Israel is facing a challenge it never expected when it captured East Jerusalem and reunited the city in the 1967 war: each year, Jerusalem’s population is becoming more Arab and less Jewish.
For four decades, Israel has pushed to build and expand Jewish neighborhoods, while trying to restrict the growth in Arab parts of the city. Yet two trends are unchanged: Jews moving out of Jerusalem have outnumbered those moving in for 27 of the last 29 years. And the Palestinian growth rate has been high.
While it is virtually impossible for Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza to move to Jerusalem if they were not born there, natural population growth and restrictions on building in Arab parts of the city mean large families often share very small apartments.
An estimated 18,000 apartments and homes, or a third of all the Arab residences in East Jerusalem, were built illegally because permits are so hard to obtain, Mr. Nasrallah said, adding that Israel has not approved the development of a new Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem since 1967.
“Israel sees Jerusalem as a demographic problem,” he said, “and sees the solution as getting rid of Palestinians.”
In contrast, Israel has established many Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and more than 200,000 Jews now live in the eastern part of the city.
Since conquering and occupying East Jerusalem in 1967, successive Israeli governments have used a combination of security and bureaucratic measures, as well as violent invasions and takeovers of Arab homes and neighborhoods by government-sanctioned Jewish settler militias, to increase the Jewish population in East Jerusalem while simultaneously limiting the increase of Arabs. I tend to think that if this were an article about similar efforts to change the ethnic character of Hong Kong, Istanbul, or Detroit, we might see some indication that such efforts are, you know, objectionable.
In Israel, this policy of ethnic cleansing (which right-wing Israelis naturally refer to as the “liberation” of Jerusalem, and which Ehud Olmert strongly supported as mayor of Jerusalem, and continues to as PM) is controversial. Less so in the U.S., where pointing out that Israel’s policy toward its Arab subjects is morally reprehensible, deeply inhumane and illegal, as well as disastrously counterproductive in terms of Israel’s security, is likely to get you labeled an anti-Semite. That Israel is apparently failing in its attempt to de-Arabize the Holy City is gratifying, but it doesn’t make the policy any less racist or provocative.
From a 2002 Christian Science Monitor article on the Israeli policy:
Benny Elon, an ultra-nationalist member of the Knesset who is spearheading the settlement effort, puts it this way: "If you don't create facts on the ground, everything blows in the wind. We saw that during Barak's time – Jerusalem was on the negotiating table."
Mr. Elon says the new sites are links in a map of Jewish territorial contiguity in East Jerusalem. His plan is to ring the old city with 17 settlement points, some just a few houses, but one, with 130 planned units. Many of the points already exist, the houses or land purchased privately but the security, roads, and infrastructure paid for by the government.
In Sheikh Jarrah, at the traditional burial site of the Judean sage Simeon the Just, authorities last month paved a road for three closely guarded settler houses. The left fork, which accesses Palestinian homes, remains a dirt path.
Sprawling Jewish settlements, considered suburbs by Israelis, have also been built in East Jerusalem territory on land expropriated from Palestinians.
Elon says he looks forward to a time when there will be no Palestinians living around the tomb of Simeon the Just and in Simeon's Heritage, the names he prefers to Sheikh Jarrah. "It was a Jewish neighborhood and it will be a Jewish neighborhood."
At a Jerusalem Day party organized by Elon, many among the thousands of young revelers draped themselves in Israeli flags. Some sported stickers reading: "The solution: Expel the Arab enemy."
Remember: When Palestinian politicians employ eliminationist rhetoric, they are to be condemned as terrorists, and deemed unacceptable to negotiate with. When Israeli politicians do the same, they are to be hailed as evidence of Israel’s “vibrant democracy.” No partner for peace, indeed,