A newspaper article from decades ago concerned the wise, heroic act of a teacher in a tough Chicago high school. I wish I could personally tell the story to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu.
A student pulled a gun. Let me be clear. No one has the right to bring a gun into a school. The teacher entered the scene but didn’t threaten the student. He knew that might set the student off. So he said, “Let me hold that for you.” The student, seeing a way out, surrendered the weapon. The teacher’s considered words prevented a possible catastrophe.
Israel faces a similar situation in East Jerusalem. Let me be clear. Israel has every right to exist. Moreover, I defend Israel’s right to strike back at Hamas and other terrorists with whatever force it deems necessary. But the Israeli government’s strategy regarding East Jerusalem—the Silwan neighborhood in particular—seems self-destructive.
Silwan, which borders the southern portion of the Old City, is thoroughly Arab. I’ve been driven through Silwan several times, so I’ve had tires, if not feet, on the ground. Some right-wing Israelis have moved to Silwan to establish a “substantial” Jewish presence in Arab East Jerusalem (as opposed to the huge Jewish suburbs in areas annexed by the Municipality of Jerusalem). Recently, Jews purchased several residences through an Arab intermediary and entered them under cover of darkness.
According to The Jerusalem Post, Jews in Silwan number 500. The Arab population is 50,000. So the Jewish presence is anything but substantial. Yet the right seeks to settle enough Jewish residents to void Arab claims on Silwan and the rest of East Jerusalem. Bibi and the right insist that Jerusalem, East and West, is and will remain the undivided capital of Israel. They see Jewish residents invalidating any claim on East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.
The right-wing position represents a fantasy that keeps tensions high. Arab East Jerusalem is just that. Jews lived there in the past, yes. But Palestinians once lived in West Jerusalem. That’s also the past; they won’t be returning. We should remember the past but more important live in the present with an eye on an attainable future.
Let me also be clear. Arab/Palestinian violence in response to the situation is wrong. On Wednesday, an Arab resident of East Jerusalem drove his car into a group of people at a light-rail stop. He killed a three-month old Jewish girl. That’s monstrous. Bibi’s response condemned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for making incendiary statements about Muslims defending the Noble Sanctuary (Temple Mount to Jews). Bibi may be right. But his self-righteousness has not helped matters.
Does it make sense to toss a lighted match into a barrel of gunpowder? The teacher in Chicago might have been “right” to threaten the student, but he chose to defuse the situation. Yes, East Jerusalem has been part of Israel (though two previous Israeli prime ministers offered it to the Palestinians and were rebuffed) since the 1967 Six-Day War. And Arab residents of East Jerusalem take advantage of generous Israeli social benefits. But as to Silwan, this Israeli government’s approach remains needlessly heavy-handed. Cornering the market may pay off. Cornering an opponent risks disaster.
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