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    All eyes on East Jerusalem on ‘the morning after’


    The series of brutal terror attacks in Jerusalem puts the government to its first major test on matters of security, and its conduct is being closely scrutinized in the Middle East arena.  It is imperative that current circumstances be handled by keeping one eye closely on ‘the morning after’, while adopting clearly defined mechanisms of punishment effectively and precisely.

    Dr. David Koren, CEO, Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research 

    The series of terror incidents over the last two weeks in Jerusalem has brought to the fore the intensity of the battle over the city’s sovereignty. East Jerusalem resembles a bubbling cauldron, usually covered with a tight lid and thus preventing us from seeing what’s happening inside – but tension levels and violence that flare up every few weeks or months, cause the contents to overflow and expose the bubbling brew inside. Anyone familiar with what’s happening in East Jerusalem knows that the cauldron is boiling hot at any given moment, even when on the surface things appear still. However, precisely against the background of this escalation it is essential to take wise decisions that could have a calming effect, rather than encourage extremists to inflame tensions.

    The government is now facing its first major test on matters of security, and its conduct is being closely scrutinized by a broad array of players in the Middle East and on the Palestinian street. Hesitation in the Middle East region is perceived as weakness, yet strong-arm tactics applied toward people uninvolved in terrorism creates a counter effect that only increases the cycle of tension and violence, and so on and so forth. Thus, the current state-of-emergency policy and decision-making processes must be managed with one eye focused on ‘the morning after’, using the ‘bank’ of punitive measures at the government’s disposal only in a manner that is specifically directed and proportional.

    Forcefulness against rioters, while maintaining daily life for normative residents

    The East Jerusalem population comprises about 370,000 Arab residents, the large majority of whom are Muslims with a minority of Christians, together representing 39% of the capital’s population. East Jerusalem residents, unlike Judea and Samaria residents, hold Israeli ID cards but have resident status only; the ramifications are that they can contend in municipal elections, but are not eligible to vote or contend in national elections.

    Unlike organized political-security entities such as the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria or the Hamas organization in Gaza, against which deterrence can be produced or “a price” may be commanded – East Jerusalem is not a conglomerate unidimensional ‘system’. Consequently, alongside uncompromising force against extreme elements stirring up the region. It’s important to keep in mind that most East Jerusalem residents are normative, law-abiding citizens, and on ‘the morning after’ they continue to be legitimate residents with equal rights in the city. Concern for their welfare is particularly important given the distressed economic situation. The Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are characterized by poor infrastructure and abject poverty also reflected in statistics – about 60% of all residents and about 70% of children (age 0-14) live below the poverty line. 

    Consequently, government-municipality investment should be directed primarily at human capital, with an emphasis on Jerusalem residents (those with a blue identity card). Such investment could include broad processes carried out in parallel; examples are sweeping educational programs to encourage consistent school attendance and reduce dropout, opening employment guidance centers, developing programs for a path out of poverty toward economic independence, promoting solutions for welfare, and more. Let us emphasize that the civilian approach must hinge upon consistent and effective security and police activity, so that civilian personnel are free to move around safely in the area.

    Municipality involvement in decision-making processes

    For this reason, sound management of these escalatory events is critical. Collaboration with civilian institutions, foremost the Jerusalem municipality and the mayor, and all other relevant entities within the municipality is of utmost importance, for their deep familiarity and knowledge of the area and the tight interconnection between the civilian and security domains in times of flare-up, and most importantly, on ‘the morning after’.

    Civilian entities could also assist by creating interfaces with local Palestinian leadership on the streets of East Jerusalem that could diffuse the situation. These include merchants and business people who have a financial interest in bringing calm, as well as educators and community and social leaders who on a daily basis and in times of emergency are active in creating positive bonds based on empowerment of collaborative models of life in Jerusalem.

    Thus, a sharp differentiation must be made between a strong-armed and uncompromising approach against violent forces, and a fair civilian approach with uninvolved residents, thus building continuous confidence measures and civil fairness to be preserved over time – in periods of security flare-up as well.

    Focused punitive measures against instigators of terror, segregated from the normative population

    With the heightened tension on the East Jerusalem street following the closure of the Shuafat refugee camp during the terror attack in which Noa Lazar was murdered (in October, 2022), questions on the efficacy and legitimacy of punitive measures, especially closures, have now come up once again in the dialogue on East Jerusalem. In my view, collective punishment measures such as closures must be applied wisely and with geographic precision rather than on an entire neighborhood, and only in a scenario of escalation. Keep in mind that in the absence of a formal establishment in East Jerusalem against whom it is possible to create deterrence and command a price (unlike in Judea and Samaria or in Gaza), the civilian consideration carries more weight.

    An effective and proportional example of a closure was the one imposed in 2017 on the sub-neighborhood within Jabel Mukaber where the al-Qunbar clan resides. Fadi al-Qunbar, a member of the clan, was the terrorist who carried out the vehicle-ramming terror attack on the Armon Hanatziv promenade. The decision to pinpoint the closure rather than include the entire neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber where several tens of thousands of uninvolved people reside, transmitted a focused message on segregation between those involved in terrorism and the normative majority.


    Destroying houses – a civilian process only

    Similarly, destroying illegally built houses of residents who are not involved in terrorism – must be reserved as a tactic to be used in the civilian domain as part of criminal law, unrelated to security. Making use of destroying illegally built houses like what took place last week in Beit Hanina – a neighborhood the vast majority of whose residents are law-abiding citizens – as an instrument for security deterrence, significantly increases, unnecessarily, the cycle of hostility that already exists on the ground. Moreover, on ‘the morning after’ the unrest, use of such a tactic in a security context harms the ability to establish the claim that this step is being taken through the force of the planning and construction law and not through the force of security considerations in calmer times, among East Jerusalem residents and members of the international community who are following house destruction in the eastern part of the city.

    Links between East Jerusalem and events in Judea and Samaria

    Finally, the escalation in Jerusalem once again demonstrates that the seeming disconnect between Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem is artificial. The large majority of East Jerusalem residents originate from Judea and Samaria and are living in Jerusalem through “family reunification”. The fabric of life, the economic ties and the bonds of family and identity that connect them to Judea and Samaria are extremely tight; events in each of the realms affect the other.

    Thus, although the Israeli apparatus – security, police and civilian taken together – is used to separating the two regions structurally (for example, they belong to different police districts), it appears that a civilian-security framework should be formed to analyze the ties between the two realms, primarily the seamline area of the Jerusalem envelope that includes the Palestinian villages within them, while maintaining a tough stance against extremist groups, with Hamas at their head.

    The writer is the CEO of the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research In the past he led the five-year-plan for education in East Jerusalem by the Ministry of Education and served as advisor to the mayor of Jerusalem on matters of East Jerusalem.