Jerusalem: More Divided Than Ever

November 21, 2014

The continued rising tensions in Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians is feeding the environment of animosity that already exists as a result of aggressive Israeli policies. Recently, tensions had gotten so high that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration closed the Al-Aqsa mosque, a move that hasn’t happened in 47 years. 

Additionally, right-wing Jewish nationalists have been ramping up their demands of Netanyahu to allow them to pray in the Aqsa mosque. Protected by 300 Israeli security forces, the Jewish settlers stormed the mosque in an attempt to have their demands heard. What is it that is contributing to these conditions in Jerusalem?

1. The continued settlement expansion and violence wreaked by settlers onto the Palestinians is not helping the situation or easing tensions. Recently, a set of European Union documents were released reporting that potential punishments for continued Israeli settlement building could include recalling EU ambassadors. They have also proposed to reconsider their involvement in UN Human Rights Council debates, relating specifically to the condition of human rights in the West Bank, so long as their settlement violations continue. Additionally, just last month, the Obama administration sent a strong message to Netanyahu and his condoning of settlement building saying, “this development will only draw condemnation from the international community and distance Israel from even its closest allies.” Not only do the settlements and by virtue, the settlers themselves, add to the poisonous environment, but in moving forward with this internationally-recognized illegal act, Israel is further isolating herself.

2. Oppressive Israeli policies toward Palestinians in Jerusalem are problematic. Even Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy wrote, “There is no self-deception from which the city doesn’t suffer. The capital is a capital only in its own eyes; the united city is one of the most divided in the universe. The alleged equality is a joke and justice is trampled on. Free access to the holy sites is for Jews only (and yes, for elderly Muslims). And the right of return is reserved for Jews.” Mass arrests of Palestinians, destruction of homes as retaliation and the invasion of Arab neighborhoods with the support of courts and government are all policies that lead to the continued unrest in Jerusalem.

3. The unwilling rigidness of the Israeli government to be open to the idea of change to better the situation both for Israelis and Palestinians is simply exhausting. The unrelenting vitriolic rhetoric made almost daily by Israeli elected officials should be a cause for concern. It should also be cause for the world to pause and take note that being too stubborn when dealing with a conflict of this magnitude is by far the most ineffective and unhelpful thing to do. Since the Israeli aggression into Gaza this summer, the world has been watching event after event unfold in the Holy Land, yet Israeli policies toward Palestinians continue to deny basic human rights. Without the international community holding Israel accountable for its actions, the policies will remain the same and further, get worse. Since when does closing down a  mosque and denying prayers to a community constitute as a valid response from a government?

Unfortunately, the impact of America’s role has not been felt because of its one-sided approach to the conflict. In being an honest broker, the U.S. needs to play more of an active leadership role and exert her true influence in preventing the death of more lives and pushing for real peace in the region. Part of being honest is being constructively critical of our own past policies and being willing to reform those policies for positive change. 

The sad reality is that the conditions in Jerusalem are not a surprise to anyone anymore. The constant images coming out of the Holy Land contribute to the desensitization of the situation and further enables Netanyahu and his administration to pass harsher and harsher laws. In the end, this will only lead to the destruction of a city deemed holy to all three Abrahamic faiths. 

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