The Guardian’s Chris McGreal and the moral logic of a Jew-free “Eastern” Jerusalem

Before commenting on the latest report by the Guardian’s Chris McGreal, “Israel plans new settlement of 2600 that will isolate Arab East Jerusalem“, an understanding of the designation “Arab East Jerusalem” is in order.

This isn’t, of course, a comprehensive history, but represents important context sorely lacking in the Guardian’s frequent misrepresentations about issues pertaining to Jerusalem.

Around the year 1010 B.C.E., King David made the Jerusalem the administrative capital of Israel and brought the Ark of the Covenant to the city. It is believed that David’s son, Solomon, built the first Jewish Temple  as a permanent resting place for the Ark of the Covenant, a place which would become the focus of Jewish veneration from that point to the present.

In 597 B.C.E. the Babylonian army captured Jerusalem, deported thousands of Jews, and razed the city. 

In 560 B.C.E., the Persians conquered “Palestine” and told the Jews they could return to their homeland, and rebuild their Temple. The Second Temple was completed in 516 B.C. Over the next 150 years Jews rebuilt Jerusalem and developed the surrounding areas.

In 332 B.C.E., the Greeks, under Alexander the Great, became Palestine’s new ruler.  

In 167 B.C.E., Jews rose up and, three years later, Jerusalem was recaptured from the Greeks and the Temple restored, an event that gave birth to the holiday of Chanukah.

After 76 years, the Romans wrested control of Jerusalem and the rest of Judea from the Jews.

Under King Herod, the area of the Temple Mount was doubled and surrounded with four retaining walls, including the area known as the Kotel or Western Wall.  In 66 A.D., after a failed Jewish revolt against Roman rule,  The Romans laid siege to the city and in the year 70 A.D. destroyed the Second Temple.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, Christianity began to rise, until the Islamic conquest in 633 – the beginning of a 1,300-year span during which more than ten different empires were to rule in the Holy Land prior to the British occupation after World War I.

The Ottoman Turks took control of Jerusalem at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

The Ottoman Turks were defeated in World War I and Palestine was captured by the British, who subsequently were awarded a mandate from the League of Nations to rule the land.

When the United Nations took up the Palestine question in 1947, it recommended that all of Jerusalem be internationalized. The Jewish Agency agreed to accept internationalization, while the Arab states were opposed to the plan, as they were to the rest of the partition plan.

In May 1948, upon Israel’s declaration of Independence, Arab armies invaded the newly created Jewish state and (by the end of the war, per the 1949 armistice lines) Jordan occupied east Jerusalem, dividing the city for the first time in its history, and driving thousands of Jews — whose families had lived in the city for centuries — into exile.

Jewish girl, Rachel Levy, 7, fleeing from street with burning buildings as the Arabs sack Jerusalem after its surrender. May 28, 1948.

For the next 19 years, from 1948-67, the city was split between Israeli and Jordanian control, a period which represents the only time the city has been divided in its history.

This is what is meant by the extremely misleading refrain by Guardian reporters (and others in the MSM) of “Arab East Jerusalem“. 

Jews living in the Jordanian controlled section of Jerusalem were expelled and all Jews were denied access to the Western Wall.  Jordan also subsequently desecrated Jewish holy place and attempted to erase all traces of Jewish history in the city.  Fifty-eight Jerusalem synagogues — some centuries old — were destroyed.

Also, under Jordanian rule, Israeli Christians were subjected to restrictions and many subsequently emigrated from Jerusalem, leading their numbers to dwindle from 25,000 in 1949 to less than 13,000 in June 1967.

Upon the beginning of the Six Day War in June of 1967, Jordanian forces  launched multiple attacks on Israel, which included thousands of mortar shells fired at West Jerusalem.

However, Israeli forces fought back and within two days managed to repulse the Jordanian forces and retake eastern Jerusalem.

