Guest Blog by Gidon Belmaker—visit his blog, The Jerusalemite, here.
Too much ink has been wasted in newspapers around the world about the row between Israel and the US, caused by the Shepherd hotel building permits. A permit to build 20 new housing units in East Jerusalem was issued to a Jewish-American entrepreneur, that’s the whole deal. From 1967 till this day, Israel has built more than 550,000 housing units in east Jerusalem. These 20 new housing units do not make for a new policy of the Israeli Government.
Most Israelis are educated on the slogan of a “united Jerusalem in the eternal capital city of Israel”. The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed this thought once again in reaction to to these reports, saying, “I would like to re-emphasize that the united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel. Our sovereignty over it cannot be challenged; this means – inter alia – that residents of Jerusalem may purchase apartments in all parts of the city”, in a cabinet Meeting on July 19.
After 1967, Israel hastily annexed the eastern part of the city, and many surrounding Palestinian villages (unlike the West Bank, which is under military rule, even after 40 years), and thus the city was united. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are considered citizens of Israel, though they can’t vote for the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament).
In reality, Jerusalem is on of the most divided cities in the world. Some experts say that Jerusalem in even more divided than Nicosia or Belfast. Yes, you can see Palestinians in the western part of the city, and Israelis in the Palestinian neighborhoods in the eastern part, but invisible walls are separating the two populations.
One small street separates Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem and some Jewish neighborhoods in the west side. Nevertheless, crossing that street is like entering a different world. Nowadays, the border fence that marked the 1967 border between Israel and Jordan (Jordan ruled the West Bank from 1948 to 1967) is gone, but that border is still present.
In an attempt to unite the city, Israeli governments build huge Jewish neighborhoods, some in the size of small cities, in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The Israeli government some decades ago aimed to create a Jewish majority of 90% of the city. That plan failed. If the current birth rates and immigration patterns stay as they are, in about 20 years Palestinians will be the majority in the city of Jerusalem, “the eternal capital of Israel”.