt Scopus in the north to Government House in the south, from the Mount of Olives in the east to the edge of the Old City in the West. Therefore, when Yossie Beilin used to tell us that by handing that entire area (minus the Jewish Quarter) to the Palestinians we'd be winning, because we'd end up with most of Jerusalem on our side, we asked ourselves if he was the dunce, or he thought all the rest of us were.

Anonymous said...

Was there not a tragic incident, about 10 or so years ago, of an East Jerusalem man circulating a petition among Arabs wishing to not become part of a Palestinian state but wishing to stay in Israel, and the man was shot?


Anonymous said...

And if all the west bank and Gaza want to be in Israel would you agree?

Barry Meislin said...

But, of course, that's precisely the point.

If Israel can't be destroyed one way, then one must try another. And if that doesn't work out as well as it was supposed to, then one, resourceful as ever, must try a third. And then a fourth.Ad infinitum.

(Or should that be, ad finitum?)

File under: "Until victory"?

Rabbi Tony Jutner said...

Your opinion of these polls are naive. The Palestinians that you are selectively quoting (E Jerusalem Arabs and so called Israeli Arabs) are merely acting as guardians of the property you stole from them in 1948. Of course they want to have close supervision, so they are rejecting your "offer" to give them Palestinian citizenship. When you give them back everything that you stole, they will reject "israeli citizenship" because there will be nothing left

Yaacov said...

We love you, too, Tony!

RK said...

Lee, as you might expect, the limits of Jerusalem are the subject of involved halakhic debate. In some sense, there are different "boundaries" for different purposes: for instance, one opinion states that the boundaries of Jerusalem with respect to celebrating Shushan Purim includes areas that are perceived as being part of Jerusalem, even if they aren't within the strict limits.

Even if we limit the question strictly to which parts of Jerusalem have kedushah, or holiness, the answer is complex. Several Rishonim hold that the answer is none of it, either because the sanctity "expired" since the time of Ezra (the Ra'avad) or because it was subsequently invaded by Gentiles (the Ramban). Others hold that the sanctification of Jerusalem was permanent (the Rambam) or that Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem restored its holiness (R. Yitzchak Schmelkes).

If the sanctity of Jerusalem persists, the next question is how far it extends. As you mentioned, ancient Jerusalem was largely, but not exclusively, limited to the Old City. The city's very holiness made expanding its limits a serious affair: the Rambam, in Bet Habechirah 6:12, describes the process after noting that it required the combination of the Sanhedrin, the king, the prophet, and the Urim and Thummim. Assuming that's the case, expanding the city limits would obviously be impossible today, and thus many modern authorities like Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach rule that most of the modern municipality falls outside the halakhic boundaries of Jerusalem.

Anyway, I want to emphasize that this just addresses (very superficially) the halakhic aspects of the question, and not the role Greater Jerusalem plays in the collective Jewish memory, or its importance to Jewish Israelis. Even if the Mount of Olives, for example, isn't "in Jerusalem" in the halakhic sense, its role in Jewish history over the centuries is just as ancient. Recall that before the destruction of the First Temple, the shekhinah departed from the city of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives, an episode which emphasizes both its separateness and its significance.

Yaacov said...

Yaffeh, RK. I like it.