If we must refer to Advent, then let us hear the Palestinian cry for deliverance from bondage.
Both ideologically and municipally, Israel considers Jerusalem to encompass greater Jerusalem, which includes West Jerusalem, East Jerusalem (the Palestinian side, illegally annexed by Israel from 1967 to 1980) and many of the Israeli settlements (also illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention) to the north, south and east of Jerusalem. Since 1967, Israel has allowed and/or encouraged the illegal settlement of Israelis in East Jerusalem. Today, about 208,000 Israeli settlers live in East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians of East Jerusalem, who total about 316,000, technically live in Israel and pay the same municipal taxes as the Israelis of Jerusalem. However, they are deemed “permanent residents,” not citizens. They cannot vote in national elections. Technically, these Palestinians can apply for Israeli citizenship, but this is rarely done and more than half of the applications are either rejected or permanently pending. Since 2003, about 15,000 Palestinians have applied for citizenship, and of those, 6,000 were approved. From January 2014 to September 2016, about 4,000 Palestinians applied; 84 were approved, 161 were rejected, and the rest are pending. The simple truth is that most Palestinians of East Jerusalem do not want to be citizens of Israel, and Israel certainly does not want them to become citizens. This is why the colonization of land taken in war is illegal. This is where it leads.
It also leads to statistics such as these: Though Palestinians make up 37 percent of the population of Jerusalem, they receive 13 percent of the municipal budget of Jerusalem. East Jerusalem schools have a shortage of more than 2,500 classrooms. Only 52 percent of the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem has legal access to the water grid. Government-initiated construction in East Jerusalem since 1967 is as follows: 55,335 Jewish housing units (99 percent of total); 600 Palestinian housing units (1 percent of total). More than 80 percent of Palestinian children of East Jerusalem live below the poverty line. I could go on.
Though his aides tried to nuance the phrasing of his announcement, U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel signaled approval of Israel’s greater Jerusalem. The creation of greater Jerusalem came about through the expulsion and dispossession of Palestinians of East Jerusalem. It requires the continued expulsion, oppression and dispossession of the Palestinians who still live in East Jerusalem.
PULLING ASIDE THE VEIL
Palestinians love Jerusalem as much as Israelis love Jerusalem. Palestinian claims to Jerusalem – from Muslims and Christians alike – are as legitimate as Israeli/Jewish claims to Jerusalem. When Palestinians hear the president of the United States say that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, they hear him proclaim that their desires for Jerusalem and the current injustices they face in Jerusalem, as well as the West Bank and Gaza, are irrelevant. They are right to feel hopeless and angry.
The upside of all of this is that it puts an end to the charade of the United States as an honest broker between Israelis and Palestinians. In that sense, it is probably for the best. Now we can all face the reality that no one knows how this conflict will end. The conventional wisdom has been that it would end with two states. Unfortunately, Israeli colonization of the West Bank killed the two-state solution a long time ago. But like the mother of a child that has simply disappeared, many observers of this conflict understandably held on to a glimmer of hope. Trump has now showed them the corpse of the two-state solution.
Israel does not seek peace. Be it because of an inescapable sense of fear, borne out of the horror of the Holocaust and the reality of anti-Semitism or because of something more malevolent, Israel is not doing the things that make for peace. Israel is not a gracious, reluctant oppressor. Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinians is careful and insidious. Imagine that you can get what you want at the expense of the dignity of about five million people while also convincing the world’s foremost power that your victim is to blame. That takes skill and desire. Israel is literally walling in an entire people, dramatically controlling their lives, and yet we Americans are not clear about who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed. Jimmy Carter was right. It’s peace or apartheid. Israel has chosen apartheid, and for now, the United States approves.
Josh Vis works for the Reformed Church in America as a church engagement facilitator for Israel and Palestine.