Activist says Jerusalem is hardly ‘united’

Activist says Jerusalem is hardly ‘united’

Daniel Seidemann: Jerusalem is not united, he said, but is rather “the quintessential contested city.”
Daniel Seidemann: Jerusalem is not united, he said, but is rather “the quintessential contested city.”

An Israeli advocate of dividing Jerusalem equitably among Israelis and Palestinians said East Jerusalem is seeing violence worse than in the first and second Intifadas. 

But because it is occurring in East rather than West Jerusalem, Daniel Seidemann told an audience of about 275 people Dec. 7 at the Jewish Center in Princeton, the Netanyahu government remains devoted to the “mantra” of a united Jerusalem.

“Today Jerusalem the city is collapsing under the weight of its own fiction” that it is a united city, Seidemann said. “Since the beginning of July, it has been witnessing a round of violence the likes of which has not been seen since 1967.”

A legal expert on Jerusalem and founder/director of the dovish NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem and a retired reserve major in the IDF, Seidemann gave the 26th annual Amy Adina Schulman Lecture at the synagogue. 

Since July 2, 1,300 people from East Jerusalem have been arrested for security-related offenses, half of them under 18, he said, as compared to only 270 arrests of East Jerusalem Palestinians between Dec. 1, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2007. Seidemann’s concern is the preponderance of youngsters involved. 

What’s more, teens involved in demonstrations and riots are not being directed by their parents or political leaders. Instead, their anger was triggered by the kidnapping and murder of East Jerusalem teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir in July, Israel’s policy of demolishing the homes of the families of Palestinian terrorists, and the war in Gaza, about which he said, “There is a dimension where two primitive tribes are trying to inflict as much pain as possible on the others.”

East Jerusalem residents are also riled by Israel’s proposed nation-state law, which would demote Arabic as an official language, and provocations and reprisals over the Temple Mount.

Palestinian frustration and rage that cannot be expressed in Gaza nor in the West Bank are breaking out in Jerusalem. “It is the one interface where Palestinians can engage in payback and stick it to Israelis,” said Seidemann.

According to Seidemann, largely Jewish West Jerusalem didn’t pay attention to the unrest for months “because the police were successful in containing the flames to Palestinian neighborhoods.” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat encouraged the press not to report on the violence because it was “bad for business, culture, and tourism,” he said. 

Seidemann suggested that the Palestinians in Jerusalem are ignored both by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government. “Not only is it an uprising against us, Israel, it is an indictment of their parents. They know their parents are incapable of delivering the thing every child is entitled to — a future,” he said.

Israel’s devotion to a united Jerusalem, said Seidemann, grew out of what he called “the most depressed period in Israel’s history,” in May 1967, barely 20 years after the Holocaust. After the lightning victory in the Six-Day War, the release from the threat of mortal danger combined with Israel’s retaking the Western Wall and “meeting with the cradle of our civilization,” said Seidemann, “created a drama of biblical proportions. It gave birth to an article of faith: Jerusalem is ours, and it will never be returned. It gave birth to a mantra, one all of you know — Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel that will never be redivided — and you have to memorize it to be elected to Congress.”

Seidemann contended that Jerusalem is not united, but is rather “the quintessential contested city.” He explained, “Israelis and Palestinians don’t walk the same streets, don’t shop in the same places, or go to the same schools; when they do go to the same schools, they have different curricula.” 

The 37 percent of Jerusalem’s population that is Palestinian, he said, “are not formally Israeli and not empirically Israeli.” 

“The Palestinians of East Jerusalem are not citizens, may not vote in national elections, may not run for mayor, and don’t have international passports,” he said, noting that they may vote in municipal elections, but largely don’t.

Terrestrial Jerusalem believes, as Seidemann recently wrote in The Guardian, that Jerusalem should become “a politically divided, bi-national city, [containing] the respective capitals of Israel and Palestine — which is the sine qua non of any permanent status agreement. 

“What is the Jerusalem that we embrace, that we want? That is going to be the agenda of the coming elections, which I consider the most pivotal, fateful in Israeli history,” he concluded. “The most existential issue is how can Israel end the occupation and achieve security and legitimacy, and it can’t do it if it maintains rule over Jerusalem as it does today.”

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