Jerusalem, one of the holiest cities in the world, is seasoned with controversy and dispute. Observing the state of Israel in 2017, no major changes can be articulated differentiating it from 2000, 2009, or 2012. However, with the proposed ‘Greater Jerusalem Law’, conditions have the potential to get worse, dragging Israel away from peace efforts and into a pit of turmoil and desolation. The ambition of the Greater Law of Jerusalem is to increase the Jewish population in occupied East Jerusalem from 155,000 to 305,002, a political ploy to increase the extent of the Israeli voting power. Needless to say, this is very controversial. Almost any news outlet you read will give a biased account of the East Jerusalem question. This article will nonetheless add to the controversy, defending Israeli intentions.
To fully comprehend the magnitude of this policy, we must first understand the controversy behind the East Jerusalem Question. The East Jerusalem Question is recognised by the debate regarding whether Israel should have full government control over East Jerusalem, minimising the power of the Palestinians currently inhabiting this area. East Jerusalem, previously being controlled by Muslims, was taken by Israel in 1967 and annexed officially in 1981. These actions received no international backing and even were argued to be breaking international law. Though this takeover seems presumptuous and uncalled for, it is important to understand Israel’s predicament. Israel paradoxically has one of the world’s most efficient armies, yet serves as a global punching bag, constantly being discriminated against in foreign policy and United Nations (UN) discussions. While Israel taking control of East Jerusalem is inexplicitly wrong, the reasoning behind Israel’s actions creates a compelling moral dilemma.
Hamas (recognised terrorist group by Britain, and many EU member states) has been in control of the Gaza strip since 2007. While Israel has attempted a plethora of peace treaties, Hamas will not agree to any conditions but a total Muslim state. While neither Palestinians nor Israelis have clean hands, Israel is justified in its hesitation to working with a recognised terrorist-run government. Perceiving the Palestinian government as such, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s (Netanyhu is known as Bibi within Israel) distrust of Palestinian authorities gains a little bit more relevance.
With Israel in control of Jerusalem, the holy site of the Western Wall has been under close watch and security. This has minimised the number of terror attacks in the past 15 years. To illustrate, the ‘biggest’ terrorist attack occurring this summer consisted of two people dying, showing the efficiency of Israeli security. The latest terrorist attack occurred 14 July 2017 at Temple Mount. Three armed Palestinian gunmen ran armed into the Lion’s Gate entrance, gunning down two Israeli police officers, Hael Sathawi and Kamil Shanan. This incident served as one of the most serious attacks in Jerusalem in most recent years, killing two. Before 2000, terrorist attacks in Israel averaged about 50-70 casualties per attack. Now in 2017 with Israel in control of the majority of Jerusalem, the numbers are finally plummeting: showing progress. So, while one can argue that the seizing of Jerusalem might be politically wrong (based more off voting intentions rather than peacekeeping), security under Israeli governance has been much more successful at maintaining low numbers of terrorist attacks in holy sites.
Hearing from a witness who was in Israel this summer during the Temple Mount attacks, a clearer image of the complexity and esoteric nature of the Jerusalem dilemma is shown. Ali Drabu, a second-year student at the University of St Andrews, is both a Muslim and a ‘pro solutionist,’ creating a unique and rare combination. He stated, ‘The occupation of East Jerusalem is perhaps one of the most contentious points of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Whilst Israel claims Jerusalem as its eternal undivided capital, this appears to apply only in name. Only a real and radical rethink of Israeli policy to East Jerusalem can provide any possible framework for solving this incredibly complex issue.’ To Drabu, both sides have faults. As a Muslim, he doesn’t fully side with Palestine and yet does not call himself a supporter of solely Israel. He hopes to see reconciliation and progress in the upcoming U.N debates but is reluctant and weary to believe change is near.
While I personally support a two-state policy (starting with Israel/Palestine 60/40 split), the rhetoric and sheer misinterpretation surrounding the Greater Jerusalem Law is politically corrosive, to say the least. Prestigious news outlets such as The Guardian have demonised Israel’s policies, accusing them of treating Palestinians as ‘second-class citizens.’ These statements show ignorance. Both Israelis and Palestinians are imperfect. Growing up in a toxic atmosphere of conflict and war, citizens of Gaza and Israel have been learned to hate, are forced to fight, and worst of all, pressured to choose.
It is all too easy as bystanders to speculate, labelling the Israeli Defence Force as a ‘terrorist army’ or Israelis as racists and anti-Muslim. These audacious accusations are meaningless, coming from a place of naivety. Growing up in a land brimming with controversy, citizens are morally conflicted. In combat, the person on the other side is your enemy, your competition. With a mandatory policy of conscription, Israelis are trained to see Palestinians as their enemy. This is horrific and detrimental, but morally, the blame cannot holistically fall onto them. To illustrate, in a 3 November national poll 72% of Israelis wanted to maintain control over Muslim holy sites in occupied Jerusalem. Israelis see this control as security, a way to make sure they are not the victims of discrimination and hate crimes.
The United States has served as an ally to Israel, backing them with political and militaristic support. However, when the misconceptions of Israel become peoples’ realities, international support for Israel begins to waver. It should be known that supporting Israel does not mean an individual is in direct opposition to Palestine. Movements like the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) show a far left extreme, boycotting Israel’s products in an effort to ‘support’ Palestine. Actions such as these create a persona for Israel as being a villain, stealing from Palestinian exports when in reality, this is false. In 2015, Israel gave 15,205 tons of construction material and 16.8 million litres of fuel to Palestine. Similarly, according to the Israel Defense Force records, the amount of merchants moving from Gaza into Israel has grown by 325% in the last year. Additionally, over 11,500 tons of agricultural goods from Gaza were distributed in Israel and abroad in 2015. All these steps towards progress and reconciliation have been made independent, of the BDS movement, showing it to be relatively ineffective. Palestine is conversely given money by Israel, as Hamas has not made strides in assisting the tenement houses and poor living conditions most Palestinians suffer from. Boycotting Israel will not fix any outstanding political or economic issues but frankly, only add to them. The BDS movement has only served to anger Israeli officials, making them produce more radical and Rightist policies, essentially adding fuel to the fire. Instead of attempting to push Israel into economic turmoil, efforts should be centred around repairing the relationship between the two ethnic groups, focusing on making Jerusalem a safe space for both parties, not solely under the control of Israel.
In conclusion, the Great Jerusalem Law requires much more than a simple explanation. Though neither side is completely blameless, or to blame, Israel should not be oversimplified as a ‘racist’ and ‘backwards’ state. Instead of blindly following news articles, ethos driven propaganda videos, or being swayed by a convincing mate in the pub, read and decipher for yourself the true epistemic and moral implications of choosing a side.