Every week, The WorldPost asks an expert to shed light on a topic driving headlines around the world. Today, we look at the uptick in violence in Jerusalem.
Tensions in Jerusalem have been boiling for months. In July, Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir was burned to death in the city in revenge for the killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank. Soon after, war broke out between Israeli forces and Hamas militants in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, fueling more protests in Jerusalem. In recent weeks, the attempt to assassinate a controversial Jewish activist and deadly driving attacks on Israelis have heightened the city's unease.
In East Jerusalem, Palestinian protesters have fought fierce street battles with Israeli security forces almost daily. In an effort to quell the unrest, Israeli authorities restricted access to the Jerusalem holy site known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and Jews as Temple Mount for Palestinian men under the age of 35. On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel, Jordan and Palestinians had agreed a plan to avert violence at the contentious site, and Israel on Friday re-opened the compound to all Muslims.
The WorldPost spoke with Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer who specializes in legal and public issues in East Jerusalem, about the recent unrest. Seidemann is the founder of the Israeli non-profit Terrestrial Jerusalem, which tracks developments in the city related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Seidemann said life in Jerusalem has become "unbearable" for many Palestinians, and the city is more divided than ever.
What is the atmosphere like on the streets of Jerusalem now?
We are in a new situation and it appears that even after things calm down, we will never go back to the status quo ante. Since Mohammed Abu Khdeir was killed, the hatred has become more personalized, wider spread, and deeper ingrained. It’s different now than it was four a half months ago, and it wasn’t idyllic then.
There's a border in Jerusalem today, although not the kind discussed at peace talks. Israelis do not go into East Jerusalem. My Palestinian friends won’t go into West Jerusalem. The degree of separation is as stark as I’ve ever seen. Its worse than during the Second Intifada (the 2000-2005 Palestinian uprising against Israel.)
What makes thing different today?
The Second Intifada was a popular uprising, but not in Jerusalem. This is a popular uprising in Jerusalem, in a way the Second Intifada never was.
This is spontaneous combustion. No individual or group has started this, and no one has the power or authority to put a stop to it. The Israeli government says it has asked Palestinian leaders to put a stop to the violence. But Israel has crushed every form of Palestinian political expression in the city that is more radical than a scout meeting -- and sometimes even scout meetings.
This is an uprising led by kids. What possesses kids to go out night after night and clash with the police? Not sophisticated politics. They felt something and they’re expressing it.
What are they reacting to?
The immediate triggers were the murder of Abu Khdeir, the expansion of Israeli settlement construction and the hostilities in Gaza.
The underlying reasons help explain why this has lasted for four months. These kids feel life sucks and it's not getting better. They live under a government that at best ignores them and at worst treats them as an alien, hostile population.
Then the incidents at the Temple Mount created a perfect storm. They feed into each other -- the mundane reasons of life being unbearable in Jerusalem, and the mythical power of Temple Mount.
Could you describe why life in Jerusalem is hard for these kids?
Life is made more difficult because Palestinians have trouble getting building permits, their buildings are demolished, government taxes are higher.
But the larger issue is the message that Israeli leaders' actions send to the Palestinian youth -- "You don't count."
The Israeli wall, which cuts Palestinians in Jerusalem off from the West Bank, has made it worse. They are a population adrift.
Do you see any signs of hope?
There are hopeful signs all over the city, and they’re all meaningless. There are countless relationships between Israelis and Palestinians -- relationships of respect, and relationships of love. There are hidden bounds of friendship throughout the city. But all of them are trivial compared to the major issues.
The problems of the city are not going to be solved by the people living in it. The only way it could change is if the international community and Israeli and Palestinian leaders reach a political agreement to resolve Jerusalem's status.
What do you expect to happen in the meantime?
This round of violence will die down. It always does. If it does it will be in spite of Israeli policies. It's not because any of their grievances have been addressed but because of exhaustion.
When you add in the Temple Mount, or al-Haram al-Sharif, all bets are off. The potential of a violent event to reignite this is very high.
This conversation was edited and condensed for clarity.
More from The WorldPost on Jerusalem:
- Why the holy site at the heart of Jerusalem clashes is so contentious