Those of us in the Zionist camp have for many years declared the mantra, “Jerusalem is and will remain Israel’s eternal and undivided capital.”
We declare it to be “eternal” because Jews have been the only cohesive community with a consistent presence here for the past 3,000 years and we hope to continue dwelling here indefinitely. We declare it to be “our capital” because it has been the primary seat of Jewish government, though intermittent, since the defeat of the Jebusites by King David in 995 B.C. until David Ben-Gurion established the first Knesset here in 1949 A.D., and it has never been the capital of any other people. We use the term “undivided” because East Jerusalem was liberated from Jordanian control as a result of the Six Day War in 1967, thus reuniting all Jerusalem under Israeli governance, and it is our hope, prayer and intention that it will remain united forever.
All three of the above terms have been under incessant attack for more than one hundred years. Though we contend that Jerusalem has been ours “eternally”, Palestinian Christians from Bethlehem vehemently insist that Jesus the Jew was actually the first Palestinian martyr to die in occupied Jerusalem and vast numbers of Christians around the world are accepting and believing this narrative. The claim that Jerusalem is “our capital” falls on deaf ears internationally, except for US Republican presidential candidates, who declare every four years that they will relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, once elected, this promise is soon abandoned. In fact, the exact opposite trend was completed in 2006 when the embassies of Costa Rica and El Salvador were the last to relocate to Tel-Aviv. Finally, we declare that Jerusalem is “undivided”, while every day we ourselves divide the city into first-class (Jewish) citizens and second-class (Arab) citizens.
Perhaps the main reason that our mantra has been ineffective is that those of us who declare it do not really believe or act upon it. Any person, who has driven from West Jerusalem into East Jerusalem, will confirm that it feels like driving from Switzerland into Swaziland. One literally travels from a first world country into a third world country in a heartbeat. Through our negligence, we have missed a golden opportunity to be a light to the nations, starting in our own backyard. Our neglect of investment in the infrastructure of East Jerusalem compared to West Jerusalem is an embarrassing failure of the Zionist movement. From roads, to sidewalks, to landscaping, to water and gas infrastructure, to public parks, and public schools, the Municipality of Jerusalem has grossly discriminated against East Jerusalem. It will take an estimated half a billion dollars of investment in the infrastructure of East Jerusalem to bring it up to the West Jerusalem standard.
The good news is that the Israeli rule of law and civil rights system actually works. While many of our leaders have been holding S.O.S. meetings over the past few months to discuss the growing movement to declare Israel as an apartheid state and boycott it, our court systems have under the radar been proving this declaration to be absolute nonsense.
Two very significant decisions made by Israeli courts in the past three months shine a ray of hope into the dark situation of a divided Jerusalem. On November 1, 2015, the District Court in Jerusalem determined in Monir Zugair vs. Municipality of Jerusalem (A.P. 27276-07-15) that the Municipality has discriminated against the residents of East Jerusalem and must within six months implement a plan to invest in repairing, cleaning, spraying, lighting and draining the streets of East Jerusalem in order to raise them to the level of cleanliness and functionality of West Jerusalem. Following this trend, on December 31, 2015, the District Court in Jerusalem determined in Tzchor-Tzedek, Chofesh, Chinuch and Revacha vs. Municipality of Jerusalem (A.P. 66197-03-15) that the Municipality of Jerusalem must create a policy, in a reasonable amount of time, to determine how it will create the same proportionate number of public playgrounds in its East Jerusalem neighborhoods as those that exist in West Jerusalem. The court accepted the claim that East Jerusalem residents enjoy one playground on average for every 30,000 residents, while West Jerusalem residents have one playground on average for every 600 to 1,400 residents, depending on the neighborhood. The court confirmed that this is, in effect, blatant illegal discrimination and must be remedied by the municipality.
I applaud the Israeli legal system and the courage of Justice David Mintz and Justice Nave Ben-Or of the Jerusalem District Court, who made the above respective decisions and upheld Israel’s rule of law in the midst of very turbulent political times. These are the types of decisions that make me proud to be an Israeli. We have proven once again that there is at least one properly functioning democracy in the Middle East.
Is Jerusalem in actuality a divided city? Yes. Will it take many years and massive resources to implement the above decisions? Absolutely. Even if we succeed in uniting a very divided city, will we still face significant challenges convincing the world that Jerusalem is “our eternal capital”? Unfortunately, yes. Nevertheless, it is never too late to make progress, and I for one, am happy to see some light at the end of this tunnel.
This article originally appeared on Jerusalem Institute of Justice, February 4, 2016.