Jerusalem isn't all that different
The alleged division of Jerusalem has brought forth a prolonged singing of our national anthem, oy gevalt.
In order to deal with the recent wave of violence coming from the most restive of the Arab neighborhoods, exit roads have been staffed with police who search those leaving. Large concrete blocks have been used to narrow the exits, and there are mobile concrete walls several meters in height along roads of Jewish neighborhoods bothered by frequent stonings and fire bombs.
Critics are claiming that these actions violate the principal that Jerusalem is and should be a united city.
In reality, it has never been united.
The wider reality is that no major city, in Israel or the world, is united.
They are all divided. Details vary from one place to another, but the essence of divisions is according to ethnicity, race, and/or social class.
People tend to live with their “kind,” however they define it. In virtually all cities there are sharp divisions between different kinds of neighborhoods, with most travel within neighborhoods of similar type, and less travel that crosses lines that signal social differences.
Israeli politicians, political activists, and journalistic commentators aren’t any better informed about other places than politicians, political activists, and journalistic commentators elsewhere.
The focus worldwide mostly is local or at most national. Parochialism reigns strong.
However, those of us who study such things, or who notice things when we travel, have long known that cities are heterogeneous. Their economic opportunities attract different kinds of people, who cluster in neighborhoods more homogeneous than the city as a whole. Schools vary in quality from one neighborhood to another, and are among the factors that lead people to settle where they are most comfortable, and where they can afford the housing.
Major cities provide centers of government, commerce, culture, and spectator sports, as well as upscale neighborhoods, and neighborhoods populated by lower-income families, including ethnic or racial minorities, who may be substantial in number, and are likely to harbor sentiments of antagonism toward the better-off others.
The least desirable neighborhoods tend to be locales of crime and violence. Most of it is internal. Occasionally, residents burst out in a wave of violence that features attacks against police, destruction of businesses, and attacks against individuals who present targets of opportunity.
Much of this also occurs in Jerusalem, with local variations reflecting what has developed historically..
The violence associated with Arab neighborhoods generally reflects personal hostilities, family feuds, juvenile gangs, and economic competition between criminal gangs marketing illegal drugs, protection, or the processing of stolen cars for spare parts. Prostitution is less evident among puritanical Muslims, but is available to one and all in Jewish neighborhoods, provided by local women or those arriving illegally, mostly from the poor countries of Eastern Europe.
We hear of working alliances between Jews and Arabs in various fields outside of the law. Businesses are more important than the passions of nationalism or religion.
Also as in many other cities in North America and Europe, the police show a lower level of concern with problematic neighborhoods than with those of higher status. The criminals enjoy some freedom to deal with themselves or serving better off customers, as long as they do not threaten the better areas.
Currently we are seeing an occasional outburst of the antipathy that Jerusalem Arabs/Palestinians feel toward Jews. It is associated with claims of limited opportunities, discrimination, and the meager infrastructure of Arab neighborhoods. Also important are religion and nationalism, incited every once in a while by politicians, activists, and preachers. The process is international, insofar as Muslim governments throughout the region have long used Israel and Palestine to enhance their own standing.
What we do not see in Jerusalem are destructive rampages against businesses in the Palestinian neighborhoods, or mass movements out of the neighborhoods to wreck destruction elsewhere. Neighborhood business are Palestinian owned and operated. There is little associated with the larger community within the Palestinian neighborhoods. Efforts to establish post offices and other government facilities bring early attacks against “symbols of occupation,” and have long since been abandoned. Mass efforts to leave the neighborhoods for the sake of violence elsewhere come up against the willingness of the police to do what is necessary to keep hostiles within the neighborhoods.
Currently there are physical barriers, said to be temporary, as Israel’s response to an uptick in inter-communal violence, and demands by Jews for greater protection.
The city is remaining “united” and “open” in the sense that people continue to move between neighborhoods. However, their movements are now monitored, as police search for knives or other weapons.
We can argue if the present separations here are greater or lesser than have occurred elsewhere when racial or ethnic tensions erupt to expressions of mass violence and destruction, then the entry of the police or the military in force.
Lines leaving Palestinian neighborhoods are long. The cops may not be as sensitive as is desired, but they may not be any more insensitive than those called to deal with racial/ethnic violence elsewhere. The city’s Palestinians are expressing their frustration, worry, and fury. Jews wonder if the Palestinians’ level of animosity is being fueled by barriers and inspections, or if it is chronically at a high level, and may now only be ticking a bit higher.
A 95 year old woman died in a family car waiting in line to leave Isaweea, on her way to the hospital. The family is blaming Israel for her death. Analysts haven’t concluded whether or not she would have died in any case if she could have gotten to the hospital a half hour earlier. We hear other stories of drivers who have asked, and received from the police permission to move ahead of the line for reasons of medical emergency.
Jerusalem is a unique city.
So are Detroit, Los Angeles, Ferguson, numerous other American locales, and each of the European cities that have experienced racial or ethnic violence.
They’re all different in detail, even while they share prominent features.
It’s common to identify sources of problems in poverty and limited individual opportunities, and to argue how much is due to cultural factors of the residents or to the failure of public policy.
Religion and nationalism add to the sense of disadvantage expressed by Jerusalem Palestinians. The condition is not all that different from Muslim neighborhoods elsewhere, except perhaps for the fillip of incitement associated with Muslim claims of their historical priorities and holy places.. The combination of Palestinian religion and nationalist fervor isn’t all that different from Black nationalism that is somewhere in African American feelings of deprivation.
Recent public opinion polls, conducted by a Palestinian institution, show majorities of Jerusalem Palestinians supporting violence against the Jews, but also preferring to remain affiliated with Israel rather than Palestine.
The ambivalence apparent in the Palestinian sector also appears among the Jews. Many take advantage of the opportunity to shop in the lower priced stores of Arab towns and neighborhoods, and to enjoy the tastes and the ambiances of Arab food shops and restaurants. The town of Abu Ghosh, alongside the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, is jammed on the weekends with Jews from both metropolitan areas. We often take our guests there, and have dined at the same time as prominent industrialists, politicians, and other personalities, alongside Arabs with their guests.
Among the voices making an effort to quiet the present wave of violence are Jews and Arabs who appreciate and profit from the business and rapport that comes from their proximity.
Jerusalem and other cities provide the best of economic opportunity, education, culture, and popular entertainment, but also the locales with hatreds and violence. It’s the borders between different social classes, races, or ethnicities where tension is greatest, and where outbursts of violence are likely to occur. Then the separations which are normal become more certain, reinforced by mutual fears, violence, and the summoning of police and--if provocation is extreme--the military.
Individuals of all communities who benefit from the differences and contrasts in normal times lament what has happened, and wait for it to get better.