Today is Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day – marking fifty years since the reunification of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. Today we’re grateful for the return of Jewish life and prayer to the Old City, to the Kotel and some of our holiest sites. But Jerusalem is not united, and Yom Yerushalayim is not a simple celebration of our people’s return to our holy places.
This afternoon, young Jewish Israelis have been dancing through the streets of the Muslim Quarter of the Old City in the March of Flags. Every year, Palestinian businesses in the Muslim Quarter are shut for the march. Often, the songs and chants turn from expressions of Jewish pride – “the people of Israel live” – to racism and “death to the Arabs”. In confronting, intimidating and restricting the lives of the Muslim Quarter’s Palestinian residents, the marchers connect Jewish joy directly to Palestinian suffering. This breaks our hearts.
When we think of ‘united Jerusalem’, we normally think of the Old City. But East Jerusalem is far more than just the Old City. After the Six Day War, the Jerusalem municipal boundaries were extended in vast areas over the Green Line, incorporating large Palestinian communities. Nearly forty percent of Jerusalem residents are Palestinian.
If you’re a British Jew or an Israeli, you’re unlikely to have visited many Palestinian areas of Jerusalem, apart from the Muslim Quarter. Neighbourhoods like Shuafat, Sur Baher, Jabal Mukaber and Al-Tur are far from the tourist trail. They receive considerably fewer services from the Jerusalem municipality than Jewish neighbourhoods, and 76% of East Jerusalem residents live below the poverty line. Palestinians in East Jerusalem do not automatically receive Israeli citizenship, even if they were born after 1967. Palestinians who are born and grow up in Jerusalem can have their residency rights removed if they move away. Faced with these facts, talk of ‘undivided’ Jerusalem rings hollow.
A political resolution for Jerusalem is not about denying Jewish history or access to the Old City. It’s about what happens to Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighbourhoods, and finding a way for both Israelis and Palestinians to live in freedom in their city.
First published on Yachad’s Facebook page