Raging at Rabbis: When Rights Collide in Jerusalem

View to East Jerusalem from the Walls of the Old City (Noamfein/Dreamstime.com)


This week, the Jerusalem municipality authorized the naming of five alleyways and narrow streets within the Baten Al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan after rabbis. Currently, 12 Jewish families and hundreds of Palestinian families live in this eastern Jerusalem neighborhood. In response, one of the two naming committee members who opposed the new street names, councilman Yossi Havilio, stated that such a move will provoke residents and inflame the neighborhood.

Rights of Residents, Defined

Did the city of Jerusalem violate the rights of residents by assigning Jewish street names in an overwhelmingly Arab neighborhood?

First, let’s clarify their rights. The overwhelming majority of 300,000 Palestinians living in east Jerusalem aren’t Israeli citizens. They’re permanent residents who nonetheless have many of the rights of full-fledged citizens, such as voting in municipal elections, access to social security compensation, membership in one of Israel’s health funds and employment in virtually any profession.

What’s preventing these residents from enjoying full citizenship rights? The denial of citizenship is self-inflicted. After 1967’s Six-Day War, residents of eastern Jerusalem rejected the possibility of receiving Israeli citizenship as a protest against newly established Israeli sovereignty.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

However in recent years, a growing amount of permanent residents have made peace with Israeli sovereignty. More Palestinians in east Jerusalem are applying for Israeli citizenship than ever. According to Israel’s Citizenship Law, permanent residents may become naturalized citizens.

This shift in attitude is part of a wider change among Israel’s Arab citizens. A survey conducted by the Smith Research Institute found that a, “…decisive majority of Arab citizens would like to be integrated into the State of Israel on the basis of full and inclusive citizenship, including mandatory civil service.” The survey revealed that Arab citizens are “…interested in being equal and integrated Israelis within the state, even though it defines itself as Jewish and democratic, as long as the state does not discriminate against them on civil matters of citizens’ rights.”

The survey also found that most Jews are interested in granting equal citizenship to Arab citizens and are willing to grant them some degree of collective rights.

Collective Rights, Not National Rights

But there’s a difference between collective rights and national rights. As citizens, today’s permanent residents would be entitled to every right except one: to create an independent state inside of Israel.

To remain sovereign, capitals around the world distinguish between the grievances of groups who claim indigenous status and the necessities of a functioning modern state.

The aborigines are well within their rights when they seek to reclaim and celebrate their cultural legacy, but they have no right to eastern Canberra.

The inuit in Canada have the right to retain social, cultural, economic, and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant society, but they have no right to form treaties with foreign nations.

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in the state of North Carolina has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but it doesn’t have the right to make, execute, and apply laws.

And the permanent residents of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood have the right to express their displeasure and peacefully protest the city’s decision to name a few streets after rabbis. But they have no right to take up arms, as city councilman Havillo implies they will. Nor will they acquire this right should they become full-fledged citizens.

Should They Stay Or Should They Go?

Of course, if life for eastern Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents is so unbearable, the Palestinian Authority is but a stone’s throw away. But a survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (based in Beit Sahour, the West Bank) found that 52% of Palestinians living in Israeli-ruled eastern Jerusalem would rather be citizens of Israel, compared with just 42% who would opt to be citizens of a Palestinian state.

Turns out that eastern Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents know something that advocates for Palestinian independence don’t. Israeli ‘occupation’ doesn’t penalize disgruntled residents for voicing their outrage at local streets being named after, heaven forbid, Jews. But residents of the Palestinian Authority are regularly detained and tortured for peacefully criticizing their government, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report.

While eastern Jerusalem Palestinians threaten armed insurrection because the naming of a few streets, their brethren are routinely and arbitrarily arrested on university campuses, at demonstrations, and in their own homes.

Has a brutal occupation ever seemed so banal?


This piece was originally published in Newsmax on June 19, 2019.

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