Within weeks, free movement through Jerusalem became possible. Israeli Muslims were permitted to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock for the first time since 1948. And Israeli Christians came to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Knesset passed the Protection of Holy Places Law granting special legal status to the Holy Sites and making it a criminal offence to desecrate or violate them, or to impede freedom of access to them. 

Arab residents were given the choice of whether to become Israeli citizens and, while most chose to retain their Jordanian citizenship, all Jerusalem Arabs are permitted to vote in municipal elections.

The Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DoP) signed September 13, 1993, left open the status of Jerusalem. Other than an agreement to discuss Jerusalem during final status talks, Israel conceded nothing regarding the status of the city during the interim period.

In both 2000 and 2008, Palestinian negotiators accepted in principle (in the context of final status negotiations) that large Jewish communities beyond the Green Line, such as Gilo, would remain under Israeli control.

Finally, moving to Chris McGreal’s report, he writes, regarding Israeli plans to build new homes in the  Givat Hamatos neighborhood of Jerusalem:

 “…it would virtually cut off the Arab east of the city from the rest of the occupied West Bank.”

The word “virtually” is an interesting word, meant to obscure the fact that the neighborhood wouldn’t actually cut off the “Arab east of the city”, as this map shows.

More broadly, McGreal spares no effort to characterize the potential construction of new homes in Israel’s capital in the most hyperbolic and hysterical terms, quoting a leftwing city council member thusly:

“The people behind this are pyromaniacs and terrorists because they are lighting fires all over the place that at the end of the day will set up a new wave of terrorist attacks.”

But, as the Jerusalem Post noted about the proposed community.

“The plan for a new neighborhood at Givat Hamatos has been in the works for years. The general construction plan for Givat Hamatos with 2,610 housing units was approved in September. At least some of the housing units will be reserved for an Arab extension of Beit Safafa.

However, the project’s approval in September did not raise any red flags since the land for the project has many different owners, including the Spanish government and the Latin Patriarch, said Margalit. Determining and reorganizing the ownership for building purposes is a complicated legal process called “reparcelization” that can take years, leading activists and politicians to focus their energies elsewhere.”

Moreover, the logic which suggests that Israelis shouldn’t live in the east section of the city represents an acceptance of the logic of the Jordanian expulsion of Jews, and destruction of Jewish life, from 1949-1967 – the only time in history the city was divided by religion.

Equally as important in understanding the issue of Israeli building in Jerusalem, Palestinians in East Jerusalem consistently indicate that, in a final status agreement, they almost universally do not want the city divided.

Jerusalem has been the center of Jewish life for over 3,000 years.  Moreover, Jews have constituted the largest single group of inhabitants there since the 1840’s.

As Yaacov Lozowick observed about the possibility of a divided Jerusalem:

Imagine a city with an international border running between buildings on the same block in Jerusalem; to one side a free and rich society, to the other: not. The rich enjoy a world-class health system and social security; the poor lost access upon division. Each side has its own police force, with no love lost between them. Could it ever work? Wouldn’t it generate never-ending tension?

That’s the optimistic scenario, where both states share a cautious wish to live in peace. Now imagine if one or both comes to regret the arrangement, immediately or in 50 years.

Go to the website of the Geneva Accord and its detailed recommendation to divide Jerusalem. Follow the line, imagining it: What do the divided streets look like? Between which buildings will there be a border? What about where the line runs through single structures in the Old City? Ponder the possibility that the gamble fails, and the townspeople on either side of this hellish border decide not to live in peace.

Refusal to divide Jerusalem need not preclude creating a Palestinian state. Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank should be dismantled to enable the Palestinians to have a coherent state. Within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, outlying Arab neighborhoods that don’t abut Jewish ones should be transferred to Palestine. Not the Holy Basin, however. Dividing the historic sections of Jerusalem is delusional. It will never bring peace, and it could lead to war.

Of course, such stubborn logic will never penetrate the ideological blinders which continue to skew the Guardian’s view from Jerusalem. 

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